Just Cause 3: Chute To Thrill - Games Weekly

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Just Cause 3: Chute To Thrill

Fact: if something isn’t exploding behind or in front of Rico Rodriguez, Just Cause 3’s leading man, then you are most likely playing the game wrong. if he’s on the ground on his own two feet for more than five seconds, you’re playing the game wrong: there’s always a car to steal, a plane to fly, a wall to grapple to or a parachute to unfurl. now add to that an all-new wingsuit, built for high-speed traversal. alone, these are gifts for agents of chaos, but Rico’s toys are also designed to work together seamlessly, letting us engineer a level of destruction never before seen.

“We’re a systems-driven game,” says game director Roland lesterlin. “this is a sandbox, more of a sandbox than almost anything else out there.” the version of the game we get to play is all about the systems. Rico’s been refreshed and re-tooled, his unlimited-use parachute and grappling hook returning with modifications. like the ’chute, the wingsuit can be deployed any time he’s airborne, and it’s simple to instantaneously switch between them depending on the desired speed and trajectory of your descent.

Tap Y when you’re a good distance above the ground and Rico spreads his arms, the wingsuit fabric crackling in the wind, and the camera tucks in for a more focused, concentrated viewpoint. Get it right and it feels like you’re flying, gliding with giant swooping motions that pitch you towards the edge of being out of control this thing is fast, and incredibly hairy when skirting close to the ground or perilous rock walls. if you’re craving more speed still, you simply aim the crosshair and use his wrist-mounted grappling hook for an added burst of propulsion. even at this early stage, avalanche has got the feel of the movement spot-on.
Grapple round a mountain, latch onto a passing plane, walk across its wing and fire unlimited rockets at an enemy base in Just Cause 3 the chaotic open-world thriller that’ll sweep you off your feet and keep you off your feet
While the suit’s used for darting around and covering larger distances, the chute’s tuned to be far more stable than before, ideal for finer movements and ‘through the eye of a needle’ aerial dodges, though it can still be used in conjunction with the grapple for broad aerial hijinks. You could also grapple into an enemy and discard the ’chute along the way. “in JC2, all other inputs were muted when you were reeling into a point with the grappling hook,” explains design principal francesco antolini. “in JC3, not only can you shoot while grappling, you can grapple on to an enemy, reel in for a dive kick and shoot while you’re doing so, before moving the camera and launching another grapple off.”

Totally Hooked
The refined grapple proves the most powerful tool in Rico’s bulging box of tricks. while it was once used to haul himself onto surfaces it was also confusingly used to yank enemies and light objects towards him. that’s been tidied up. tap lb and you’ll immediately reel to whatever point your cursor is on whether it’s a wall, barrel, car or man. in flight you’re a button-press away from transitioning to the ’chute or suit. or, if you think you’re pretty clever, you could just use the grapple to zip around wherever you want to go, firing off another grapple mid-reel. the team affectionately calls it ‘Spider-manning’.

As well as Rico’s grapple being made of magical material that never runs out, it can also be cancelled at any time  just readjust the cursor and re-launch. towers have been strategically placed to accommodate you, and finding a path around becomes a new type of parkour albeit one where Rico’s feet and hands don’t touch the surfaces he’s launching off. antolini says that it’s possible to stay in the air indefinitely. Sounds like a challenge to us.

Then there’s the tethering system that doubles as a comedy catalyst. it’s a more complicated version of tying someone’s shoelaces together and watching them go crashing on their face, but instead of shoes you’re tying together cars with hay bales. or people with other people, forcing the helpless saps to pirouette around each other. or people with ruptured propane tanks that send them rocketing into the sky. or a helicopter to the head of a statue that you can use as a wrecking ball.
“If you think you’re pretty Clever, you Can use the grapple to zip around”
So far, so Just Cause. what’s new? Multiple tethers. Right now, Rico can launch three tethers one after the other for more ridiculous carnage, with the option of squeezing lt to retract all three cables at once. Jam a finger down fast and the objects will rapidly collide; apply a softer touch and victims have time to contemplate their approaching fate. Physics fun doesn’t stop there. imagine tethering a red barrel to the top of a wall and yanking it upward. what’s clever is that tethers can be instantly cancelled by stabbing b, and any object that has momentum behind it… see where this is going? most likely over the wall, into whatever’s unfortunate enough to be sitting on the other side.

“We’ve been looking at going up to five tethers,” says lesterlin. “anything above that becomes a little too hectic and it’s hard to keep in mind how it works. even at five it might be too much. we’re still figuring out the sweet spot, but we’ve been working on our physics models to allow that anyway.”

