And so it comes to this – Just Cause 4 has our hero Rico Rodriguez (not the guy from Modern Family) battling nature’s angriest tube of destruction: the tornado. Well, a tornado. When there’s little room for growth in the chaos man can bring to a situation, we can always turn to the planet to suitably nadger things up.
The fourth instalment in the series that went from ignorable to igncredible (it’s a word, don’t look it up) takes place in a fictional South American nation – Solis – and provides players with a bunch of different environmental playgrounds: rainforest, desert, grassland, and alpine. All pretty par for the series, then.
You’re also battling a naughty band of mercenaries known as the Black Hand in a war that’s ravaging all of Solis – and is represented by an in-game frontline, which you can visit at any time and takes the place of the usual lines or colours on a map. So, nothing world-changing there, just an expected narrative and a nice little extra touch.
So why, then, did I come out of the behind closed doors demo of Just Cause 4 with a grin like an idiotic twerp? Well, it’s down to three things: the weather, which I’ve touched on; changes to the grappling hook; and the fact that it’s Just Cause again, and Just Cause is bloody brilliant for mucking about in like a knobhead.
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There are smaller changes to get out of the way: you can aim-down-sights for the first time in the series, which matters little to me as who uses guns in Just Cause? There’s also secondary fire for all guns, allowing drones to be activated, shields to be deployed and other things we weren’t shown to be done. Though, again, see the previous ‘I don’t bother with guns’ statement.
The changes to weather come in two distinct varieties: weather localised to different environments, like sandstorms in the desert, say, which will impact you every so often when you’re in the area; and the tornado, which is a big marauding bastard making its way around the whole map indefinitely. Nature’s swirling cylinder of ruin, as nobody calls it, will destroy – or at least lift up – everything in its path that it can. This means no whole buildings, but vehicles, fences, people, and anything else that can go from being ‘a thing’ to ‘debris’ in the time it takes to uproot and lift it 100 metres into the air. You know – how tornadoes work.
Everything is physics-based through the proprietary Apex Engine, which isn’t too important because all I really care about is shooting rockets into the vortex and watching them whirl around into oblivion. There are going to be so many impromptu shooting gallery challenges taking place, trying to hit specific bits of debris circling the tornado. Great days…
The other thing that’s got my anticipation glands all a-swollen is the addition of customisation options for the series-staple grappling hook. It returns with all previous features and can still be used as a traversal pulley when you’re parachuting and wingsuiting around the world – but now there’s that bit more, and that bit more to be personalised.
We were shown a few examples of what to look forward to, and most of them made me laugh like an automated Laugh-o-tron. ‘Pulse’ adds a small explosion to grapple points, which can be activated when the two ends of the line are retracted. Two enemies grappled with pulse, brought together, kablammo off they fly in different directions, hilarity ensues.
My favourite was probably the booster, which attaches tiny rocket engines to anything you want and can be activated from a distance. Remember those videos of an explosive canister being shot and dragging a soldier kilometres into the sky? It’s a feature specifically added so you can do things like that as and when you want to. If that isn’t your favourite thing in the world ever, I fear there’s no hope for you.
Combining these boosters with the third customisation element I was shown – airlifters (balloons to you and me) – made for an altogether more strategic use of what I thought were pure devices of comedy. A few balloons and boosters in smart positions around a cargo container and you’ve got yourself a mobile battle station. At least, if you can keep it under control.
It’s opening things up to a lot of experimentation, and while some of it does feel gimmicky, it’s certainly within the spirit of the series and doesn’t feel superficial. There’s plenty more to come before the game’s December release, too, so I’m sure there’ll be other stuff to get us all grinning like the fools we pretend not to be.
Just Cause 4 may be the entry where the series starts to creak a bit – it’s beginning to feel overdone, like there aren’t many big new ideas sprinkled into its development cauldron. At first glance it’s a nicer looking version of something we’ve played three times previously, and even after a bit of digging it shows itself to be exactly that, but with a few new gimmicks pasted on top, so I'm wary.
At the same time, I’m not worried: Just Cause has always been about dicking about, and the Just Cause 4 team is keen to emphasise this is what it’s focusing on. The new features might prove to be window dressing, they might prove to be transformative – but it will all be backed up by solid fundamentals that encourage you to mess around to your heart’s content. And that’s never going to be anything other than a good thing.