A faint, indistinct blue light sits on top of the nothingness. Garbled, vaguely Spanish interjections dance around the spectral void, intermittently piercing the mind. There are no walls, but the sounds reverberate around the atmosphere regardless. They do not have time for trivial things like physics. I approach what I perceive as some sort of center of the void; the blue light. I walk closer but the light does not grow stronger. At once I feel a wet sensation on the back of my hand. What could this be? It feels like it might be emanating from my mouth. I reach out to the blue light as it warps into the shapes of a poorly rendered, tropical region named Solís. Announcing itself with explosions and comically loud screams, I wipe the drool off of my hand and rub my eyes. Is this what I think it is? Has this happened? I think it has.
For the first time in my life, I have fallen asleep while playing a video game.
If you told me three weeks ago that I would fall asleep while playing a game where a nearly indestructible mercenary flies around a beautiful, chaotic tropical landscape with a wingsuit and an infinite number of grappling hooks with an endlessly destroyable environment, I would spit in your mouth. After waking up in a daze from an agonizingly uncomfortable nap and being welcomed back to reality by a female voice actor (who, with any luck, is now unemployed) screaming at the top of her lungs while chaos reigns on screen, I have no choice but to confront this reality: Just Cause 4 is a hopelessly inert, unintentionally punitive experience that has granted me vast disappointment.
The Just Cause series is one with which I have an ambivalent relationship. I largely enjoyed Just Cause 3, if only in drunken fits with friends nearby. While Just Cause 3 was not exactly the most realistic game, its successor doubles down on the nonsense. The plot revolves around a crazed megalomaniac with a weather machine and some street thugs that Rico Rodriguez recruits to help thwart this enemy. Within seconds of starting a revolution, these ordinary gangsters inexplicably acquire military-grade weapons, tanks, and helicopters. Intercut with this main story are two side narratives concerning an archeologist and a movie director whose entire film seems to consist of incredible stunts and approximately nothing else.
“Wow, that’s a lot of plot,” you might think to yourself. Do not worry, however, because despite these incredibly unrelated, seemingly interesting plots, it is all dreadfully boring. The gameplay is largely unchanged from Just Cause 3 (except that every gun has a scope now), but the structure of the quests turns fantastic elements into tedium. I spent my first few hours ignoring the progression system and just toying around with the open world. For a while, it was entertaining, but one can only attach so many generic bad guys to gas tankers and blow them up without remorse before it somehow becomes commonplace. I had most of this fun in Just Cause 3. This sequel doesn’t improve upon any of those lucrative mechanics, except now you can get struck by lightning and be instantly killed if you wander too close to the wrong area. Revolutionary!
Most of the quests stick to a few simple templates. Some quests revolve around hacking into various, vague “consoles” and defending them from endless waves of Black Hand soldiers. (Now, a bit of a tangent, but I want you to imagine what a four-year-old boy would come up with if you told him to name a bad guy's army. "Black Hand" would probably be one of the first things that boy says.) These quests indulge in third-person shooter clichés a little too eagerly, utilizing none of the mechanics that make the Just Cause series unique. It’s running and gunning and little else.
Another type of quest, one that is infinitely more agonizing, is a ticking clock mission where an abandoned island is rigged to explode. The player has to drive a set amount of cars into the water before they explode, destroying the island. The timing window is extremely tight and involves incredible precision, which one might note is very difficult to maintain when your mode of transportation consists of a grappling hook and a wingsuit. These islands are also, as the characters say, totally vacant, so I couldn't help but wonder why their destruction matters.
This type of quest is immensely frustrating. It requires the player to traverse across entire islands within the span of a minute, hopping into cars and driving them into the water. There is no depth or reason to any of it. The potentially worst part of it all is that when the timer runs out and you fail, there is no grandiose, explosive fanfare; your annoying, barely pubescent sidekick merely exclaims “Rico! No!” and the mission fails. That’s it. No eye candy for your efforts. It resembles a Game Over screen from a Nintendo 64 game.