The combination of the wingsuit, grappling hook and parachute gift Rico a toolset that any superhero would be envious of, and when you get all three working in harmony, he’s in constant motion. it’s a thrilling rhythm of alternating between grappling and flying, tumbling to the ground and latching a ride from a car, clambering onto its roof and daisy chaining enemies behind with your tethers, their skulls rattling off the tarmac like cans from a honeymoon-bound wedding car.

Cars? who picks cars in Just Cause? the vehicles in Just Cause 2 were, to be blunt, a mess. Clip a kerb on your way through a corner and it was pure luck if you made it through without rolling. they’ve been overhauled here, with an ex-Criterion staffer on board to make them stick to the road. but, we wonder, why bother when your abilities are so amazing as to seemingly make traditional forms of travel redundant?

“Because we’re an open world and cars are faster than a wingsuit,” stresses lesterlin. “the game is about creativity. the car is another tool for you to mess around with you can put a bunch of C-4 on a car and jump it into a base. that could be the beginning of your epic base attack.”

That’s not all. “there’s full deformation; hinged parts so cars break and parts move. the feel of it has a full racing engine underneath. we do shocks, downforce and things that you’d find in a full racing game.” all vehicles have modifications, too. lesterlin cites one example of a nitrous system that acts as an extra gear. bolt nitro to a normally sedate bus and you can expect to pull king-sized wheelies.

“We’ve worked hard on the vehicle handling, because we want you to use vehicles as an awesome bullet,” says antolini. “we’re not competing with big racing games, but i think we’ve done enough for the vehicle handling to be pleasurable.” lesterlin gets into full speed about Rico’s fluid interactions with cars and other vehicles. “You can hop out of a jet and wing walk on it, firing RPGs while it crashes into the base. You can do whatever you want we’re just making toys.”

Okay that all sounds very reasona… hold up wing walk? “in JC3 you can move freely on the wing, so you could spawn a motorbike on the wing of a plane and ride it off,” says antolini. with such a wealth of options, one wonders whether most will fall by the wayside. “we took the wingsuit out of Just Cause 2 because no one was driving the vehicles, but we decided to put it back in,” admits Sundberg. “we’ve improved the vehicles to offer different experiences, and you use cars as weapons. You drive them really fast, jump out and they explode. on average, players only drive them for a few seconds, and then they let them explode and go on to the next.”

He’s right, as it happens. a high-end sports car in lurid bubblegum yellow was our first vehicle of choice. it took maybe ten seconds before we scuffed it against a wall when we barrelled around a corner, being cocky and trying hold a drift, and another ten before we launched it off a cliff and bailed back into the wingsuit. the cycle repeats when we land and hop into an enemy jeep. it’s the first time in Just Cause where driving a car in anything other than a straight line is a good idea.
“You Can move freely on a plane’s wing ,you Could spawn a motorbike on it”
“Maybe you like the idea of putting nitrous on a tractor, and you’ll discover a new approach,” says lesterlin. “Just Cause’s Dna lies in the sandbox it’s so many systems all interlinking. You’re going to start off by liking one [system] and exploring it further, and then hopefully we’re good enough to get you into exploring the other ones.”

Cars aren’t just for transport or expensive bullets, as vehicle challenges unlock new modifications like the nitrous. avalanche wouldn’t be pressed to say more about the types of challenges on offer for cars racing is obvious, and you’d have to expect a stunt challenge, too. the team’s also taking inspiration from Need for Speed and Forza Horizon 2, as leaderboards and other metrics are being woven into almost everything you do ‘asynchronous gameplay’ is the industry’s buzzword of the moment. while leaderboards will fuel the fire to do better than your mates, you’ll be able to see their ghost, too, for incremental gains. and asynchronous fun isn’t just for petrolheads, as wingsuit challenges also feature.

But you’re never tethered to an obligation. if you’re halfway through a wingsuit challenge and see something else you’d rather do or blow up you can exit the race and go off and do that without missing a beat, and do it in the vehicle that you’re currently in control of. “it buys into that philosophy of an open world that’s at your disposal,” says lesterlin. “if you want to spend a lot of time on challenges, then by all means. if you want to drive a vintage sports car along the mediterranean coastline and skid around corners, sure. maybe your big thing is rocket-propelled grenades and huge bases. because the world is so big, we want to scratch whatever itch you have.”

For many players, though, Just Cause is simply about big explosions. Destruction on a scale that would make arnie say, “Steady on, that’s a bit much.” Rico now carries an unlimited amount of C-4 in his magic pockets, which can be stuck to any surface, though he’s restricted to planting five blocks at any one time. when something explodes, it’s very likely that it’ll trigger an explosion in something next to it it’s like a Rube Goldberg machine built from gas and dynamite.

