Republished on Wednesday, 26th July 2017: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of August 2017's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Just Cause 3 can be best described as a catalyst for fun. The huge array of tools at your disposal, the sheer size of the playground that you're in, the endless amounts of possibilities – it's obvious that developer Avalanche Studios has placed the fun factor first and foremost, and it's paid off very well.
This fun is amplified by the new mechanics that Rico 'Scorpio' Rodriguez possesses – the most obvious being his new wingsuit, which is by far the best addition to the series. Not only does it feel hella responsive [Really? – Ed], but the fact that you go faster the closer that you are to the ground adds a feeling of danger and excitement to the new arrival.
Also added is the ability to control the tension of your grappling hooks, which, once again, adds even more ways to take down the forces of General di Ravello. The classic method would be to attach an explosive barrel to a fuel tank and pull them together, but you can now do so much more: attach a tank to a flying helicopter, then tighten the rope to smash them against one another; fasten a jeep to a building and pilot its turret from a vantage point – you get the idea.
Rico's parachute also feels a lot more responsive. This, combined with the new wingsuit, fixes Just Cause 2's biggest problem – being stuck in the middle of nowhere with no means of transportation. Instead of waiting for a car to come by, you can simply use your grappling hook to gain momentum, open your parachute, and switch to your wingsuit, where you're free to flying-squirrel wherever you damn well please.
And that's pretty much the essence of Just Cause 3 – fixing the problems of the previous game. For example, driving any vehicle in its predecessor was a chore – cars handled like bricks, to put it bluntly. Now, while not of a Grand Theft Auto standard, vehicles feel a whole lot better. Plus, the fact that they transform into bombs with wheels when you jump out of them helps.
And you'll definitely need transportation, because Medici is a very, very big world. Similar in scale to Panau, this new island is a lot more varied than its predecessor. You'll find mountaintop bases, picturesque tourist trap beaches, quaint Mediterranean villages, fields of flowers, mini-fishing towns, and the odd city or two.
Medici also serves as Rico's home country, the basis of the story – though that term is used very loosely. Scorpio must return to his motherland in order to overthrow the reign of the tyrannical dictator General di Ravello, who has uncovered an element called Bavarium that is highly volatile. This material is used for most things in the general's army, from tanks with Bavarium forcefields to Bavarium nukes. Fans will be happy to learn that the voice acting has improved quite a lot – there are no Bolo Santosis to be seen here.
Also improved are the campaign's missions; while there are definitely some low points – including some poor escort missions – there are many that offer huge set pieces that are really fun to complete. The fact that the first mission involves you standing atop a plane and firing RPGs at SAM sites before blowing up a bridge says it all, really.
What's so great is the freedom given to you in Just Cause 3. At the start of the campaign, the characters talk about di Ravello's nuke-holding bases, but it's not like you have to unlock them – you can go and take over those bases right there and then. If you don't enjoy the campaign, then there's no reason to play it, because you can just hop around the islands, liberating strongholds, completing challenges, and generally having a goddamn good time.
Said challenges are the main way to unlock mods, the game's upgrade system, as well as new vehicles and weapons to airdrop in. The challenges can vary from trying to destroy a base with a helicopter in a given time limit to mastering a wingsuit course, and they never feel like a chore to do – not the mention that the upgrades unlocked are always worth it.
However, while the Beacon mechanic – which replaces the godawful Black Market from the previous game – definitely makes it easier to airdrop in vehicles and weapons, it's a little too restricted. In order to get an airdrop, you need a beacon, which can be found in enemy bases and the like. However, once you've airdropped in a specific vehicle, a timer is put on it, so you can only call it in once the timer has expired. Sure, you can unlock mods to completely scrap that mechanic, but it's still an unnecessary extra step.
Still, all of these mods and unlocks come together beautifully when you decide to take over an oppressed town or an enemy base. Just like previous games, you're given a list of things to blow up in the base, and you take the reins from there. The base design is excellent – expect anything from a huge naval base with a boat firing at you from the middle to a load of platforms suspended off the edge of a cliff to a hidden air force runway. The verticality complements the wingsuit especially well, and the absolute carnage that ensues during these attacks is easily the best thing about the game. Once you've taken over all of the bases, you can simply reset them and do it all over again.
But the performance isn't always as good as it should be. While framerate claims have been wildly exaggerated, it does drop noticeably during moments of high activity, though these issues aren't ever bad enough to completely ruin the experience.
The loading times, however, have been pretty shocking for us at points. Most restarts persist for about 30-60 seconds – which is already pretty bad – but for some reason loading into challenges takes two to three minutes, which is simply unacceptable. Strangely, these times seem to get worse the longer that you play the game for, so we've been entering Rest Mode every few hours to keep them down. Crazy!
Despite the technical problems – which need to be sorted out quickly, really – we've had a terrifying amount of fun with Just Cause 3. The freedom enabled by this game is second to none, and the island of Medici offers plenty of opportunities for creativity – or, of course, explosions. The campaign may have some low points, but attacking bases and liberating towns is some of the best fun that you'll find on the PS4 this year.