Just Cause 3

Just Cause 3The explosions are big, the options are overwhelming, and the pace is often frightening, but it’s the setting and scenery that consumes you upon first dipping your toes into Just Cause 3’s waters. For whatever reason, the Mediterranean has been largely ignored by the world of videogames; skyscraper skylines, dusty plains and post-apocalyptic cities taking centre stage in its absence.Sure, Assassin’s Creed has depicted Italy and Total War has often provided a wider panorama of the region, but there’s been barely a blip when it comes to intimately portraying island chains set in the midst of Europe’s major sea. Avalanche Studios is here to change that, intent on showing that the area can provide as much in terms of aesthetic beauty as it does in the potential for brash, Eighties action movie-style destruction. Juxtaposition, in games as anywhere else, tends to go down well.

Just Cause 3 fictional Medici setting is based more on the stretches of land and open water that link the Cote D’Azur with the tip of Sicily than it is on any individual population centre or city. Its island chains throw up mountains, beaches, forests both dense and sparse and all manner of villages, towns, military bases and industrial centres. The current buzzword is to label this sort of environment a ‘playground’, a sandbox in which you’re free to test your creativity by deploying the various talents and tools available to Rico, our series protagonist.And it is a playground, but it’s immediately obvious that there’s a layer of complexity here that is absent from the majority of its genre peers. This is first observed through the nature of Medici’s mountains, the various craggy peaks and valleys adorning the many islands. There’s barely a hint of genuinely flat land as subtle inclines turn into dramatic cliff faces, giving the entire region a sense of being formed over millennia by tectonic forces – rather than by a modern terrain modelling algorithm.Standing atop a rocky outcrop and looking over the horizon, across bays and sunsets, winding roads and previously-decimated enemy checkpoints, gives you that unique sense of wanting to blow it all up because it’s just too beautiful. That’s Medici’s real quality: it makes you want to wade in and start pulling down what the design team has so painstakingly erected. A big part of that rather unnerving attraction stems from the diversity on offer, meaning there are plenty of new structures that we need to learn how to demolish.“We felt the Mediterranean offered something unique that hasn’t really been explored in other games. It’s an area that seems to have been largely forgotten, which is a shame,” explains a contemplative Anders Bodbacka, senior technical designer. “We try to put something new and different in each part of the world. Every part of it is unique… really, no two areas are alike. It’s a very beautiful place to explore, whether you’re gliding through mountain and cave formations, looking over beaches or travelling through populated areas. That could be in a vehicle, on foot, by parachute or using the wing suit.”The wing suit is a completely new addition to the series; its inclusion presumably inspired by the relatively recent fame and popularity of the daredevils seen on YouTube gliding dangerously close to trees and rocks with fabric skin outstretched. If you’ve yet to be exposed to the extreme spoil in question, imagine a human edition of a flying squirrel and you’re pretty much there.Of all the vehicles included here, it’s the wing suit that offers perhaps the greatest freedom in both reaching those awkward spots and taking in the scenery as you go. Now, instead of parachuting off that mountain or spire, you can glide from it, jetting yourself through tunnels, between cracks in the rock and directly into the heart of the enemy at a speed that makes it difficult for them to track you. But getting to grips with the physics of the thing is not easy. It comes bundled with a very specific weight and turning circle that doesn’t initially feel natural, but after half an hour or so of practice the rules of flight begin to click and the possibilities unlock themselves.Just Cause 3Once you get better at understanding the intricacies of the suit you can start combining it with Rico’s trademark tethers; the ropes act as grappling hooks capable of propelling you forward at speed. Mastering this trick can secure that extra bit of lift required to avoid death and make it safely to the next platform or across the next valley. Combine the burst of speed with the opening of your parachute and you can fire yourself dramatically into the sky, opening up even more ambitious journeys. It might be the same wing suit you can see on YouTube, but the ability to couple it with Rico’s other toys elevates it into a realm of near-fantasy.“If we approach a game like this by trying to make it too realistic, then it won’t be as fun,” says Bodbacka when asked on whether or not ‘realism’ is a word that’s used much within the studio. “We always want to go over the top where possible; that’s the way Just Cause is and it’s the way we want to keep it. Everything is cranked up to 11… and then a little bit beyond that. The challenge for us is how we explore that pushing of the boundaries, but also somehow ground it in some semblance of reality so that what you’re doing and who you’re playing as feels believable.”That vague semblance of reality comes primarily from the implementation of each separate element, but the ‘cranking it up to IT comes from the combination of those in unison. It seems to be a full and engaging system on offer here; it’s not only the wing suit, grappling hook and parachute that can be merged to deliver implausible results, it’s also the very systems governing how Medici operates, with or without your input. Providing objects and installations to blow up, for instance, is something so common in this medium that it hardly warrants any attention. If you’re given a gun, as you are in most popular games, then you’re also going to be given something to blow up. That might be brains, that might be cars, it might be bright red barrels. The challenge nowadays, then, comes in providing explosions and destruction worth talking about.Just Cause 3 tackles this problem by linking its explosions/destructions to other systems, expanding the options open to you and delivering something far less predictable in the process. Rico’s tethers, for example, can create a wire bridge between two points that can be manipulated by increasing or decreasing the tension. Lock one side of a tether to an oil tanker and the other side to a power generator, increase the tension, then stand back and enjoy the fireworks. Or you might be more interested in slamming two enemies into one another at great speed, or attaching an enemy to the aforementioned generator before bringing in the oil tanker. The more sadistic among you might even decide that dragging your recent kills behind your truck by tethering them to the bumper is more fitting. There’s scope for a lot of creativity in the carnage.Just Cause 3A lot of the entertainment comes down to how you stage the potential to cause destruction and how you utilise the physics that governs it,” says Bodbacka, on the subject of making explosions actually fun again. “Adding physics that do these sorts of things in a new way is important. Many games provide one kind of destruction, but often it’s scripted. If it’s not scripted, it’s often just a standard ‘Shoot it and it goes boom’ kind of thing. We want to really push it to the next level by making it physically alive. Interacting with an object that can explode is about more than just giving players something to shoot and having them watch it blow up, it’s about providing interactions and results from those explosions.