The Just Cause series has always done insane spectacle better than anyone, but with Avalanche Studios having already gone pretty much as big as you can go in Rico Rodriguez's first two outings, how do you up the ante yet again? Based on the first few hours playing Just Cause 3 the answer appears to be: you don't. Instead you refine and polish what's already there until it shines.
Having already been responsible for bringing down a number of dictators over the years, this time out Rico's on a mission to topple the dictator in control of Medici, a cluster of islands in the Mediterranean, which also happen to be his place of birth. As before, you'll be pushing for regime change by helping the local resistance take back their homeland, mainly by blowing up anything and everything that you can.
With not much changing on the story front, the thing that you'll notice most from your first few hours in Medici are the quality of life changes made to the familiar Just Cause gameplay. In previous titles there were always roadblocks on the path to wanton destruction; whether it was getting around the sprawling open world, running out of triggered explosives at just the wrong moment, or being pursued relentlessly by the eagle eyed enemy soldiers, it was these minor annoyances that always seemed to take the edge off your enjoyment of Just Cause's mayhem.
Despite some shortcomings, Just Cause 3 seems well on course to being the greatest in the series
Luckily, there have been abundance of changes to deal with these previous niggles, and they appear – at least in these early stages – to all be for the better. The biggest of these relates to how you traverse the open world, with Rico getting his mitts on a wing suit which makes him much more capable at moving around under his own steam. By using the wingsuit in conjunction with the parachute and grappling hook, you can glide, sail, and pull yourself across the landscape quicker than ever before. On top of this, these tools make a great platform from which to mount an aerial assault, and we couldn't help but spend much of our opening skirmishes flying high above our targets so that we could see the fireworks when we started to rain down rockets and bullets.
If you enjoyed messing around with the physics in the previous games, then the new ability to reel two objects towards each other with the grappling hook is going to become a serious addiction; you won't be able to stop yourself playing with this new toy and thinking up all manner of odd experiments. We couldn't stop attaching soldiers to other soldiers, deer to lamp posts, or explosive barrels to literally anything, and much of our time travelling around was spent on the lookout for any opportunity to cause mayhem in the most bizarre way possible.
While you spend the opening hour or so working through a number of tutorial missions, once the game opens up, the general structure appears to be very similar to the earlier entries. Playing story missions and liberating settlements are still the order of the day, however there are now a bigger number of challenge events available, providing a variety of tests for you to show off your skills. Normally it would be very easy to pass these by, however there are now also a raft of mods that can be unlocked via these challenges, which provide some pretty cool enhancements, and a really great incentive to take on any challenge that you come across.
The islands of Medici certainly seem to be worthy successors to Panau and San Esperito, providing a colourful and picturesque backdrop for your one-man war. In fact, it looks so appealing that we found ourselves uttering out loud a couple of times: "If it wasn't for the whole evil dictator thing, this would be a great place for a holiday." The jump to the PlayStation 4 has also given Just Cause 3's visuals a boost, and while the previous games were no slouch – especially in terms of their draw distance – the increase in fidelity make this the best looking Just Cause yet.
Pushing the technical boundaries does appear to have come at a price, though, and while the framerate's prone to the occasional stutter, it's the loading times that appear to be the biggest compromise. You know the loads are lengthy when you reach for a clock to see if you've been staring at a screen as long as you think you have, and with some breaking the two minute barrier, it's tempting to try and put the time to good use by maybe grabbing a snack or answering an email or two.
Having only spent a short time with Just Cause 3 there's still plenty of Medici to explore, and while at first glance there doesn't appear to be a huge amount that's changed, the multitude of little improvements uncovered in the opening hours feel like they have the potential to have a much bigger impact than you'd think. While it'll remain to be seen if the annoyance from the long load times will recede, the addition of the wingsuit – as well as some more creative avenues for chaos – make up for this shortcoming, and mean that Just Cause 3 seems well on course to being the greatest in the series.
Will you be taking an explosive trip through Medici this week, or has Avalanche's latest yet to convince you? Grapple hook your way into the comments section below and let us know.