Howdy, folks. Today we’re here to talk about the series of mayhem simulators known as the Just Cause games.
I recently decided to play through all three titles to see where the game had come from and where it had grown over the years. And as it turns out, the series has grown quite a bit.
The series follows Rico Rodriguez, who works for a shadowy organization called “The Agency”, which is ostensibly part of the CIA. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. You’re a dictator removal specialist, and it is your job to go into beautiful island nations, and blow things up until the bad guy is no longer in power. That’s essentially the plot of the series. You wander around the island nations using your grappling hook and infinite parachute that never needs to be repacked, and blow up everything and everyone that gets in your way. But let’s examine things from the start, shall we?
The first game in the franchise was Just Cause (obviously), and it was…honestly not great. Especially in the beginning. When it starts out, you don’t even have your grappling hook, the signature weapon that makes the franchise properly fun. Instead, you start on one end of the map and begin your war against the island’s dictator. You do so by allying yourself with two factions, the rebels who were already fighting for their freedom, and a drug cartel. Each faction has side missions available, and areas that you can capture for them based on how far you’ve progressed in the story. The rebels have you reclaiming settlements, military bases, and even cities later on in the game. The cartel instead has you reclaiming a series of identical mansions scattered around the nation, run by an opposing drug cartel who is in league with the dictator.
This game taught me a lot about how to liberate settlements. Apparently, what you do is to approach a suspicious looking rebel or cartel enforcer on the outskirts of the settlement, standing next to a large pile of ammunition, often in plain view to the side of the road. Then you agree that this place would be a lot nicer if your guys ran it. Then you shoot a bunch of their guys, until it tells you to blow up a roadblock to allow your men to proceed further. Then you shoot some more bad guys. Then you blow up another roadblock. Then more bad guys. Then another roadblock. You need to take out a total of three roadblocks for every single area you liberate in this game. Then for rebel settlements, you need to lower the enemy’s flag and replace it with your own, which is of course only available after the area is free from the tyranny of roadblocks. The cartel missions, on the other hand, have you claiming mansions after taking out the bad guy in charge, who of course only leaves the safety of his mansion after the roadblocks are gone. If I make that sound tedious, it’s because it is. It is very, very tedious, considering that in the game there are over one hundred places to liberate, and they all work the exact same way.
Unlike the later games, you don’t get to call in airdrops for weapons that fall out of the sky. You can call in vehicle drops, but there’s only four vehicles you can summon, and you unlock them by completing story missions. The weapons, you have to either take from the corpses of your enemies, or your strategically placed safe-houses. You unlock these safe-houses by liberating different areas and increasing your standing with the two factions. Which was…all right, I guess. There was enough to do for the rebels that I had maxed out their reputation by the time I finished the game, so all of their bases had shiny toys waiting for me. I was a big fan of the grenade launcher I unlocked towards the end. The cartel, however, would have required you to do a large number of the optional side-quests to max out the reputation and unlock their goodies. No thanks, drug dudes.
As for the story? Pretty terrible. In retrospect, it seems to be largely a parody of the idea, not taking itself too seriously. But without the later games as context, I might have missed this fact and thought that they were trying to make a serious story. Large breasted women, explosions, and your all-American boss for the Agency giving you your missions.
Mechanically, it was repetitive and dull. The grappling hook was a good start, but it wasn’t nearly as good as it was in later games. Some of the missions were fun, but for the most part they were go here, kill them, blow this up. At the end of the game though, you have to catch up to the dictator’s plane using a jet fighter, then jump from your jet onto his plane to board it and kill him. Which you do after he jumps out with a parachute. You actually have to catch up with him while he’s falling so that you can place a large explosive on his back. Boom! That part was pretty great.
Just Cause 2
Then you get into the second game, Just Cause 2 (again, obviously). This was my initial foray in the franchise. And right away, it’s better than the first game. It looks better, it plays better, and it is infinitely more satisfying. Now instead of waging war against the evils of roadblocks, you liberate settlements by blowing up all of the government equipment within the settlement, and acquiring all of the collectibles.
And this was both good and bad for the game. Some settlements can be hard to finish because you’re looking for that one last hidden collectible, or that one thing just waiting to be exploded. But still…better than roadblocks. And when you’re really just blowing things up? That feels good. That feels very good. Fuel tanks, satellites, generators and radio antennas, and many other things that go out with a satisfying explosion.