“Shooting and exploding one thing might trigger something else to happen, or you might use your tethers to alter things as they’re blowing up. It’s that chain reaction, that potential to create a cascade of explosions, that separates us quite a lot from other games. Explosions and destruction are, for us, like a whole toy in itself that’s present in the game alongside, and in unison, with everything else that’s possible.”In terms of development, then, nothing can be performed in isolation. The reliance on interacting and reactionary game systems requires Avalanche to work as a whole at all times, with a single change in one area potentially trickling down to alter another elsewhere. Bodbacka might direct much of the technical qualities – explosions, physical destruction, physics-based movement – but without an intimate understanding of everything else he can not only not do his job, but it becomes difficult to know what his job is: “There’s a constant balancing act going on to get everything right and in sync in a game like this and you can only do that by working closely with everyone else,” he explains. “It’s especially important to make sure the explosions and destruction work properly alongside the vehicle and player mechanics, that’s essential.“The way Rico moves and acts is the player’s only interface into this detailed world we’ve built, so that has to allow them to properly react to it and interact with it. There’s a constant communication and sharing of ideas between myself and the rest of the team. Without that there would be no way of knowing whether what one of us is changing is ruining what someone else has done.”Such a balancing act also applies to the structure of progression, narrative and the freedom to do as you please. Amid the complex possibilities offered by the physics systems and Rico’s abilities are missions of the ‘main’ and ‘optional’ variety, alongside ad-hoc challenges designed to test your skills in key Just Cause areas.Just Cause 3The primary narrative is underpinned by Rico’s desire to bring a dictatorship ruining life on Medici to its knees. After being born in Mexico, Rico grew up on the island chain with his mother, eventually forced to flee the country when General Di Ravello and his army forcibly took control. Older, stronger, smarter, our hero is now in a position to overhaul tyranny. It seems very B-movie action, but as long as Just Cause 3 remains self-aware, we’re willing to go along with it for the moment.That said, we’ve yet to partake in one of these core missions, Avalanche performing the standard pre-release trick of staying tight-lipped about the precise nature of the intimate story beats. Instead, our time has been spent on side missions tasking us with flying through hops in the wing suit, staying above a certain speed in a bus, and causing as much property damage to enemy outposts as possible within a time limit. It’s all fairly standard fare, but the way in which it’s presented means it avoids that feeling that you’re grinding through a huge list of missions, ticking them off as you go. Unlike the hideous maps and menus that adorn far too many Ubisoft titles, Just Cause 3 takes a more subtle approach to the provision of such distractions, only highlighting their presence when you’re within close distance to them.You might, then, be happily walking/running/flying/gliding from one place to the next, only to by chance stumble upon the aforementioned bus. From here you can choose to engage in its associated mission or not. It might sound like a small and insignificant change, but it pulls off a deeper engagement with the world in a way that gives you that slight buzz of discovery that makes you want to explore each part of Medici in order to uncover exactly this sort of challenge. The most interesting of these challenges we’ve so far come across are those designed to test your destructive skills, unsurprising given the focus on getting the physics for such interactions perfect. Far from simply blowing up generic buildings, the goal here is frequently to dismantle radar towers, bunkers, satellite dishes and all manner of other structures while fending off Ravello’s army.Entering from up high via the wing suit allows you to take position atop the highest of towers, giving you not only a vantage point from which to plan your attack but also the perfect opportunity to tether the tall thin structures together. Once tethered, simply launch yourself off and increase tether tension to watch the monoliths collide into each other and kill whoever is unlucky enough to get caught underneath them.If the tethers don’t do the job then your unlimited supply of C4 will provide any required extra kick. All of this is likely to court the attention of the helicopters and tanks, which are perfect for hijacking and flattening the base even further. Gliding in the wing suit towards a hovering chopper, before grappling yourself into it and busting open the door is exactly the kind of exaggerated pomp that Just Cause 3 is built upon and, at least for the hours we’ve played, fails to get old.Just Cause 3However, only time will tell to what extent the formula holds its appeal. Without being able .to interact with the narrative there’s very little sense of how things are going to be paced in a way that prevents you becoming numb to the excitement. Explosions, wing suits and Spider-Man-esque grappling hooks are all well and good, but their sensational nature raises the potential for things to become over-saturated with action to the point that the extreme starts to feel normal.In the right hands, a film can get away with nonstop action given that it requires little comparative interaction on your part and its running time is typically limited to a couple of hours. Action games must be much more careful about how they pace themselves, particularly open-world games in which the player is – in theory – free to tackle things in line with their own whims and desires. Asking the player to police the pacing of content themselves is all well and good, but there must exist content of a type that provides calmer moments of reflection. All we’ve seen thus far is action and, without a doubt, that action is of the highest orders of creativity and technical execution. The test will come from what’s available to do when you’ve had your day’s fill of playing the action hero.

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