The problem with games built from chaos is that chaos is not your friend. It doesn’t care if you have a plan. It doesn’t like or dislike you. It’s just explosions. All the time.
That was my experience of the first four-ish hours of Just Cause 3, and it’s hard to tell at this point if that’s simply because there wasn’t enough time to properly tackle the game's learning curve, or whether the chaotic, interconnected systems of AI and destruction still need balancing. I was told this wasn’t a final build, for example, but there were points where I wanted to lean over to the PR and ask ‘is it meant to be like this?’ as I ricocheted from bullet to explosion, trying to manage a raging storm of angry shooting soldiers, tanks and helicopters that seemed to be throwing everything they had in my face.
I loved Just Cause 2’s mix of flowing improvisational action. It was perfectly tuned to keep you on your toes but, as a rule, always on top of the action. A generous auto-aim let you parachute, grapple and fly around battles, running rings around your enemies with confidence. Here, that balance just hasn’t been found yet. Instead of dominating guards with a steady stream of gunfire and creatively placed destruction, I found myself often just trying to stay alive. I didn’t feel as cool as the trailers said I would, just a bit sort of beleaguered and set upon.
A typical base attack or town liberation (both involve basically destroying anything red and government owned) seems to conjure up endless waves enemies from all directions, and boy do they love calling even more reinforcements. Much of my time playing was spent in red-screened near death trying to fight off attack from every possible direction at once. Or exploding. Always exploding. The fact that the throbbing ‘you’re about to die’ red screen blur seems to last forever without you actually dying suggests the game knows it might happen a fair bit and is trying to help.
However, the potential’s there and towards end of my time I started to feel less like punching bag (although it never fully lifted). This has one best video game tool sets, mixing up guns, RPGs, grenade launchers, cars, bikes, jets, helicopters etc - all which can be dropped in at a moment's notice. Given more time to master it all I’m sure tactics and favourites will emerge from the initial noise. I was particularly fond of an 8-shot grenade launcher, for example, that seemed to solve a lot problems.
Outside of the combat the world is a fantastic place. The parachute returns, along with the grapple launcher’s ability to self-propel you across mountains and fields. The new addition of the wingsuit is also excellent, goading you into screaming close calls as you zip and whoosh through valleys, pushing your luck as you miss ledges and cliffs by inches. Threading a tiny gap between some rocks as if I was starring in a clip from a GoPro ad was a particular highlight. Like the parachute, you can also use the grapple launcher to pull yourself along, which is a lovely way to see the bits of the sunny island paradise that aren’t on fire.
That grapple launcher is also an amazing, story-building piece of kit. You can fire up to six lines, tethering objects to one another and then retracting them to pull things all over the place. I was borderline obsessed with using it to pull guard towers down - watching their creaking, straining timbers buckle and give as the ropes pulled tight - but you can also yank explosive barrels into cars, fling people over walls and drag helicopters into the ground. It’s a great toy to play with. So many questions: can you string up guards like puppets between buildings? Or pull over cars? What if you tie two helicopters together?
It’s perhaps because of all these options it’s hard to make a call on Just Cause 3 in just a few hours. There are so many interconnected systems and possibilities that being thrown into it is a lot like being dropped into a bucket full of action movie ideas and being shaken violently. I’m sure over time, as you grow into it all, a mastery of the chaos will ensue. But I suspect the opening few hours could be a bit of a grindy uphill struggle - what I played took me through the opening tutorials and up to the first open world encounters, liberating a town and destroying a base. And it wasn’t until an hour after that that it seemed like I was making any headway into feeling like I was on top of anything. I’m still excited for the ideas behind it all, but I’d like more time to play and see if, under all that chaos, there is actually any structure or variation.