Video Games

Video game review: ‘Just Cause 3’ a clunky misfire heavy on cheesy action, light on substance

Players battle against a large, oppressive military force in “Just Cause 3.”
Players battle against a large, oppressive military force in “Just Cause 3.” Square Enix

“Just Cause 3” should have been called “Just ’Cuz 3” as every development choice seems to have been made for no other reason than because we can.

The latest installment in Avalanche Studios’ blow-everything-up-then-ask-the-ashes-a-few-questions franchise is exactly what everyone expected. Players are tasked with causing immeasurable destruction in order to inexplicably bring peace to an oppressed region.

The Reagan-era plot line is dated and full of stereotypes. It seems like every line of dialogue is an excuse to conjure up more and more ridiculous accents. The game takes place on the fictitious Mediterranean island of Medici, main character Rico Rodriguez’s childhood home. An evil dictator – basically Fidel Castro dressed as Joseph Stalin – has conquered the nation and is subjecting its populace to propaganda-fueled tyranny.

From the very first second, it’s clear to players that the only thing that matters is wreaking havoc. Rico rides on top of a plane – for no reason at all, really – then leaps into the fray, raining death upon the general’s forces as he saves his pitiful childhood friend from certain doom.

That’s fine. Not every game needs a complex story arc with diverse characters. Much of the gaming industry’s history has been centered on mindlessly blowing stuff up, and games like “Just Cause 3” reach back to classics like “Contra” and “Metal Slug.”

The problem is that many of the awesome mechanics – and the game itself – are buggy, and poor development decisions hamstring the game’s creativity.

Much of “Just Cause 3” revolves around Rico’s grappling hook. He uses his wrist launcher to move around the map, destroy buildings and kill his enemies. However, it’s possible to get stuck on terrain or computer bad guys. More grappling and jumping can usually jar you loose. But if you grapple somewhere and get caught on one of the general’s peons, you remain stuck on him until the others gun you down.

I am usually not a stickler for frame-rate issues. Many critics jump all over games for the slightest stutter, but I can’t tell the difference most of the time.

This is not one of those times. During chaotic action scenes, which is basically 90 percent of the game, the frame-rate drops significantly on the PlayStation 4 version. At times, it looks as if you have stumbled from a sophisticated action video game into a 1950s stop-motion film. The drops cut up the sleek, fast-paced combat around which “Just Cause 3” was built.

The biggest issue I had with “Just Cause 3” was the decision to add things like time limits, chases or other game-changers to most story missions.

The entire point of the title is smash things and kill bad guys in the most creative ways possible, so why put a clock on it? That forces the player to take the quickest route, which is usually shooting everything that moves and awkwardly grappling across whatever town you are trying to liberate. “Just Cause 3” gives you all of these wonderful toys to play with, then demands that you pick the simplest one and close the toy box.

I think this was an attempt to ratchet up the intensity – keep our hearts pounding. Not only do we have to beat one vs. 10,000 odds, but we have to do it while timed or surfing on a speeding Jeep. However, as is often the case with games that take shortcuts to increase difficulty, frustration overwhelms excitement. I found myself dying over and over in missions before finally passing them, often by accidentally pressing the wrong button or blowing up the wrong thing.

Because of hideously long loading times, dying is a chore. It can take as many as 90 seconds to get you back into the game.

It feels as if Avalanche took a simple game and tried to make it difficult through easy odd-changers, rather than redesigning the missions to promote a more organic kind of difficulty. I would much rather have played an easy game that appealed to my mischievous creativity than one that demands constant split-second decision making.

“Just Cause 3” isn’t a total wash. It does allow you to liberate some settlements on your own time, which is fun and rewarding. The action, while clunky and stereotypical, does have its moments. The online challenges are a nice addition.

If you are a big fan of the franchise or of Avalanche’s other 2015 title, “Mad Max,” then you will get something out of playing the latest sequel. Diehard “Far Cry” fans will also find something to love here, as the two franchises have always been quite similar.

The title may be a casualty of the times. It comes on the heels of what was unquestionably a golden year for action games, as we received stellar “Fallout,” “Halo,” “Metal Gear” and “Witcher” games. The new “Batman Arkham” and “Assassin’s Creed” games were also solid. With thousands of hours of deep, rich action available in 2015, “Just Cause 3” simply doesn’t measure up.

Just Cause 3

Video game review

 1/2

▪ Rated mature for blood, intense violence and strong language

▪ Developer: Avalanche Studios

▪ Publisher: Square Enix

▪ Out now for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC

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