Over the course of the last 12 months, I’ve reviewed Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Fallout 4, Mad Max, MGS V: The Phantom Pain, Dying Light, GTA V, The Crew and Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell. The thing they all have in common? Open worlds. 2015 has been the year of open worlds. Once an occasional treat, it’s like winning your weight in Kit Kats and realising the magic's worn off after the thirteenth bar. It’s gluttony. Which is why I think the highest praise I can give to Just Cause 3, after slogging through all of these, is that I had a damn fun time.
It might be more of the same, but it’s certainly the good stuff. Unlike plenty of other games out there, Just Cause 3 exists in an open world for a reason. It’s not just a ploy to add content and stick a buzzword on the back of the box. It’s because Avalanche knows exactly why a sandbox is called a sandbox - because you want to play with your toys in there and make things go boom.
And explode they do, because from a pyrotechnic point of view this is an assault on your senses. After messing around with Just Cause 3 it's bewildering to me why pyromaniacs would want to head out and set things alight in the real world. The screen shattering explosions are so manic and unpredictable that this houses everything you could ever wish to do. Avalanche has got it down to an art form. One small move can turn a peaceful town into the location of a seismic event, with entire petrol stations blowing into the sky and giant gas canisters rolling off cliffs and into fully destructible bridges. Unknowable chain reactions are set off by the slightest touch.
Watching it all unfold is downright hilarious. I’ve still not got used to just how massive these explosions get. I retreat to what would be an easily safe distance in any other game, only to be blown backwards by sheer force of the detonation. 12-year-old me wouldn’t have come out of my bedroom until my eyes were like saucers playing this.
I do hope you like the sound of that, because it’s one of the two key cruxes on which the entire basis of Just Cause 3 thrives. The other is movement. It’s been a while since I played Just Cause 2 so I was a little shaky at first, but Avalanche deftly layer in new abilities with which to tear it across the mammoth map. The introduction of a wingsuit is a true blessing, and there’s a real buzz about skimming along the floor as low as you can go, inches from death. Few games capture the sensation of speed and scale like this, and for once it's actually bolstered by its open world, rather than hampered by it. If you find yourself driving a car, or walking about on foot like a numpty, then you’re doing something drastically wrong. Walking is for babies in Just Cause 3.
Once you’ve got the move set down pat, looking insanely cool at all times just comes totally effortlessly. Wingsuiting into a helicopter and killing its pilot, and then ejecting out and watching as it bursts an enemy stronghold into flames. Grapple hooking two headlong cars and slinging them at each other at insane speeds. Most of the fun I had in Just Cause 3 was a product of just messing about. A true sandbox.
These two components are strong enough to carry the game. Which is just as well, because in plenty of other areas, Just Cause 3 isn’t too hot. The main missions are repetitive. The AI is insanely stupid. Scouring a map for every destroyable ‘Chaos’ object gets tiresome. You’re practically forced into the mini games. There are mountains of fun-sapping collectibles and activities to knock off your checklist. The Mediterranean island of Medico has few truly recognisable landmarks, it’s more just a sprawl of identikit towns, villages, enemy bases and mountain ranges. There’s nothing to do in any of these places except find some collectibles and destroy everything in it.
Just Cause 3 is consummately shallow then, but were you expecting anything else? It’s brash, it’s in your face, and it’s lacking in a driving narrative. But it’s one of the few ways to connect with that childhood feeling of getting a new toy, and just messing around with it in every conceivable way. And for that it can’t really be faulted. Just Cause 3 shows no pretensions of being a game changer or attempting to advance videogames as an art form. It’s about bombastic explosions, hilariously unintended consequences, and seeing what happens when you drop your brand new toy from a fourth-floor window.