26 April 2016

Post Thoughts: Just Cause 3...

This was a really cool title splash screen and sets the tone of 'cool' for the rest of the game...

I never played the original Just Cause though I can extrapolate what sort of a game it was and whether I would have enjoyed it or not from JC2 and JC3. I think I would have. Just Cause 2 was a really fun game in the vein of Saint's Row (but more P.C.) and at the time, the grappling hook gameplay innovation was something really special and added a tonne to the way gameplay felt. Just Cause 3 is another iteration on the original concepts of Just Cause - a big open game world and a new gameplay mechanic added to the mix. 

I'll tell you up front that I enjoyed the game but felt that it overstayed its welcome more so than JC2 did.

As usual: Thar be spoilers!


Island dictator, rebel faction, hardass military. Yeah, yeah - just point me in the direction of the nearest explosive base...

The story isn't really important in the Just Cause games (sorry developers!) because the main draw is the gameplay and the open world. Neither of which are conducive for telling the sort of story that the developers are trying to in the game. It's a plot that's covering a home-coming, an origin story (well, a few origin stories if you include the non-player characters), a personal redemption and the overthrowing of a military dictator who, from all visual clues in the game has no larger crime than putting into place billboards and statues around the islands he calls home.

Seriously, the main point of the plot is to ruthlessly overthrow Di Ravello (the big dictator bad guy) through murdering thousands of troops supplied from the island state's population and by replacing them with other troops (sorry, freedom fighters) from the same population. A population that does not appear to be hampered in any sense. 

All the towns, villages and cities are modern affairs with good roads, electricity, public gardens and picturesque views. The people have the full range of vehicles from crappy to normal to very nice - as per any other modern, semi-democratic nation. 

The problem here is that this isn't the sort of picture we are presented with when talking about dictatorships. Where are the work camps, firing squads and enforced poverty? Sure, Di Ravello took power away from the people but it doesn't appear that he's denied them anything other than which corrupt politician to put in his stead. Even the bavarium mines appear to be staffed by paid workers - there's no sort of mission to free them when you are clearing those locations on the map. There are prisons though (and there are prison workers at the bavarium mines) but it is not explicitly indicated that these people are opponents to Di Ravello... or that they were part of the freedom troops that the player has set on the island in order to wrest control from Di Ravello - in which case these prisons would not have been full before this coup.

So, presentation-wise, the game world fails for me as it doesn't sync with what the story is trying to communicate. It does look beautiful though!

Adding to this, the way the story is consumed (mostly through cutscenes) means that the player will get bits and pieces of drama and then go and have random fun for three hours before hitting the next small chunk of exposition. Players are unable to focus solely on the story missions because a large portion of them must be unlocked by destroying infrastructure and increasing the area of rebel control. Not only does this kill the flow of the story, making the player think back as to what happened quite some time ago, but it also diminishes the importance of the story to the player - especially when you're fighting in areas that you have already "liberated".

I loved this fighter jet. It may not have been the most practical vehicle for causing chaos but it was fun to fly and get around quickly...

Getting back to the story arcs mentioned above, it's a lot to cram into a series of short cutscenes and in tackling this many complex ideas and themes, each one is diluted because of the presence of the others. I'll briefly go over each of the arc's points:

Is the player supposed to feel upset about Dimah's sacrifice? I don't remember her from Just Cause 2 but if she was in the game she wasn't prominently featured in the story and I barely had time to get to know her like I did Mordin Solus in Mass Effect 2 and 3 and so the build-up to her redemption is barely getting started for the player by the time her sacrifice comes around.

What is Avalanche Studios going for with stating that Rico is the product of a deal between Di Ravello and The Agency? Are they trying to make a comment on war or PMCs? How Rico feels about these revelations is never explored and, worse, it's never really used in the dialogue except to just state that it probably happened.

Rico also has the whole home-coming thing going on and, while this works pretty well between him and his childhood friend, Mario, this isn't explored terribly well either and I do not remember it being stated where exactly Rico was from in JC2.

