Just Cause 4 Review — Grappling with Monotony
Just Cause 4 has some cool ideas and nifty gameplay mechanics that are completely undercut but its own poor mission structure and game design.
Just Cause 4
Xbox One X
Review copy provided by the publisher
Usually you’ll find in my reviews that if a game has solid gameplay mechanics, then I’ll more than likely be a fan of it. While there are far more factors that make up a quality gaming experience other than the gameplay alone, it’s often one the biggest ones when it comes to my own personal enjoyment of a game.
Well, at least I thought this was the case until I sunk my teeth into Just Cause 4, and it essentially betrayed all of these preconceived notions. Even though Just Cause 4 is fun to play at times and its mechanics are pretty polished up, never have I felt that a game so poorly placed an emphasis on the player to take advantage of these functions. Just Cause 4 has a pretty world and a bunch of toys to use, but the act of actually playing through its monotonous and stale missions made me question whether or not I should put the game down more than once before eventually rolling the credits.
Let’s start with the positives though before I get too into the weeds about what it is that Just Cause 4 does so terribly. As I mentioned at the top, hey: this game is pretty fun to play, particularly after you get past its rough opening. If you have prior experience with a Just Cause game, then you’re likely familiar with protagonist Rico Rodriguez and his many gadgets, such as the grappling hook, parachute, and wingsuit, all of which return this time around. The core act of traveling around the new island of Solis in JC4 continues to be a joy once you learn how to properly use your grappling hook and wingsuit in tandem to gain speed and momentum. It’s also still fun to glide over enemies with your parachute and rain grenades down upon them like a madman.
“Your own enjoyment in these scenarios is often left up to you to decide, which is both a good and bad thing.”
In addition to all of these lovely little knickknacks returning, a set of new tools have also come to Just Cause 4 because, well, this is a sequel after all and that’s kind of what you do in video game sequels. The booster and airlift gadgets are two new add-ons to your grappling hook that you can use now, and they can make for some pretty funny situations, provided you’re creative enough to use each properly. As you probably guessed from their names alone, the airlift device is essentially just a balloon that you can attach to anything that will then lift said thing you attached it to into the air — it’s pretty much just the Fulton from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. As for the booster, it’s a rocket that you can also tether to dang near everything and send it hurtling in whatever direction the rocket is aimed opposite from.
Along with a variety of different guns that range from your typical assault rifles to more exotic weaponry like a rail gun, these are the tools that you roughly have at your disposal over the course of the entirety of the game. Combat situations can play out however you like, from straightforward encounters that just result in you shooting everyone in sight to utilizing more advanced tactics that could include airlifting a red barrel and then attaching boosters to it to send it flying into a group of enemies. Your own enjoyment in these scenarios is often left up to you to decide, which is both a good and bad thing.
This is where we start to tiptoe into what my biggest problem is with Just Cause 4: its mission and game structure as a whole. It only takes about 2-3 hours until you’ve basically seen most of what you’ll be doing over the course of the entire campaign of Just Cause 4. As you begin to liberate the island of Solis, you’ll complete a mission or two, take over small regions for yourself and your army, and then look to advance to the next nearby region and do the same thing. Every now and then you’ll liberate a region of the island that will then give you a main story mission to complete to further the narrative.
The main problem with this structure, other than the fact that it’s as derivative and as mind-numbing as can be, is that nearly every single mission you’ll be doing along the way is boring as all get-out. You’ll be doing variants of hack the terminal, pull the lever with your grappling hook, save the rebellion soldiers, and other menial tasks in these missions time and time again for somewhere close to twenty hours until you beat the game.
“…every single mission you’ll be doing along the way is boring as all get-out.”
Not only do I have an issue with these missions just flat out sucking though, but they totally undermine the nifty gameplay mechanics that I do genuinely think have so much potential — and that’s what bums me out. At almost no point in any of Just Cause 4‘s missions are you presented with a scenario in which Avalanche Studios is trying to encourage you to approach a situation in a cool manner that makes use of your airlift device and boosters. Instead, each task is so open-ended to the point that they have almost no structure. And this is what I was talking about.
Yes, Just Cause 4 gives you the freedom to approach combat and taking down baddies in a variety of novel ways that aren’t really seen in other games. But because you’re never really nudged in the direction of doing that at any point (and because it’s just easier) most of your combat encounters, like mine, will probably just result in you repeatedly shooting everyone in site and grappling around from point A to point B — and that’s not really fun.
It’s worth mentioning that there are some larger-scale missions that feature some of the storm sequences–tornadoes, sandstorms, thunderstorms–from the trailers of Just Cause 4, but even these moments ended up being way more lacking that I had expected them to be. Sure, it’s impressive to see this massive tornado plowing down everything in its path in front of you, but the sheer spectacle of these moments never goes much further than that.
So if the story missions and liberation missions aren’t very fun, then how are the side quests, you ask? Well, they’re just as trite in a lot of ways. There are three variations of side objectives in Just Cause 4 that you can do for some of Rico’s companions, but the actual tasks associated with each feels more like mundane filler content meant to pad out the experience. Finding hidden temples, completing wingsuit gliding challenges by flying through rings (just like in Superman 64), and blowing up blimps are just a few examples of some of the side content that there is to do. If you do enough tasks associated with each quest giver, then you can unlock modifications for your grappling hook attachments. But again, the game never really encourages you to mix things up anyway, so you won’t feel like you’re really missing out by not gaining more mods.
There’s also a story in Just Cause 4 but I couldn’t tell you anything interesting or worthwhile from it, mainly because I was fighting off falling asleep through most of the game’s cutscenes. While having a poor narrative arc isn’t really anything new in the Just Cause series, I think what I was most disappointed by how serious it decided to present everything. Just Cause 4 is unabashedly kind of a dumb game, in a good way. It encourages you with its gameplay to blow everything up in sight and toy around with your enemies rather than taking them as a serious threat. This wackiness never really carries over to the story though in turn, which disappointed me. If somehow there ends up being a Just Cause 5, I’d prefer seeing less of a straightforward, standard narrative and instead something that is self-aware and leans more into its own stupidity.
“Just Cause 4 had so much more potential than the final product we were given…”
To end on a more positive note, I will say that Solis was a rad location to journey about. Not only does it look quite pretty, but the region’s four distinct biomes kept things at least feeling fresh for the entirety of my stay. It’s a clear step up graphically and in terms of performance compared to Just Cause 3, which notably had a lot of performance issues on consoles. I will say that I still had a few frame dips occasionally–most notably when looking at the game’s map, strangely enough–but for the most part it ran about as I expected it to on my Xbox One X, at least during actual gameplay. Character models in some cutscenes, however, were a whole different story and looked outright ugly a lot of times.
If you’ve played a past Just Cause game, then you likely have experienced all of the best moments that Just Cause 4 is putting on display. A new region, some new gear, and a new checklist of tasks to accomplish isn’t enough to make up for the grueling hours you’ll have to put in doing the same tiresome missions over and over again just to reach its conclusion. Just Cause 4 had so much more potential than the final product we were given, and while it’s still fun to goof around with the toys it gives you, that’s about where the enjoyment begins and ends.