The goal of any game sequel is to improve on the previous installment, both through new content and fixing what didn’t quite work the last time. The Just Cause series has never been one for major missteps, which presented a challenge for Just Cause 4 to find ways to improve upon an already solid formula. Sure, the series’ stories have never been, how you might say, “overburdened with complexity,” but you don’t go to a grocery store to get your haircut, and you don’t come to a Just Cause game for narrative depth. You come for beautiful, expansive environments and over-the-top action, and despite Just Cause games never woefully lacking in this regard, Just Cause 4 still manages to step it up in both these areas.
Just Cause 2’s map wasn’t just one of the biggest of its time, but also one of the most varied. The distinction between its different world biomes was almost comical, with jungles, deserts, and snowy mountain tops within just a few minutes drive of each other, but this setting variance and how it managed to stave off any shred of explorative monotony might have been that game’s single greatest strength. Just Cause 3, while undisputedly a beautiful game, lacked the same environmental variety, with the majority of its map falling under the banner of Mediterranean seaside. Following my behind-closed-doors demo with Just Cause 4 at this year’s E3, I anticipated that Just Cause 4 was returning to a wider layout of distinctive open-world biomes. Having now played the fourth installment, I can confidently say this is exactly the case.
Just Cause 4 breaks up its map into biomes of jungle, grassland, desert, and arctic, very similar to how Just Cause 2 was laid out. While Just Cause 2’s environmental variance generally stopped with the natural aesthetic of each region, however, Just Cause 4 manages to pack each of its own biomes with unique gameplay experiences, like the hidden tombs players can explore in the jungle region, or the wide and sprawling highways found in the grassland that allow the player to hit vehicle speeds not possible anywhere else on the map. More dynamically, each biome also hits players with different extreme weather events, which can throw a large and heavy wrench into travel and combat alike.
The tornado found roaming the grasslands has been the game’s hallmark storm since its reveal, but fans may be less clear on the gameplay impact of the other three storms. The desert’s sandstorms cripple visibility, forcing the player to bring the fight in close; the jungle’s tropical storms bring in lightning that will impartially strike both players and enemies; and the arctic’s blizzard combines the wind, limited visibility, and lightning of the other three storms into something truly cataclysmic. Just Cause 4 needed a way to step up its environments beyond leaning on the design strengths of the second game, and these storms were the way to do it.
With the environments checked off, Just Cause 4 had to look for another area to improve, and it landed—rightfully—on the series’ gun combat. Shooting was never a detriment to the Just Cause series, but it never stole the show either. The imprecision and general simplicity of Just Cause’s shooting mechanics left its gun combat as a last resort when crazier ways of dispatching enemies weren’t available, or a trigger to initiate some awesomely convoluted domino effect of death and explosions. This has worked just fine for the series so far, but Just Cause 4 is more ambitious than that, which it demonstrates with two key changes.
Firstly, the game needed to streamline players’ control over their weapons, which is done by moving the aim-down-sight function to the left trigger button on console. This may sound like an insignificant change, but moving it off the stick button of past games provides the player with more flexible control of their aim. Hip firing is still a valid strategy, but this easier method of aiming tightens up the gunplay and makes shooting more viable than constantly zip-kicking people in the face.
The game’s second challenge in ratcheting up the gunplay was to simply make the guns themselves more interesting. Previous games have boasted a small handful of quirky firearms, but for the most part, their full weaponry selections served only to get us from point A to point X-plosions. What Just Cause 4 needed was a little more color in its guns, and that’s what it got. Every firearm has an alternate fire mode, and while some are more conventional, like the assault rifle’s grenade launcher, others think outside the box, like the light machine gun that can deploy a shield and essentially turn itself into a stationary turret. Crazier still are some of the late-game weapons, like the lightning gun which can summon mini lightning storms. No longer is shooting just a means to an end in Just Cause.
I’ve been a diehard fan of the Just Cause series for some years now, and even I would have been hard pressed to devise ways it could have evolved. Sure, the game world needed sprucing up after Just Cause 3, but I wouldn’t have come up with anything that wasn’t “just do it like Just Cause 2.” All the crazy new shenanigans you can get up to in Just Cause 4 are not underappreciated, but what might be the sequel’s most impressive feat is how it tweaked series features in ways I didn’t even know were needed until I experienced them for myself.