Avalanche Studios has consistently upped the ante with each entry of “Just Cause” and the latest shift is, essentially, tossing all of the previous upgrades into a weather-powered blender. “Just Cause 4” is using the new Apex engine and the developers are using the engine’s power and flexibility to add four extreme weather conditions to the series’ high-speed and malleable action.
Via Apex, Avalanche is also attempting to improve on the game’s PC version, upon which this review is based. Does “Just Cause 4” accomplish everything the studio hoped for? Definitely more yes than no.
WATCH FOR THE HOOK
Chaos is king in the “Just Cause” series, but mastering movement is an essential part of this. Switching between on-foot, vehicle, wingsuit, parachute, and grapple hook movement is the foundation of the “Just Cause 4” experience and it works well. I used an Xbox One gamepad and only stumbled a minuscule amount of time before I was flying around with ease.
In “Just Cause 4,” the mastering of movement extends out to other objects. The grapple hook’s tether has been improved and can now do three things total: Tether objects together, attach balloons, and attach rocket boosters. There are three loadouts I’m able to modify with a plethora of options, from having balloon-attached objects follow me around to how quickly a tethered line retracts, and these options are going to supply “Just Cause 4” players with massive amounts of creative opportunity for many years to come. Some modifications are locked behind side quests, but are more than worth the effort.
I made it through the game only having to absolutely use the tether function to progress through the main story, but the balloons and boosts can enhance the conflicts and keep things interesting. Also, there is at least one optional quest line that does encourage the use of the full scope of grapple hook functions. It would have been nice if the main story utilized the full feature set of the grapple hook more.
The game’s map is massive and there are a handful of repetitive filler quests to keep things rolling as you take over more of the map and, subsequently, unlock more toys to play around with. Repetitive as they are, the freedom to do almost anything to take down my enemies kept things interesting. If I weren’t interested in following the main story, it helps that I’m able to hover over areas and see what unlocks so I can just make a beeline for specific weapons or vehicles I’d like to have airdropped.
THINGS FALL APART
There are many moments when “Just Cause 4” is very pretty. The wingsuit animations are superb, right down to the subtle shifts of the smallest articles of clothing, and there are some beautiful sights to be seen when flying over the game’s massive map. When looking at things up close, though, things begin to fall apart.
There’s texture inconsistency spread throughout, but the biggest culprit comes from damaged vehicles. Instead of any kind of realistic-looking damage, vehicles initially take on a washed-out texture when damaged and it sticks out like a sore thumb. When completely destroyed, things don’t look as bad.
“Just Cause 4” loads incredibly fast for such a massive game, but the trade-off here is assets that pop in and out. Draw distance is very far with varying degrees of visual acuity, but the problem is how enemies, NPCs, vehicles, and other objects suddenly appear and disappear as I moved around.
As far as sound goes, explosions are as impactful as I expected from a Just Cause game. Voice actor performances are solid throughout, from the cutscenes to the banter during missions. The downfall comes as a result of repetitive mission types, which also results in repetitive interactions. Explosive weapons sound fine, but rifles are missing a bit on the low end. Some of the vehicles suffer from the same, lacking bass in the engine sounds.
WEATHER OR NOT
The issues that I did come across in “Just Cause 4” are almost entirely outnumbered by the cool things that are happening at any given time. Gameplay is as explosive and destructible as ever, but the extreme weather mechanics are the spotlight here. The development team built “Just Cause 4” around four weather conditions: Tornadoes, blizzards, sandstorms, and heavy rainfall with lightning.
All four of different extreme weather conditions are visually stunning and diverse. The tornadoes and rain storms are the most engaging in how they function, which is telltale considering they’re the only ones reflected in a weapon counterpart. To explain further, the lightning gun and wind gun are powerful tools that work as expected, but the sand and blizzard effects don’t influence gameplay in a way that warrants the inclusion of a gun.
Visually, all four are impressive and they’re incredible additions to a game that is already incredibly malleable. Extreme weather in “Just Cause 4” coupled with the new grapple hook functions are going to result in some of the coolest and most creative gameplay clips gaming has ever seen.
The Art of Storytelling
The game’s focus is largely on the action, with narrative not really being high on the list of topics when discussing the series. Nevertheless, the developers of “Just Cause 4” weaved a decently intriguing story around the game’s focus on the weather effects.
Rico Rodriguez is his typical cool self and he has two consistent supporting characters along for the ride. The two antagonists in “Just Cause 4” are interesting, but neither one of them gets the screen time they deserve. The game doesn’t even directly engage either one, which is highly annoying for the secondary villain considering there’s a moment where a cutscene sets up what seems like a direct engagement.
My PC specs:
— 16GB RAM
— Game installed on SSD
— GeForce GTX 1060 3GB (Game Ready driver installed)
I included the specs above because the “Just Cause” series has had a spotty history with PC versions. The development team has said that Apex will allow for a better product across all platforms, but I can only speak on my experience with “Just Cause 4” on PC (I played the previous games on PS4). My game crashed a handful of times. This was frustrating, but would have been even more so if the game didn’t have a forgiving autosave and checkpoint system. Only once throughout my playthrough did I lose enough progress in a mission to be irritated.
The trade-off for asset pop-in versus quick load times is worth it, but is something that will need to be addressed as the team gets more familiar with the Apex engine. The issues I experienced are things I feel can be tackled easily with a patch, with a couple already being handled day one.
“Just Cause 4” makes the massive gameplay leap that has become customary for the open-world action series and has laid the groundwork for the series’ future, but that hasn’t come without some growing pains. The Apex Engine opens a lot of doors for the development team and the new weather system is a clear example of this,
Beyond the occasional crashes and the visual flicker, the game ran fairly well with so many things happening on screen. I never noticed any significant slowdown, even with the game’s weaponized weather completely upending the area around me. At worst, there’s a slight framerate dip with massive rapid explosions, but nothing that impacted my gameplay experience. Overall, “Just Cause 4” is a very entertaining package and its potential won’t be fully tapped for a long time.
This review is based on a PC code provided by the game’s publisher. “Just Cause 4” is available now for $59.99 on PS4, Xbox One, PC.
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