If you want a controlled demolition, planted explosives can be tweaked. “there are modifications to your equipment which can change the way you play,” explains antolini. “they’re not upgrades in a sense they make you better you can choose to have an immediate explosion or switch it to be a propellant, and you’ll see a line of fire come out. You could put it on a dynamic object and it’s going to propel it in a certain direction. this way, you can create the Rico you want.”
“You’re given the base, a set of explosives and told to tear it down”
It’s a fine example of avalanche making the toolset as simple as possible so you can be as fabulous as you like when tearing down every destructible building. the Rico we want packs a fire leech, an RPG that splits off into eight rockets. eager for mischief, we set it on a concrete monolith while enemy choppers circle overhead. once struck, the enormous tower disintegrates like a watermelon pummelled by a sledgehammer, fire blooming out where the rockets hit.

Rico can dual-wield any one-handed weapon, regardless of whether they’re of the same type. he can also holster a two-handed weapon, such as a rifle, and a third ‘special’. “You don’t need to worry about ‘oh i need to pick up that gun or this gun’ for the dual-wield it’s Just Cause!” exclaims lesterlin. “Pick up the gun and be a badass! it’s not a thinking man’s game.”

Ace of Base
But yet we have to think on our feet when taking on a base, as we quickly find out that the enemy ai adapts to fight back. we thought we had it all sussed when we rolled up for battle in a tank, only to discover the enemies gearing themselves up with RPGs. helicopters are called in when you take down half the base. battles escalate quickly and you can easily find yourself biting off more RPG than you can chew, as you’re free to roam the world from the moment the tutorial starts.

“The world is never gated,” says lesterlin. “You can go to the hardest base in the hardest region of the map in the first ten minutes. there’ll be some things in that base that are very hard to accomplish. but as you progress through the game, there’ll be techniques you’ll learn to beat a certain enemy or defence system.”

Completely destroy a base and a new challenge becomes available, tentatively named ‘Destruction frenzy’. it’s as subtle as it sounds. it’s a  Red Faction: Guerilla-inspired affair, where you’re given the rebuilt base minus the enemy forces, a set of explosives and told to tear it down in the shortest amount of time. “this turns the bases into physics puzzles,” says antolini.

As for the in-game economy, there is none. avalanche has dropped the black market, and instead has made all weapon and vehicle drops completely open and free. “Players said they had to spend lots of money to get a car, a jet or whatever in JC2, so we got rid of that” says lesterlin. “You can call in anything you want: vehicles, two-handed weapons, specials, whatever. we make a joke about it because it happens so fast. we know people have a strategy, like using a chopper or a certain weapon. we don’t want to hold them back, so we say ‘go for it’.”

Avalanche has also refined the controls, though some changes verge on being a bit too hand-holdy in their quest to keep you on the move and the scenery on fire. Grenades, for instance, have a soft auto-target, and the game predicts where you want to throw when you’re mid-sprint and grappling.

“A lot of people say they like cooking grenades and judging the arc perfectly that’s okay if you’re a fairly static game,” counters lesterlin. “but Rico’s someone who’s constantly in the air and moving, so if i’m going to throw a grenade i want to be a cool action hero, and cool action heroes don’t miss with grenades.”

Just Cause 3 already looks like the most stunning open world on xbox one. it’s an enormous, 400-square-mile playground with tons of things to blow up in as many creative ways as you see fit. avalanche Studios has streamlined the process of blowing up the world through bloat, sprinkling those 400 square miles with dozens of combustible toys that allow you wreak havoc as extravagantly as possible.

Just Cause 3 exists to let you tell those stories of, ‘i just wingsuited down a mountain, through a cave between two buildings and nailed it.’ it’s an action ballet, a land of utter bedlam that’s cathartic and taxing, refined but broad in scope. it’s a paradox to die for.

The story so far
“The universal complaint was that Just Cause 2 didn't have a story,” admits Antolini. “So we’ve improved that. The story is a big feature of  Just Cause 3, with a proper mission structure. We’ve taken many actions to make Rico a proper character. He’s a person he’s no longer just a puppet.”

While it’s a big feature for the team, the few details we glean are that Rico, ever poor with his timing, arrives in Medici just as a rebellion is fighting an evil dictator. That’s about as far as we got. Statues of the despot are dotted around the land, and you can tear them down piece by piece using your grapples, or blowing them up.

“Our towns have multiple simulation states,” says Lesterlin. “When you first arrive in Medici the rebellion has basically lost, and the night you arrive is a big push back against the rebels. After that you have to build up your forces by freeing the town and destroying the bases, acquiring new weapons and vehicles that the rebels can use against the evil dictator. But we really wanted to spend a lot of time when the world is oppressed. People walking in the street have a hunched-over look compared to when they’re happier.”

It’s all about what Lesterlin calls ‘contextual action’: “This is about set-dressing the storytelling in the world. Since we are such a sandbox, we want to allow the player to tell their story, initiating their actions. We wanted to push those storytelling elements into the world rather than through cutscenes.”

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