Speaking of something that’s old and outdated, this game looks like a PS3 game. Not even a good PS3 game; it looks like one of those shovelware games. It is an eyesore. Character models are basic, faces don’t emote, movements are stiff, and everything is covered with a thick veneer of artificiality. It seriously looks unfinished; given the habit of developers to release beta-worthy versions of games, I would believe that the graphics weren’t finished rendering when Square Enix just gave up and slapped the game on shelves. This game truly looks like it is ten years older than it really is.
2007 never looked so good.Perhaps this goes without saying (I own the “day one” version of the game, after all), but Just Cause 4 is remarkably buggy. It’s difficult to describe in words just how broken this game is - fortunately, I have recorded some videos that illustrate it for me. Care to indulge in a dead woman screaming at me three times identically? Or perhaps every vehicle’s propensity to explode if the player prematurely exits it? Maybe you don’t even need to be in the vehicle. One person being attached to it seems to be enough to send it sky high. Note the guy screaming. That's how everyone screams in Just Cause 4. BONUS! Have some incredible car physics.
While I am not going to fault Just Cause 4 for having a terrible story too much (the focus is on, after all, pyrotechnics), the writing in this game is tremendously atrocious. Immediately after forming a “ragtag” army that promptly hops in tanks that spawn from nowhere, the player is awarded an agonizing sidekick that indulges in very outdated gangster vernacular. Homie? Playa? Homeboy? Even if this game were released on the PS3 in 2008 as the visuals suggest it was, its grasp on slang would be miserably outdated. Balding men who buy cars they can't afford in hopes of satiating their endless hunger for fulfillment would laugh at how stupid this kid sounds. Every character blends together and the story is so thin and ineffective that it makes me wonder why Square Enix even bothered writing a story around this game. The point of Just Cause 4 is obviously to blow everything up, and even while that is unsatisfying, the story feels so contrived and out of place.
In addition to what can laughably be called a story, the voice acting is something to behold. You might have picked up on it from the videos above, but I’m talking the first Resident Evil levels of voice acting. There is not one line of dialogue that comes across as believable. The delivery of each line feels so disconnected from the line that preceded it; it’s like the voice actors were handed individual lines to voice instead of a cohesive script. Extras scream with no provocation. Even in peaceful, non-combative settings, there are screams. Screams everywhere. Why? Because programming is difficult but cashing in on a popular franchise is easy. I would wager that Square spent a weekend and $1,000 on voice acting. It’s truly legendary stuff that occasionally transcends my ability to describe it in human language, but I'll try my best. Imagine the acting skill on display at a puppet show conducted by first graders. Now give them all Prozac. Congratulations, you still have better voice acting than Just Cause 4.
The cardinal sin of Just Cause 4, however, is just how redundant it feels. There are no significant improvements made upon the previous installment, and everything else that has been included is either boring or frustrating. There are several stunt mini-games scattered around the island. One of these games is a wingsuit game where you fly through a few rings, a concept noticeably cribbed from Superman 64, although Just Cause 4 controls much worse somehow. Other boring games include speed stunts (drive through a line above a certain speed. Riveting!), helicopter altitude stunts (fly under this bridge! Hey, what was the budget of this game, again?), and, uh, not that much else, actually. I tried to stick to the rule of threes here, but the gameplay is so padded and unmemorable that I’m really having trouble recalling. Is this a terrible game or am I a terrible writer? You be the judge. But the answer is all of the above.
All Just Cause 4 had to do was be a fun open-world game where swinging from trees and falling from incredible heights was entertaining. I truly did want to have some guilty fun attaching balloon hooks to people and watching them soar to the heavens, but the game is so limiting that it feels almost punitive, as if I had done something wrong and some features of the game were restricted to me now. Sticking people together and then sending them to their respective dooms by crushing them with a gas tanker that I then blew up with another gas tanker was fun for about 15 minutes, but I could not stretch those destructive hijinks into a pleasant experience worth the $60 this game costs.
Just Cause 4 is currently on Xbox’s Game Pass service, so if you have a subscription and want to try this game out, you might extract something of value from it. As a permanent purchase, however, this game falls miserably flat.