In this game, you’re here to remove another dictator, one who killed his own father (the previous dictator, but a somewhat US-friendly one) and took control for himself, cutting all ties with the US government. As you are employed by what seems to be a shadowy branch of the CIA, referred to as The Agency, this becomes your problem. But to get to the bottom of what’s going on in this crazy island paradise (you know, paradise aside from the human rights violations, murders, and a strange parachuting man who keeps blowing up local infrastructure), you need to make some friends among the island’s psychopaths, and track down a man who may be a traitor.
You have three choices of factions on the islands. None of them are actually…good choices. But hey, the lunatic you know is better than the lunatic you don’t. Right?
Choice number one is the Roaches. Nice suits, fancy cars. Picture an East Asian mafia, and that’s pretty much what they are. Their territory includes some of the larger cities and more populated areas of the map. They’re led by a gentleman nicknamed “The Razor” for reasons that should be obvious. They want money, power, things any good mafia strives for.
Next up is the Ular Boys. They have a very…tribal mentality. They want the nation to be left on its own, to do away with interference from outside forces and turn the island back into a jungle paradise. They are led by a man named Sri Irawan, a charismatic spokesman, who some believe uses mind control on the younger members of the gang.
The third faction is the Reapers, a pro-communist revolutionary gang that aims to take back the country “for the people”. This gang is led by Bolo Santosi, whose voice acting is always absolutely hilarious. She’s also greedy, bloodthirsty, and absolutely ruthless.
To advance in the game, you have to create chaos around the islands. You do this by completing missions, liberating settlements, and basically by being a pain in the butt to the big guy in charge. You get a chaos reward every time you kill someone, blow something up, complete a mission. Chaos is a currency that unlocks new missions, new weapons and vehicles that can be delivered via airdrop to you. It also unlocks new stronghold missions for the factions. Each faction has three strongholds that they went to claim across the islands, and each stronghold completed increases that faction’s territory and gives you new missions to complete. Which is always a good thing.
The plot in this game is fine, in that it doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. It doesn’t try to be a serious story. In fact, there are sub machine gun wielding ninjas that you have to fight at a few points in the game. So…that’s a thing. You ride missiles, you blow up almost everything, and you discover the reason that other big countries are taking an interest in the tiny island nation of Panau. I’ll give you a hint, it is not even remotely surprising.
But hey, the plot isn’t important. What’s important is blowing things up in a beautiful jungle. And there are a LOT of things to blow up. There are over three hundred and fifty settlements on the map, ranging from large city sectors, to bustling military bases, to a few huts in a jungle. If you think that’s a lot of settlements, wait until you hear about the collectibles. Each faction has its own unique collectible, drug stashes and tribal skulls and black boxes, which are all scattered around the world in unlikely places. There’s one hundred of each of those. Plus four hundred and fifty literal piles of cash hidden around the islands. And another four hundred armour parts, which will increase your health for every five you pick up. There’s a whopping nine hundred vehicle parts, and nine hundred and fifty weapon parts, which you can use to upgrade the vehicles and weapons that you can get airdropped. Which does, in fact, make quite a difference. A fully upgraded assault rifle will hold more ammunition and be more accurate, and a fully upgraded sports car will let you go really, really fast.
For those of you keeping track at home, what with the numbers and all, that’s a staggering three thousand collectibles, and a total of three hundred and sixty-eight locations on your map to explore. Although I’ve heard maybe there’s a three hundred and sixty-ninth, but I’ve never had the willpower to find out. In fact, this game has SO MUCH to do, that the achievement for “perfectionist” is awarded for reaching only 75% total game completion. That was a challenge in and of itself. It took days of combing through rural villages for collectibles and raining explosives down on military bases to get to that point.
After all that destruction and all of those explosions, you take out the leader of the island nation while riding on a series of nuclear weapons. In my opinion, more games should end like that. It was satisfying, even more satisfying than strapping an explosive device to a falling dictator and blowing him away. Could Just Cause 3‘s ending be even more satisfying? Weeelll….