The best two story arcs are for Di Ravello - both in the tapes you find of his rise to power and of his efforts to stay the advance of revolution. You get a clear sense of the person he is - cold, calculating and, ultimately, delusional. The audio logs are expertly acted and it is quite interesting to listen to the twists and turns of his plotting.


The denizens of the island state are quite a colourful set of characters; I happened upon these guys in a wooded area in the middle of nowhere. The guy on the left with the mask on his face is playing at hitting a non-existent pinata with an invisible bat whilst the other two laugh and cheer him on...

As mentioned above, the characterisation of the main protagonist and his cohort are not that well done. I don't see much point in going over any of those that I missed but I will discuss a couple of interesting characters:

President in Exile Rosa Manuela: It was a bit weird when she was introduced. Saving her by surfing on top of her plane and fighting off waves of enemy jets was great! But then when she was down on the ground and doing her political thing, she seemed just as power-hungry as Di Ravello but willing to grab hold of that power and influence by other means. I hope this was on purpose as it's a very subtle nudge and wink toward the reality that certain types of people tend to gravitate towards positions of power. She wasn't in it for the good of all - that was just a nice selling point - and the people around and supporting her seemed oblivious to her personality traits that were similar to Di Ravello's.

The Radio Announcer: I thought his voice acting was pretty good. He managed to play the part of 'celebrity at gunpoint' really well and the script he was reading from was decently humorous if not outright funny. I also liked that he had his own little self-contained story that resolved itself throughout the course of the player's actions. It was also nice to hear an English voice in a game that wasn't used for an antagonist!


Probably my favourite easter egg in the game was this soap box kart. I think I managed around 10 km in the end...

Many games do one thing well and then survive by doing the other things adequately. Just Cause is one of those rare game series that does everything well (at least over JC2 and JC3). I think that the core gameplay mechanics can be separated into two main categories:

- Running and gunning (movement, combat)
- Driving (cars, boats, planes)

Over both JC2 and JC3 the core mechanics of running, jumping, falling, aiming shooting and switching weapons just feel right. They are fun to play and experiment with. The parachute and grapple complement the base movement set and allow the player to escape situations or enter them at will. With the introduction of the wingsuit, players can now even eschew the other travel methods (i.e. fast travel and vehicular) if they so desire.

So often in JC2, I was travelling to a place where I knew I could get a particular vehicle (usually the attack helicopter) in order to go to another place where I could use it to take down the infrastructure and enemies. While this wasn't un-fun, it was putting more time between me and my goals and I can see why the developers have added in the fast travel, equipment request drops and wingsuit mechanics to this entry in the series as that reduces the separation between the player and their enjoyed activity - i.e. destroying facilities.

That makes it interesting to discover that the final island is relatively sparse. It's a huge open area with not a lot to do. In comparison, the first two island chains are quite densely packed with towns, facilities and outposts. When I was clearing the final island I was mostly hampered by trying to find the last outpost in each area - not by the difficultly of the encounters.

Similarly, the final boss battle was a let-down not only due to its location but the lack of options in how the player engaged that made the fight harder than it needed to be.

Perhaps most surprisingly, is the fact that the vehicle handling is excellent in JC2 and JC3. Different vehicles in the same class have different handling characteristics: i.e. a sports car will behave like a sports car (with more grip and acceleration) when compared to a consumer car. It's difficult to imagine and to explain because so many other games get their car handling completely wrong using just one model (I'm looking at you Test Drive Unlimited 2!) - let alone the variable model the developers have implemented here.

Of course, a game with such opportunities at one-up-manship, Just Cause 3 has a leaderboard and a selection of achievement tracking so that players can compare their performance with other players. Unfortunately, the way Avalanche have implemented this boggles the mind. Each player (seemingly) gets lumped in with a handful of other players and from that moment onward they are only able to see and compare with those people. You can't see the worldwide rankings of other players or even your own location on that ranking list. This meant that I got stuck with only one of my friends on my list and several people who didn't even bother with many of these challenges which meant that it was really easy to reach the number 1 ranking in many cases. I think this is a severe oversight on the part of the developers.

