Sometimes, video games — admirably – aim to deliver deep, emotional narratives and heartfelt, compelling experiences. Other times, they’re Just Cause 4 – a title that’s best described as an interactive series of extremely satisfying explosions.
For Avalanche Studios’ latest open world adventure, series protagonist Rico Rodriguez finds himself in the South American country Solís, out to depose another dictatorship, while investigating his own father’s links to international mercenary organisation Black Hand. Returning players will find navigation of the beautiful environs as smooth and exciting as ever, with Rico’s signature grappling hook zooming him to practically any vantage point in range, while a combo of wing suit and retractable parahute give him borderline flight capabilities. Throw in a fantastic array of weapons, customisable loadouts, and some funky combat applications for the grapple, and Rico is able to wreak havoc across all terrain with near-superhuman capacity.
A cathartic paean to destruction for destruction’s sake.
However, notwithstanding his one-man impersonation of a wrecking crew, Rico’s not entirely alone in Just Cause 4. He becomes a figurehead for a burgeoning “Army of Chaos” made up of citizens oppressed by Black Hand’s operations, who form one of the more layered and nuanced elements of the game. The carnage you cause to Black Hand forces and bases inspires the people of Solís, recruiting them into the Army of Chaos and allowing you to form them into squads to push out and secure territory. It’s a more tactical and considered aspect than the series usually offers players, nicely emphasising the guerilla war that’s taking over the country.
While the various plot threads attempt to deliver something of substance, it’s largely background noise and daddy issues on which to frame the mechanics of building a nationwide insurrectionist movement and blowing up pretty much everything along the way. This is a game about anarchic chaos in the extreme – the bad guy’s main plot involves a weather-manipulating doomsday weapon, delivering everything from tornados and squalls to lightning storms, and upheaving everything when it’s deployed – and sense can take a backseat.
The main problem is that it can get a bit too chaotic in places. It’s all too common to find yourself facing down hordes of Black Hand foot soldiers while your own Army of Chaos tries to assist, with gun copters hovering overhead and armoured vehicles full of enemy reinforcements rolling up, and snipers taking aim from the bushes or distant watchtowers. It’s frequently overwhelming, leaving you little room to catch your breath or figure out where to go next.
When it retains its focus though, Just Cause 4 is a lot of fun. Its plot and villain draw from the campiest excesses of Bond, while wilder impulses make it feel like Machete with an infinite effects budget – if Machete had the occasional delusion of being serious. A cathartic paean to destruction for destruction’s sake.