Just Cause 3
Just Cause 3 is an excellent game. It is leaps and bounds ahead of where the prequel was in terms of graphics, story, and gameplay. Surprisingly, there seems to be an actual story this time around. There’s more than just “blow up everything and things will be okay”. The last two games, you were dropped in by The Agency and told to wreak havoc like Spiderman with a rocket launcher, with story missions popping up here and there along the way. Just Cause 3 follows a tighter story that features Rico Rodriguez returning to his home country of Medici, now run by a dictator who overthrew the country in a military coup.
So right off the bat, it feels personal. You feel engaged immediately, and you actually want to free this country. The previous countries were just island nations run by bad dudes, but they were more caricatures rather than actual characters. The villain in the first game was a generic dictator, the second is very much a Kim Jong Il or Kim Jong Un stand-in, always exaggerated of course into something more ridiculous and less believable. The villain in Just Cause 3, however, is much more of an actual defined character. Sebastiano di Ravello is an evil man who rules the country with an iron fist, using his military forces as well as a strange and powerful material mined from the country called bavarium. You can actually learn more about his ascent to power as you travel around the world and find the game’s collectibles, which include audio files, sort of like the general’s own personal diary. Which he…recorded. To himself. To make sure there was a record of his crimes and misdeeds. Then proceeded to scatter around his country. Yes. Okay, look, I’m not saying it makes sense, but getting backstory on the guy makes him a LOT more interesting and made me want to explode him so much more. So I’m not complaining.
Already off the bat we’ve got a villain that we WANT to defeat, a setting that we WANT to save. So what do we do? Well, we return to Rico’s home nation in style. Naturally, this means riding on top of a seaplane with a rocket launcher, shooting at enemy jets and destroying surface-to-air missile launchers before they can take out your plane. Then you jump to safety, meet Rico’s oldest friend in the world, Mario Frigo, and jump into the game.
Supporting characters! Supporting characters that aren’t either crazy factions leaders or government cronies! Seriously, after playing through the previous two games, this title was like a breath of fresh air. Along the course of the game, you fight alongside your closest childhood friend, an adorably unsociable and somewhat crazy scientist, a pair of entertaining mercenaries, your old agency handler, and the rightful president of the country who was driven out by the bad guy’s coup. To me, that was the best part. The previous games, you were the dictator removal specialist, but to what end? The problems with a nation don’t just magically disappear when you literally blow up their leader. In the second game, are you supposed to just leave the country in the hands of whichever faction you preferred? Great, either mobsters, isolationists, or communists. I ended up siding with the commies, but that’s just me. This time around you have someone qualified to lead the country in a new and hopeful direction. You also learn about the mysterious substance known as “bavarium”, which is only found in Medici. It’s the basis behind most of the advanced weapons and technology in the game, basically a super-mineral that can be used as a fuel source or make a very big bomb. Currently, the bad guy controls it.
Now let’s talk about the gameplay. The basics first. Very early on, you get an upgrade to your grappling hook that makes you Spiderman 2.0. In the last game, you could tether objects together, but…why would you? Unless you were tethering an enemy or item to an explosive barrel or vehicle, there wasn’t much of a point. It was an entertaining distraction, but in terms of actual usefulness? Not a very high rating. This time around, your upgraded hook can tether two objects together, and then SLAM them into each other. That may not sound impressive right away, but it is a great alternative when it comes to standard combat. Tethering a bad guy to an explosive barrel and smashing it right into his face feels amazing (less so for the bad guy). You can take down an entire base without firing a single shot. Slam enemies into walls, literally tear down statues, rip radar dishes and fuel tanks from their metal supports. It’s good.
The next big addition to the gameplay basics was the wingsuit. The same mission where you get the upgraded grappling hook, you get a new wingsuit to go along with your parachute. It works like it sounds. You become essentially a flying squirrel, with retractable fabric wings under your arms. Obviously you can’t gain much height flying this way, but if you already have the height you can make a lot of distance in a fairly short time. If you’re worried about colliding with the ground, as I did many, many times, you can also open your parachute at any time and switch to that. It’s a great alternative way to get around the map without relying on vehicles. Not to mention that it lets you enjoy the scenic view as you lazily glide towards your destination.
