Imagine a roller coaster that stops for maintenance every 30 feet and doesn’t allow you to exit, even after you’ve already been around the track a few dozen times. Just Cause 3 fails you seconds after you pop the disc in. After hitting X on the initial start screen, it takes five minutes and 38 seconds to even reach the main menu to adjust the game’s options, another three for the first cutscene to load, and, if you pause at all, the game will freeze another three minutes to connect to its servers. And before you even shoot a single bullet here, you’ve lost 10-12 minutes of your life, making even just jumping in and out to play the game in short, gratifying bursts an impossibility.
Eventually, you do get to the actual game, with a space-rock cover of the Prodigy’s “Firestarter” set atop Guy Ritchie-style intros to Rico Rodriguez and his motley crew of rebels and mayhem makers, which then transitions into an actual gameplay segment of Rico shooting down surface-to-air missiles over his home country of Medici. It’s a level of trippy, non-sequitur self-awareness Just Cause 3 never displays again. Rico rescues his flamboyant friend, Mario, from a gunfight in a canyon that segues into a chase with a military convoy, and a standoff at a base in the middle of nowhere, with Rico manning a chain gun. So far, so good, until the moment you die, and every ounce of adrenaline coursing through your veins goes inert while you wait minutes—not seconds—for the game to feebly bring you back to the last checkpoint.
There’s something almost impressive about watching a game that clearly no small amount of talent went into reveal itself as being utterly inept. Make no mistake, there was talent involved in creating Just Cause 3’s tethering mechanics, where virtually any object can be yanked to a chosen point on the screen. There was talent in making virtually every object in this world destructible, allowing even the most minor shootouts to have a visceral punch. And there was talent in creating a world so vast and beautifully realized as Medici. The problem comes entirely down to the execution.
The how and why of Just Cause 3 seems to be a tertiary concern, if even lower. The cycle of progression is rudimentary: go to a new town; tear down or blow up every piece of propaganda from Medici’s cartoonish Dictator for Life, General Di Ravello; kill anyone in a red outfit; cause a fixed amount of chaos in the city until the game tells you to raise a new flag. There are campaign missions to be done in the meantime, where one of Rico’s friends will order the group to find some new weapon for the revolution, or escort a VIP through a chaotic warzone, or lead attacking forces through the countryside by land, sea, and air. Sometimes you just have to go to a military base and destroy everything in sight by any means possible. The first two or three times you do these things, they are fun. But around the fourth or fifth time comes the sinking realization that this is all the game has to offer, and that sinking realization happens after about three or four hours of gameplay.
Despite a delightful cavalcade of tools, tech, and vehicles to wreak havoc and smite one’s enemies, there’s no problem here that can’t be solved by the most direct approach. In fact, the direct approach is the only way the game’s fiddly, unintuitive controls feel smooth and cooperative. The impressive, kinetic insanity the game allows you to do requires more work than anything, and the rewards for that insanity are shamefully unworthy of the effort.
The game does get somewhat close to exhilaration when it comes to flight, where Rico can use a combination of his grappling hook, parachute, and new wingsuit to traverse the environment, and even this simple joy can be found in both Arkham Knight and Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, surrounded by far more cohesive and imaginative narratives and gameplay, and far more reliable load times. The cycle of progression in Just Cause 3 is determined by completing the myriad challenges strewn throughout the landscape. A few are, at first, enjoyable, but repeated so often as to become simply tedious.
With Just Cause 3, we’re asked to look at something where an aim function is a luxury, requiring dozens of gears—the game’s currency, awarded for completing sidequests—to purchase, and targeting is luck. Like the worst kind of open-world titles, the game feels like a job. And this is the kind of work we play video games to get away from in the first place.