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‘Just Cause 3:’ Big, dumb and fun

(Courtesy of Square Enix)

Just Cause 3
Developed by: Avalanche Studios
Published by: Square Enix
Available on: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

The vast majority of explosions in entertainment are meant to be gazed at. Like ellipses they engagingly highlight the gap between one moment and the next. In contrast, the explosions in “Just Cause 3,” appear with such regularity that they are trivial enough to overlook, like glow sticks at a dance party. Not too far into my fifty-hour tour of the game, it struck me that my character Rico Rodriguez was as likely as not to have his back turned away from whatever mayhem he’d caused. Even his blend of chaos is vulnerable to the dulling effects of routine.

“Just Cause 3” continues Rico’s sun-drenched adventures as the world’s suavest squasher of dictators. (Dictators, like terrorists and zombies, are among the most serviceable villains in video games because they make for uncomplicated kill or be killed scenarios.)

Returning to his homeland, the fictional Mediterranean archipelago of Medici, Rico uncovers the plot of General Di Ravello to use the country’s natural supply of an explosive material called “Bavarium” to further his hawkish ambitions. Although the characters stick to flat archetypes — the overgrown bully dictator; the cool-headed action hero; the absent-minded genius, etc., — the game’s dialogue hits its beats like a quotable early Schwarzenegger movie. And I challenge anyone to find voice actors in another game that exult as much in the rolling of their r’s. My general impression, from the game’s short cutscenes, is that the cast reveled in their roles and that the game’s writers have a good sense of humor.

“Just Cause 3’s” open-world setting draws obvious comparisons to series like “Far Cry” and “Grand Theft Auto.” But its gameplay feels like a modern take on the “Bionic Commando” games from the 80s which introduced a super soldier who uses a grappling hook to yo-yo around the environment. To this, “Just Cause 3” adds a wingsuit and a parachute that Rico can readily re-deploy. These pieces allow Rico many options into and out of enemy-controlled areas. As decent as the game’s third-person shooting mechanics are, its heart resides in the dynamism of its traversal options which can be strung together in delirious ways.

Quickly, the idea of hanging upside down from a helicopter and using a rocket launcher to knock out another chopper will seem to be no big deal. Ditto, hijacking a vehicle and crashing it into a strategic area, like a fuel refinery– after making a flashy exit that takes advantage of the parachute, wingsuit and grappling hook. Just about everything in the game’s world, except its flora, is a possible link in a chain of events. Consequently, no one thing seems substantial; no jet, helicopter, motorcycle or boat could claim my attention for long. Instead, my excitement hinged on juggling vehicles, firearms, and Rico’s toolkit over protracted periods. For much of that time, I doubt that a real thought cohered in my mind other than a notion that the user-generated videos spawned from “Just Cause 3” will be bonkers and may form the game’s true legacy.

Allowing for the fact that as a reviewer my priority is to push through games as quickly as possible, I found it aggravating that at a few points the game’s story missions are locked behind the onerous requirements of liberating a certain number of provinces under General Di Ravello’s control. In practice, this involves destroying similar sets of infrastructure repeatedly, pushing the game’s mindlessness too far for my tastes.

Since this is an open-world game, there is other filler to keep you busy when you’re not throwing off the yoke of dictatorial oppression. “Just Cause 3” features a raft of challenges that open up new mods for Rico’s gear. Tests of skill include using the wingsuit to sail through rings in the air and driving an explosives-laden vehicle into a target without dropping below a certain speed limit. None of the challenges I tried veer into unusual territory but they nonetheless cradled my attention over a few rounds.

On my PC, I experienced fluctuating frame rates particularly when it rained. Digital Foundry has reported that the game struggles to maintain a constant 30 frames-per-second on either console but that the Xbox One fares worse. The developers have promised to patch the game after they have collected more data and gained a handle on specific problems. Annoying as I found these technical hitches they hardly deterred me from creating new sequences of pyrotechnics. Perhaps, what that says about me is something that I don’t want to think too hard about.

Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer who has been playing video games since the days of the Atari 2600. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the Barnes & Noble Review, Al Jazeera America, the Guardian and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.

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