Aside from those big improvements, you still have all of the old classic gameplay features. Cars, motorcycles, boats, planes, a number of weapons to choose from, and a lot of things to blow up. This time around, the airdrop is referred to as the “rebel drop”, and you get to order your things in bulk. They’re also free, which is another improvement from the last game. Granted, in Just Cause 2 your cash was essentially meaningless because it existed for the sole purpose of spending it ON airdrop weapons and vehicles, but I’m stingy like that. It was also irritating that you could only order one thing at a time. Want a new assault rifle, to stock up on your SMG ammo, and get a car with a gun on top to blow some stuff up? Hope you’re ready to watch the same cutscene over and over again, and spend all of your hard earned dollars!
This time, ordering your weapons is simple. You have three weapon slots, your one-handed weapons, your two-handed weapons, and your heavy weapons. Your rebel drop allows you to order one a weapon for each slot, PLUS a vehicle. No cost, but there is a cooldown period where you have to wait before you can order it again. And you need to have flares on hand to tell the rebels where to drop it. Weapons are easily acquired and easily swapped out as the need arises. Thankfully, there are also many more weapons to choose from in this game, even without buying the extra DLC weapons. You can unlock new weapons by completing missions or digging up weapon parts around the island. Vehicles, however, you have to work for. To unlock each civilian vehicle, you have to find one and steal it, then drive it back to a rebel garage, where it is disassembled and somehow prepared for mass production whenever you need one. I know, doesn’t make any sense, but it does make life convenient. Military vehicles, on the other hand, can only be unlocked by liberating military bases. These include tanks, jets, military jeeps, and fun toys of that nature. There are also a few vehicles that need to be unlocked by doing stunt jumps found around the islands, such as a monster truck. You know you want to drive around a monster truck.
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are a lot more weapons to choose from this time around. In Just Cause 2, the weapons only fell into broad categories. If you wanted the assault rifle, you bought the assault rifle. The only named weapons came in the form of optional DLC weapons, which were all right. Their main benefit was that they started out at level six, the max level for a weapon. This is less of a benefit later in the game, because you can upgrade the other weapons to match. In Just Cause 3, however, you are given a lot more variety. In the base game, there are four assault rifles, two sniper rifles, three Submachine guns (which are always dual-wielded for maximum awesomeness), three shotguns (including a pair of sawn-off shotguns that you can dual-wield), three sets of pistols and an additional set once you’ve beaten the game, four rocket launchers, two grenade launchers, a mortar, an EMP launcher, and a laser-designator used to call in a rebel airstrike. The DLC adds even more options, including a gun that operates similarly to the laser designator, but instead of calling in a rebel airstrike on the location, it literally brings lightning down from the sky to destroy whatever you are pointed at. More on that when I talk about the DLC.
So that’s plot, setting, characters, weapons, and vehicles, already you have a lot of choices when it comes to this game. But what do you DO in this game? As you can probably imagine, your main goal in the game is to liberate the entire nation and defeat General di Ravello. Liberating settlements works basically the same way as it did in the previous games. No, we haven’t gone back to roadblocks because the developers no longer want me to suffer, but you do go back to the old standby of “blow everything up that relates in any way to the general’s propaganda”. Which makes sense. In Just Cause 2, I would occasionally feel bad about taking out a generator near a small village, or destroying a gas station just because it happened to be there. Yes, it hurts the dictator, but more than that it hurts the people that we’re trying to help. So this time around your targets are much more specific. Billboards plastered with the general’s face, statues he’s erected of himself, speakers that constantly pump out his annoying voice and ridiculous lies. That sort of thing. Take all of these things, out, raid the police station, and cause enough havoc, and soon you’ll be lowering the good general’s flag and replacing it with your own.
Military bases, however, simply require you to blow everything up. Fuel stations, satellite dishes, radio antennas, generators. Just point your guns at something that looks important, and pull the trigger until it’s full of holes, or preferably on fire. If you find yourself missing that last generator, they’ve added all the destructibles for your current location to your world map, but you can only see them if you’ve started to blow things up. The more you destroy, the less that remains, the clearer your map will show you where the remaining targets are. If Just Cause 2 had a feature like this, I would have been saved literally hours of aggravation.
The intro cinematic for Just Cause 3, which introduces you to the characters, and the overall feel of the game. Thanks to PlayReflect on Youtube for uploading it.
