9 October 2015

Hands on with Just Cause 3

If I'm being perfectly honest, Just Cause 3 is the reason I decided to attend the 2015 Eurogamer Expo (more commonly known as EGX). I'm a big fan of Just Cause 2 (which must be one of my most played Xbox 360 games) and I've been looking forward to a sequel for some time now, an anticipation that has only been heightened by the game play footage and trailers released recently.

I spent 20 minutes with Just Cause 3 in total, which was running on PC and played using an Xbox One controller. The demo opens with Rico leaning against a fancy looking sports car, looking calm, collected and inherently cool as he smokes a cigarette. After a second or so, he flicks it away from him, stands up and... that's the end of the only scripting or forced direction that the demo of Just Cause 3 contained. From then on I was given complete freedom of choice of what to do, the only limit being the amount of time I had to play with.

The first thing I wanted to try was the new wing suit, an alternative method of transport available to Rico when airborne. You can switch between the traditional parachute and the wing suit at any time while in the air (the A and Y buttons on the controller respectively) and I was thankful for the option to quickly switch between the two - I had real difficulty controlling the wing suit at first, often having to open my parachute to regain control just moments before I was about to slam into a building or the ground. I did start to pick up on how it was meant to be used as I experimented more, but I never felt as if I was really in  control of it, and I couldn't figure out how the grapple was meant to work with it beyond simply accelerating me into things headfirst. That being said, there is no doubt in my mind that I'll get the hang of it when I can spend more time with the game when it is released, and despite my inability to control it effectively it is still one of the things that has got me really excited for Just Cause 3 - I can't even imagine some of the crazy YouTube stunt videos we will be seeing thanks to it's inclusion, and even while failing it was still incredibly fun to use.

There has also been some minor tweaking to the handling of the parachute, most noticeable when trying to gain altitude. A great way of getting higher in Just Cause 2 was to grapple onto something tall, get pulled towards it and at the last second open and close your parachute quickly, launching Rico into the air and giving you ample time to start the process again. But I couldn't quite do this in Just Cause 3 - an enforced time between opening and closing the parachute meant that Rico didn't have the momentum to be launched upwards when the parachute closed, which meant I had to find alternate (read: slower) ways of climbing things. It isn't a huge issue, but I felt like I had less control over the now iconic grapple hook and parachute combination than I did in Just Cause 2, which feels like something of a backwards step.

On the more positive side, the changes made to Rico's grappling hook are fantastic additions to the game. Not only can you have multiple tethers at a time now (up to three, I think) but you can also reduce the length of them after they have been placed with the left trigger - meaning that you can really get creative with your destruction. I didn't play around with the new grappling hook mechanics as much as I would have liked (damn you, wing suit!) but I can already see the ways in which people could be catapulting cars across the map with relatively little set up required, and as with the wing suit I can't wait to see some of the things that people will be doing with these new mechanics.

Also worth mentioning is how much better the ground vehicles (motorbikes and cars) control in this when compared to Just Cause 2. Again this is an area that I didn't really get to try out quite as much as I wanted to, but the difference is still noticeable - gone is the weightless, floaty feel of the vehicles that stopped car crashes in Just Cause 2 having any real impact or feeling. I'd be lying if I said that Just Cause 3 has vehicle handling as satisfying as, say, Grand Theft Auto V, but it is still a step up, another thing that will help make Just Cause 3 that little bit better, that little bit more fun than it's predecessor.

If I do have one actual, real complaint (and I do), it's that the games targeting system not only hasn't been improved since Just Cause 2 (which was one of it's weakest areas), but it might have actually been made worse - the cross hair seems to takes up a larger area of the screen now, which makes it more difficult to tell where Rico is aiming. I get that Just Cause 3 is more about feeling like an action movie than it is precision aiming, I do - but at times I'd fire my grappling hook in completely the wrong area thanks to the fact that I couldn't tell exactly where I was aiming, which is obviously frustrating, especially when said misfire causes you to slam headfirst into a building.

There have been other changes since Just Cause 2 of course (supply drops are free now and Rico has unlimited C4), but these are just conveniences, things to make your life as a player easier rather than more fun. It's clear from the way the demo was presented to us that this was meant to be an opportunity to try out the new mechanics, and I'm glad they went in that direction with it - I doubt I'd have had as much fun trying out a scripted mission as I did simply being let loose in the environment that they had created, and I've got to say that I am that much more excited for Just Cause 3 now that I've been able to try it out. Will it fix all the issues that stopped Just Cause 2 from being as good as it could have been? I doubt it. But if the demo I played is representative of the game we end up getting, I can say with some certainty that it's going to be a lot of fun anyway.

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