(Pocket-lint) - The master of mayhem, Rico Rodriguez, returns in Just Cause 4, armed with his classic parachute, grappling hook and wingsuit combo, promising to wreak havoc on the oppressive forces of the fictional South American island of Solis.
This time around Rodriguez has even more weaponry at his disposal to deal out the damage across the land. This arsenal includes everything from lightning guns to giant controllable tornadoes. But is this game all style and no substance?
More of the same
With Just Cause 4 the developers set out to take all the features and gameplay that fans loved from the previous games and make a bigger and better experience. As such, fans will discover an immediate familiarity with how the game works and plays. This is both a good and bad thing.
It took us time to settle back into the swing of things, but before long we were wingsuiting and grappling hooking our way across the landscape with the greatest of ease. Gracefully flying over mountains, under bridges and along motorways before parachuting into an enemy base to reign down a flurry of fire and destruction.
At first we found ourselves sorely disappointed with the visuals though. Just Cause 3 was stunning and that game released three years ago, so we were expecting more this time around, especially based on what we'd already seen before release. Character models are underwhelming and there's just a certain gloss missing that lets it down, especially when playing on PC.
Flying high above the surface, however, the draw distances are impressive. You can see for miles when you're up there, peacefully whistling through the wind in your wingsuit, admiring the mountaintops and valleys below.
Back down to earth and the game itself uses the same logic as before: move from one place to another, blow up everything in sight and earn chaos points.
These points can then be spent to liberate an area of the map by pushing the friendly "army of chaos" forward into that region. Doing so also unlocks new weapons, vehicles and goodies that can be delivered to you by air anywhere on the map by willing pilots of some rather large cargo planes.
Some areas can only be liberated by completing the main story missions. Similarly, some vehicles and weapons can only be accessed by side quests or taking part in sandbox shenanigans.
There are mini-missions that include wingsuiting through numerous rings without crashing or driving a vehicle at breakneck speeds through a certain zone – the sorts of distractions that have existed in these style of games since Grand Theft Auto blew up in a big way.
Earning chaos points and liberating a region doesn't take long once you get the hang of it. Even less time once you can call in a tank, chopper or mega weapon to your location to smash the enemy to oblivion.
We quickly discovered this made short work of the game and we completed the main story in less than 20 hours. Doing the same in Just Cause 3 took nearly double that. So despite the size of the map and all the distractions, there's not as much gameplay in the newer as we'd like.
We also found that many of the main missions involve the same formulaic style. Land at an enemy base, interact with a console, then you're either told to flip various switches elsewhere in the base, disable the power to some weapons or protect a transmission tower while it's being attacked by the enemy. These missions appear again and again, all over the map and it soon gets very samey... so maybe another 20 hours of that wouldn't add much joy.
Make your own fun
The real fun of Just Cause is hidden in the freedom and the power of the tools at your disposal.
The new game features numerous styles of grappling hook that can be upgraded and modified to react in different ways. One automatically retracts when attached, another sprouts a balloon that can be set to fly off high into the sky, while the third fires boosters that act like small jet engines blasting off in specific directions. Each can be tweaked to function in slightly different ways.
To improve them, you need to complete side missions for different characters in the game who will then help you to upgrade them. This is worth doing as it leads to much of the hidden fun in the game.
We thoroughly enjoyed attaching multiple balloons to our surroundings and sending things off into space, for example. We attached some to a motorbike, set the flight height to no limit, then went on a sky ride until the balloons popped and we fell back down to earth.
Attaching boosters to cars, cows and random bits of scenery also leads to side-splitting hilarity. The physics engine and the way the world reacts to your actions means that if you take the time to make your own fun then there's plenty of good times to be had.
The weapons are a blast too. Controllable tornadoes and lightning storms, a rail gun that shoots combat drones, a hand-held rifle that fires lightning – it's a delightful destruction derby.
Play Just Cause 4 like your average shooter – firing with submachine guns and driving around in cars – and you'll soon be bored. Take to the skies with your wingsuit and go all-out with a go big or go home attitude and you'll have a blast.
The god of war
One thing we really love about JC4 is the way the save system and checkpoints have been implemented. Rodriguez always has been and still is a total badass – he's able to absorb bullets, blasts and bumps that no man could possibly sustain. Occasionally it does gets too much and he dies.
When death finally comes, you're usually placed back in the game in a place incredibly close to where you left off. We never found ourselves frustrated by having to replay great swathes of content because we'd died halfway through a mission and had to start again from the beginning. Often you're back close to where you died, with all the things you've blown up, still firmly blown to oblivion.
The obvious downside to this design is there's very little in the way of repercussion to death or failure. Rodriguez is basically a god and anyone who stands in his way is just pointlessly prolonging the inevitable.
When you can fly faster than a car can drive or deal out more death than 100 men, it all gets a bit too easy. When you can call in tanks, planes and endless weapons on a whim, it's even easier. As a result the game isn't all that challenging.
Just Cause 4 is a mixed bag. If you enjoyed the last games, you'll enjoy more of the same here.
On the downside it's graphically lacking in places, a little short in terms of storyline, can get quite repetitive, and we're not convinced there's not enough newness to make this game quite great.
But if you're willing to spend time messing about with all the new grappling hook designs and unlocks, blasting enemies with a multitude of weapons and exploring your surroundings, then there's lots of fun and frolics to be had.
Just Cause 4 is the master of mindless destruction.