When talking about Just Cause 2, I mentioned that you can upgrade your guns and vehicles. This time around, upgrades still exist, but instead of hunting down collectibles scattered all across the world, you gain your upgrades by completing challenges. There are a variety of challenges, including shooting galleries, races of all flavours, general destruction challenges, and my favourite, the wingsuit challenges. There are a couple other challenge types, and even more added in the DLC, but those are the main ones. Each challenge has a final score, based on how long it took you for races, the amount of chaos caused for destruction, your accuracy for shooting galleries, that sort of thing. You can earn between one and five gears after completing a challenge, gears unlock an upgrade tree for whatever the challenge happened to be about. Get five gears in a bomb challenge? You might unlock the ability to hold additional grenades. Get some gears in a land race? You can unlock the ability to have all rebel car drops come equipped with nitrous.
Speaking honestly, however, the challenges were…hit or miss. Some of them were a lot of fun. Some of the races were a good time, but some were literally impossible to get five gears in without having certain upgrades unlocked. There was one challenge involving driving a car strapped with explosives down a street and into a cluster of enemy cars that I had to do over, and over, and over again, for almost an hour, before the game decided I had done it well enough and awarded me with the fifth gear. My favourite challenges were the wingsuit challenges, which have you leisurely gliding down the countryside, flying through glowing checkpoints. The closer you are to the middle of the checkpoint, the more points you get. Some challenges were lenient and let you enjoy yourself. Some of them required nothing short of perfection. And some challenges just straight up require you to cheat. Have to destroy this base and create enough chaos within a certain amount of time, using only a particular weapon? Well, you COULD do that…Or you could get in this attack helicopter that we sneakily spawned for you on the outskirts of the challenge area, and use that instead. As long as the things get blown up, the game doesn’t mind. Some of the challenges are ridiculously difficult to do without relying on cheesy strategies like this. And yet I still felt dirty afterwards.
And as we mentioned chaos in that last paragraph, it has returned in this game but serves no functional purpose. In Just Cause 2, getting more chaos would unlock new missions, weapons, vehicles, it was literally required to advance the story. In Just Cause 3, it’s a mere byproduct of your work on Medici, and the ONLY time it seems to matter is when you’re in a destruction challenge and you have to reach a certain amount of chaos within the time limit. It seems like a waste, and I would have liked to see some reward for racking up the chaos points. Maybe not in the form of weapons or missions, but perhaps alternate weapon or vehicle skins, or a different outfit for your character. Something cosmetic, that makes you feel proud for having caused all that chaos. Instead, it doesn’t really matter. It feels wasted.
In a new move for the franchise, Just Cause 3 also added story DLC packs. Three of them, to be precise, each adding new islands to the map with multiple areas to liberate. The story DLC’s make use of a more simplistic animation style for the cutscenes, rather than rendering everything, although they do bring back the voice actors to reprise their parts. The stories, while not being integral to the plot of the main game, are each intermingled with each other, all of them focusing on a new shadowy corporate villain using the island’s bavarium to build a number of deadly machines.
I won’t go too in depth to the stories, but they’re fun little diversions, and each one rewards a unique toy that can help you in your quest to liberate Medici. In fact, I would go so far as to say that these toys are unbalanced and completely overpowered. And yet, I am okay with that. To me, they seem like additions to encourage players to come back for another playthrough. While the DLC stories require their use in some parts, you can use your new toys as much or as little as you want back on the mainland. I chose to mostly ignore them, so as to keep things somewhat challenging, but if anything got particularly annoying, I would pull one out and set it loose. These toys include, the gun I mentioned earlier that literally calls lightning down from the sky, a bavarium-powered jetpack that lets you fly around with a wingsuit at much higher speeds and stay airborne for longer (but beware SAM-sites, you now show up as a rebel aircraft to the general’s anti-air weapons!), and a large mech suit with an autocannon and a gravity punch weapon. Yes, those sound absolutely ridiculous. The mech suit can annihilate enemy forces with ease, the lightning gun can clear an entire base in moments, and the jetpack makes most other forms of travel obsolete. While these may be unbalanced, they are also a great way to convince a player to come back through and go play the game again, this time using their new tools and making things go even faster.