Technical issues/bugs:

I just had an idea for a game about a haircut overthrowing bad guys!

For a game of this size and complexity I encountered very few bugs. Occasionally, the physics system goes haywire and catapults Rico or a nearby car into the air for no reason and trying to drive the huge dump trucks is an exercise in frustration due to them being affected by the smallest pieces of geometry. I also had an occasion where I clipped through the floor and was unable to escape but fast travelling fixed this issue. Plus, there was one time when the game stopped rendering all the textures (in favour of a uniform black) with the exception of the skybox and Rico's hair... 


I don't think anyone would deny that the game is beautiful and that the architects of the terrain and settlements really did their job well...

Just Cause 3 is a really fun romp through its first half (the first two islands) and then an increasingly slow slog through the last third, culminating in an unsatisfying boss battle. In terms of story and pacing, I felt that Just Cause 2 managed itself better. I think the addition of the wingsuit is as revelatory as the introduction of the grappling hook and the player's movement options in and out of combat are unparalleled. However, there's nothing else like Just Cause 3 out yet this generation (Crackdown is still some way away) so I think it's worth a buy if you like these sorts of arcadey action open world games.

Backseat Designing:

"I'm lost, can you... Oh, you're lost too? There used to be a military base somewhere around here but I'm not seeing it on my map..." 

I think the first half of the game is fine although I'd not have the story missions tied to the percent liberation or number of areas liberated. The trade-off the developers made between a cohesive story and cohesive gameplay is not ideal. The current balance is "play two hours of random stuff and then continue on with the story missions, wash, rinse, repeat" on the story/gameplay spectrum.

What I would do is have two mission types:

1) Story missions - the story of the revolution against Di Ravello. That's pretty much as it exists in the game now. These could be completed up to and including his final battle (which I'll get onto in a moment). After you complete the boss fight then it is a case of locking up whatever areas are left and wiping-up the enemy army.

2) The redemption of Dimah - these missions would be as they currently are in the main story but their own separate track that actually require a progression in the control of areas by the player/revolution. Possibly this could be unlocked post Story missions. These, of course, are more free-form than the main story missions and so do not need to be linked end-to-end as they are.

For the third island I would have either made it smaller so as to condense the settlements and outposts or kept the size and increased their number.

The final battle would have taken place where it did but I would have had the volcano ringed by outposts with a facility at the centre (in the volcano - he is a supervillain!) with many bavarium tanks and helicopters. Di Ravello would only appear when enough chaos was caused at the base (as per normal base commanders) and his bavarium helicopter would only have half the health it did in the battle as is.

The final two changes are linked: I would change the progression of getting vehicles and change the wealth of the islands. In order to show that Di Ravello was really a terrible dictator (and not in the incompetence sense!), the first two islands would have firing squads and military checkpoints pulling civilians over at the side of the road. The villages would be small and poor-looking with only old style buildings and many of them in disrepair. Cars would tend to be older too - none of those flashy sports cars that are currently available on all islands. There would also be no planes or large airbases on these first two islands (there would be only two small landing strips - one on each island chain), meaning that the player's only source of them would be by escalating the heat system to 4 or 5 stars whereupon air support is called in.

In keeping with the the general trend of dictators, the final island would be the most rich and houses the main military force. All the towns and cities would be modern - with relatively few old buildings (except for monasteries outside of towns etc.). Modern and sports cars would be plentiful and the airbases would be large and house all types of military planes as would the larger helicopters. Prison bases would also be on the mainland (no large prison complexes would be on the southern islands - just those in police HQs) and would be full of prisoners of the opposition and revolution.

Hopefully, this would more clearly characterise Di Ravello's reign as a harsh dictatorship where opponents are disappeared, normal civilian life is curtailed and the money from the bavarium trade is spent only on those most closest to the position of Di Ravello's power.

Viva la revolucion!

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