Just Cause has been described as Far Cry’s brash, dumb and lovable cousin. At least, that’s how John described it when he blew up all those statues in his Just Cause 3 review. Judging by what I saw at E3, the next outing isn’t so much “leaning in” to that reputation as it is diving into it headfirst with a grenade launcher in both hands. It’s got fighter jets, it’s got drones, it’s got jetskis, and it’s got 1000 square kilometres of South American fictionland frequented by twisting tornadoes on which to grapple with all of the above. The chaos conjurers at Avalanche Studios may as well have subtitled it Just Cause 4: Dumber ‘n’ Funner.
This time the ‘splosions take place in Solis (pronounced: So-leeze), a war-torn nation with distinct biomes spread out across the map. Snowy places, sandy places, rocky places, and uh, Mayan ruin-y places. Extreme weather is the main addition to the bedlam here. We’ve already seen trailers of tornadoes ripping up the landscape, and there’ll also be thunderstorms, sandstorms and blizzards, say Avalanche. But aside from it getting a bit chilly, the weather will also affect Rico’s actions in more ordinary ways.
There’s a new wind and particle system, you see, complete with Wind Waker style trails that show you the direction the wind is blowing. The wingsuit is still a big part of getting from one place to another, and now a blustery headwind will slow the airbound Rico right down, but a tailwind will carry him along even faster. Avalanche is clearly proud of the new Apex engine which makes this all work, and they’re very happy with their simulated, flowing rivers. I can tell because the developer followed one of these waterways for the whole course of our demo, starting with a quick stop on a rickety-looking bridge.
Here, they start showing off the new features. The grappling hook is still customisable, and has a bunch of new and old do-hickeys. You can now remotely retract the cables you plant, for example. So two distant objects can be connected, and be brought smashing together at the touch of a button. Not content with this addition, Rico soon attaches a bunch of little boosters to a shipping container, then ropes it to a crane with his grappling hook. Beep. He activates the boosters and the giant metal cargo box swings around the bridge like a wrecking ball - a wrecking cuboid, excuse me. It knocks over cars and upends other cargo containers and generally causes a bit of a fuss.
The demo boys waste no time. They clamber on top of another cargo container and attach four devices to it, one on each corner. Pop. Hot air balloons, straight out of Metal Gear Solid V: Phantom Pain. The container levitates and floats slowly up, like a slow, rudimentary airship. Rico leaps off and parachutes, almost “resting” on the wind. Another trick, we’re shown, is that the balloon-hoisted objects will follow you around through the air. The shipping container floats towards us slowly, like a big metal ghost. There are smaller "quality of life" improvements too. You’ll be able to set up different loadouts for the grappling hook and its alternative fire modes, for instance, then swap between them with a button press.
So far, so physics-based. But there’s a couple more things to show us further down the river, so Rico takes off and starts flying again, rising and diving to keep up his speed.
Previous Rico blowouts are built on the philosophical foundation of aggressive combustion. It’s all about blowing things up and taking back land, clearing towns and military outposts as you expand your control over the map. The Far Cry school of guerilla warfare. Soon after flying down the canyon, we’re shown a new element of Rico’s eterno-war against the Wrong Colour On The Map. Avalanche calls it the Frontline, a long warzone that stretches across the country according to the areas where blue meets red.
Rico glides over a scorched river bank, missiles and tracer rounds flying back and forth across the water. On this front, your allies and the soldiers of the Black Hand private military company are engaged in their own AI fight. A wide, seemingly endless exchange of bullets and projectiles. It’s a wall of war that will follow the progress you make as you liberate each new zone, we’re told. But I don’t know what it’ll look like at the exact moment a zone is cleared. Would the bulletboys in blue charge across the river in a final assault, pushing back the reds? And will the reds be able to push back and re-take territory? I don’t know yet. But even if this front line shifts location off-screen, the added layer of an ongoing warfare zone feels like another silly biome in which to wreak havoc.
And havoc is probably why you’re coming to this. The over-the-top-ness of this series is present in everything we’ve seen during the demo, even in the off-script moments, like when a bugged goat appears on the bonnet of a passing car (especially in that moment). Here’s a game in which you tear down the road, radio blaring out Buena Vista Social Club, pursuing a twister from the driver’s seat of an ultra heavy, tornado-proof storm truck. And you know what else is tornado proof? Wind cannons.
These are big gun emplacements that shoot air at a tornado, which is somehow able to stop the twirling weather phenomenon in its tracks. Of course there are wind cannons. Of course. The enemy airport just ahead of Rico has a few of these, and they’re protecting it from being a victim of the cyclone. Obviously, our job is to blow them up. Don’t worry, the tornado will wait politely outside the base until we’re done.
Here we see a few enemies trying to fend off Rico. Grenadiers who drop a cluster of ‘nades when they die, snipers with laser sights that follow our hero through the air, making it so he can't slow down to parachute speed. None of them last very long, and the giant wind guns are soon decommissioned via rocket launcher and grappling hook demolition-physics.
The tornado whirls into the airfield, lifting everything not firmly attached to the ground. It’s very fun to watch, the physics of this twister ripping up planes, lifting cars, dismantling hangars, destroying bridges. This is it. Just Cause 4: Dumber ‘n’ Funner. I didn’t get to see Rico flying into the tornado himself, using it as some sort of debris-filled headquarters of human suffering, but I’ll be very disappointed if this is not an ability Avalanche has in mind. Although it's hard to know. After all, they're leaving multiplayer out.
With both nature and man having run amok, our demo ends. The strongest feeling I have coming out of this showcase of silliness is relief at seeing a working demonstration of the action movie nonsense for which the series is known. Much of my E3 until this point has been filled with scripted presentations and tightly controlled demos. While Just Cause 4’s showcase had a clear step-by-step plan, a set menu, it was at least really being played in front of us. A working extract of Solis’ pandemonium, goats and all. More importantly, it was more of exactly what the Just Causistas out there admire: big dumb fun.
Just Cause 4 is due out on December 4 2018. Check out our E3 2018 tag for more announcements, trailers, news, and goodness knows what else.