Unfortunately, while this game was strong mechanically and had a solid mix of action and humour, it did have some issues as well. As mentioned, some of the challenges were unbalanced to the point where your only options were cheating, or repeating the same thing over and over again until the game arbitrarily decided that you did it correctly, or repeat it until you do it JUST right. In one particular wingsuit challenge, I spent over an hour trying to do it perfectly before I was awarded five gears. That’s really only a problem for completionists though, as you don’t need to get five gears on every challenge to unlock all of the upgrades. The only reason to go for five gears for everything is to get the achievement, the bragging rights, and the feeling of a job well done. Another issue that many users reported, was that the vehicles did not handle well. And while I would agree that a number of the vehicles are a little too sensitive to turns, I didn’t find it to be too detrimental to the experience. But I also had a jetpack, so I didn’t drive so much.
The game also has a number of bugs, it seems. A lot of reviews have mentioned specific bugs, but I can only comment on my own experiences on my own computer. While the game was unfortunately literally unplayable to some, I ran it without issue, and my only technical problems were occasional full crashes. While these crashes were irritating, I had maybe a half dozen in my fifty hours of play time, and the autosave feature was so generous that I never lost more than a few minutes of mayhem to a crash.
The gameplay, most notably the liberation of settlements and military bases, does feel pretty repetitive as you go. It can be more of a chore than a pleasure to take these places back from the general. But you know what? At least you’re not going around to over a hundred different settlements and liberating them by DESTROYING ROADBLOCKS. And you don’t have to spend time hunting down that single remaining collectible or that last generator that’s hidden away. Yes, it’s repetitive, but if you played either of the previous games, that’s just a fact of life when it comes to freeing island nations. It would have been nice if they added a little more variety, but it’s no more repetitive than it was for the last two games. There’s also an added bonus to liberating military bases. Each time you wrestle a base away from the grips of the evil general, you are rewarded with a radio message from the general’s own propaganda radio station. If nothing else, the general has a good taste in spokespersons, because he decided to kidnap the one and only David Tennant to be the voice of his radio station. So every time you wipe one off the map, you get to hear him reading a written statement about how the base was slated for destruction and how it was just a routine demolition, nothing to see here, move along. Of course, being that it’s David Tennant, he tosses in a few extra things now and then.
Personally, my main issue was the story. For the most part, I enjoyed it. It doesn’t take itself seriously, but it keeps you interested. However, characters are often underutilized and can make it hard to care. Do I really need to care about the characters? Probably not, but given that the franchise took the time to make support characters, it seems like a step backwards. The story itself is often predictable, which again feels like a step backwards for a game that is trying now more than ever to at least have a coherent story. But at the same time, it feels like criticizing the Saints Row games for not having a well polished story. The point of the game is to blow things up and have fun. It started out as a parody, and while it has taken strides towards an actual story, it still has its roots very deep in the idea of parody. This is clear just as soon as you get into the dialogue.
In the end, my main issue was…well, the end. Without going into details, the game builds up to a crescendo, where things seem like they’re going to have a big climactic ending, then it sort of piddles out, leaving you wondering if there was something you missed. It was disappointing. I feel they could have spared the time to wrap things up a little more concisely, toss in a cutscene or have a voice over to some dramatic camera angle. Would have made me feel a little better about finishing the game.
So there it is. Just Cause, the good, the bad, and the roadblocks. I’ve put in almost two hundred hours into the franchise, and will definitely put more time into it in the future. Sometimes, you just need to blow things up in a beautiful island locale. The franchise has come a long way since its inception, and personally I have high hopes for the future of the series. But at the same time, I will admit that it has some faults, including repetitiveness, a weak story, and a complete disregard for the laws of physics.
Despite its flaws, I love this series. And I would recommend picking up the the games. I would also have to advise you to pick them up while on sale. The final game may or may not be worth full price depending on how well it runs on your computer and if it’s your flavour of sandbox mayhem. I snagged it with the story DLC for half price, which I consider a bargain. Fifty hours of playtime for twenty-five dollars, and I know I’m going to wind up playing it again in the future.
Have you played any of the games? Let us know what you thought in the comments, and if you share my love of saving island nations through explosions and chaos!