The Just Cause series has a knack for holding your attention in short bursts. It can cause you to grit your teeth as you wingsuit so close to mountains that you can taste the snow-spray, and grapple-hook up to helicopters to escape the mushrooming flames of exploding bases. It also gives you the freedom to tether a goat to a balloon, hook yourself onto it, and float off into the stratosphere.
This is now the fourth Latin tropical despot whom Rico Rodriguez – effectively the secret lovechild of Wolverine and a flying squirrel who is also a secret agent – has set out to depose. Adding the personal angle of Rodriguez family involvement in Dictator #4’s weather-control scheme means very little due to the completely twist-free nature of the story, especially since that dictator shows up only at the beginning and end. I did enjoy the way cutscenes lay out the next series of mission objectives as steps toward a long-term goal, almost Ocean’s 11-style, but otherwise it’s yet another tale of regime change via explosion. In the absence of a new Red Faction game, Just Cause 4 is at the top of its field when it comes to blowing stuff up. Just Cause 4 double down even more on destructibility.
It’s on you to wrest back control of the island. Where in previous games you did this simply by causing enough destruction in a given region, this time Avalanche has attempted to inject a bit more depth into the process. Each region has a specific mission you must complete, and once you’ve done that you can call in squads of revolutionaries—unlocked by destroying enemy infrastructure and capturing certain regions—to take control of it. The whole map is open for you to explore from the start, but you can only move these squads into regions neighbouring those under your control, making that map-painting process a little more focused than before.
It expanded the player’s arsenal with everything from drone-firing railguns to weather-harnessing super-weapons, which include a wind cannon that lets you invisibly blow away whole squads of enemies and structures, and the lightning gun, which not only zaps enemies but can create mini lightning storms that fry everything in its perimeter. You can also now call in several planes simultaneously to drop a vast array of weapons and heavy artillery, giving you the freedom to turn Just Cause 4 into a vibrant warzone of ragdolls and explosions whenever you like.
There’s still the retractor which lets you, say, string two or more helicopters together and send them twirling into each other. Joining it now is the ‘Air Lifter’ balloon tether, which lets you attach several balloons to objects and send them off to orbit, as well as ‘booster’ tethers, which send their hapless targets fizzing around uncontrollably. Here you can have three different tether loadouts, with each one containing whatever mix of balloon, rocket and retracting tethers you like. You can unlock fine-tune features like making your tether balloons explode on a trigger, or add a ‘Power Yank’ to your retractor, which makes even heavy vehicles collide together.
Rico remains a weightless spiderman that relies on well-timed sequences of grapple-hooking, parachuting and wingsuiting. On the ground, though, Rico remains stiff in the joints, with no ability to sprint, dodge, or perform melee attacks with any real menace.
Progression is achieved mainly through territory-taking missions. The idea was presumably to give these missions more of a ‘Special Operations’ feel than the simple destructathon of before, but they mess up the pacing, especially as Just Cause 4’s mechanics are unwieldy for smaller spaces and fiddly activities. It creates too many tedious comedowns from the bursts of action that the game thrives in. The story missions are more carefully constructed, with some excellent set pieces where you’re chasing tornadoes, or dashing through deserts in the midst of a sandstorm. But even then things can get the wrong kind of chaotic, such as during one chase sequence where enemy cars and choppers were spawning and literally piling over each other. The other strange decision to get rid of throwable C4, replacing it with the rather rare mine launcher.
Just Cause 4 ups the excess just enough to get away with the fact that its groaning framework. It still delivers the kinds of uniquely gamey thrills. Just Cause 4 has everything you expect from a Just Cause game, almost to a fault. Relative to Just Cause 3 the improvements are widespread across its beautiful open world, but generally minor. So while blowing up yet another dictator’s army is the same kind of mindless explosive fun and physics-based comedy the series is built on, it doesn’t do much to incorporate the new weather systems or grapple mods into combat.