Just Cause 4’s E3 demo starts in a darkened room with Omar Shakir, the narrative designer, issuing a half-serious threat about being judo chopped by a silent assailant if we record video or take photos. He then warns us that the live code demo might crash due to all the stuff they’re planning to show off with the kind of nonchalance that I expect Rico Rodriguez has when he relays information about a gas tanker that he just blew up. Into a tornado. Which he also may or may not have ‘accidentally’ funneled into a city. This over-the-top showmanship mixed with frank, unpretending honesty is the perfect introduction to Just Cause 4 and its chaotic world where everything is a weapon. When the demo does crash (for the first time during E3, we’re proudly told, as if it’s a mischievous pet that’s been on its best behaviour up to now), Shakir laughs.
The demo kicks off in the Rainforest, one of four biomes in Just Cause 4. Each one has its own special extreme weather event that destroys everything in its path that’s not nailed down: lightning storms always threaten the Rainforest, sandstorms are on the prowl in the Desert, the tornado can be found winding through the Grassland, and of course you’re going to get a blizzard in the Alpines. Dangerous enough on their own, those events aren’t the only thing breathing life into each area: along with systemic wind currents that you can harness via a wingsuit or parachute, Avalanche prides itself on its APEX engine river tech where anything you drop in the currents will float downstream, making it perfect for ambushing the Black Hand with waterbound explosive barrels. Or you could float along on a shipping container that you’ve changed into a boat. Because yes, that’s entirely possible thanks to the new, fully moddable grappling hook.
Grappling hook makes a comeback
Rico’s grappling hook is your god. Fully customisable, there are tons of mods that you can apply along with alterable parameters, like the fact that you can add a pulse function to the retract ability. The result? Grapple two objects, pull them together, then BOOM. Pulse adds an explosion when the items connect, meaning that if you grappled together objects that were either side of a particularly bothersome enemy, they’d very quickly find themselves airborne in tiny little pieces. Making a reappearance is also the Booster which is now part of the grappling hook, which can be used to - surprise surprise - boost items in any direction. Usually something explosive, towards the enemy.
Alone, that’s all pretty sweet. But combine it with the new airlifter feature and you’ll be able to hear the Black Hand quaking in their boots. Airlifters are heavy-duty balloons that pull any objects they’re attached to into the air. So get a shipping container, attach a few boosters onto one side, then lift it up with some airlifters and you’ve got your very own zeppelin. Yet another grappling hook mechanic lets you tag objects that are already attached to airlifters to have them follow you around like your very own pets. Then shoot the balloons when you’re above an enemy and listen for that delicious ‘splat’ sound.
Tornados aren’t the only thing causing chaos
In Avalanche Studio’s fully physicalised (yes, that’s a word) world most things can articulate in some kind of way. Stick some boosters on a crane, and you’ve got a makeshift wrecking ball. So far, so predictable. But mixing up the formula is the return of chaos objects, those red-striped items that can blow up and wreak general havoc and destruction. Now they can also be used as weapons. Because why not. Every time you send a red-striped canister of doom out into the world you get chaos points as an in-game currency. For example, you might deploy some airlifters to one side of a gas tank, a booster to the bottom, and then shoot it free of its wooden struts before shooting at one end, thereby creating a giant rocket of death.
Rico isn’t the only one causing chaos with a bucketful of bullets. Throughout the world you’ll find fights being waged between the Black Hand and Rico’s own Chaos Army, on what Avalanche calls the ‘front line’. As you advance in the game, instead of a dry UI showing you the Black Hand’s depleting strength it’s the front line that changes to reflect Rico’s growing strength, as a visual indicator of how well you’re doing. During your time in Just Cause 4 it also provides a place for you to pick up vehicles, weapons, and become embroiled in some high-octane combat.
Simply firing bullets from a gun isn’t good enough for Avalanche Studios. Nope. Every single one has a secondary function. Pick up a machine gun and when things get sticky you can deploy its iron shield to protect you from enemy fire, or use one of the other guns and enjoy your companion AI drone that also doubles as a moving platform which you can grapple to from the ground. Your improvisation skills are going to need some honing with so many options at your disposal, especially when a tornado appears on the horizon and picks up/destroys anything that’s not stapled to the ground. Including rockets. And the jets Black Hand send after you. And every single vehicle except the Stormchaser, the only windproof car in the entire game.
The demo ends with the tornado heading towards a city, Rico having annihilated the wind cannons that was forcing it towards a private airport. What’s obvious from the demo is that Avalanche just want spoil you with options, making every single encounter with the Black Hand an experiment for you to toy with however you see fit. All that’s left to do now is wait until December 4, 2018 when you’ll finally be let loose in Just Cause 4’s destructive playground.