When it comes to open world games, I’m a big believer in imbuing the player with a certain freedom of movement and navigation. If the point of a game is the vastness and beauty of its environment, then the designers should allow players to traverse the landscape at a momentum that matches their motivation to explore. Players should only be as limited by the pacing as they want to be.
It’s this same thought process that has made my recent introduction to Just Cause so much fun. While jumping into the fourth entry in a series is not exactly a good starting point (so far, I have no idea what is going on), Just Cause 4 is very easy to get into even without a lot of context or back story. Its aerial navigation system, which combines the use of grappling hook, parachute and wingsuit with an astonishing fluidity, adds an exhilarating verticality that opens up multiple ways to complete each mission, giving it an edge over the typical shooter. And as a typical shooter, it’s still perfectly acceptable.
The aerial navigation methods of Just Cause have escalated over the years. Initially, with the first game’s release, there was a parachute and grappling hook available, but it wasn’t until Just Cause 3 that the wingsuit was added. Just Cause 4 expands the use of the wingsuit, while adding more mods to the grappling hook, and the end result reinforces the multiple angles to each mission. Combined with the signature sandbox destructiveness involved in the completion of each goal, and its setting and major features like air strikes, it reminds me a bit of a Grand Theft Auto game, garnished with Mercenaries 2 and Far Cry sensibilities. To sail through the air, grapple swiftly to a building and then parachute and ride an updraft to a nearby roof feels deliriously empowering, especially when lobbing a few grenades and exploding a helicopter or two on the way back down. I’ve also spent a lot of time roping my way from tree trunk to tree trunk, shooting enemies from the jungle canopy.
Of course, the swashbuckling fluidity of Rico Rodriguez’s in-air movements aren’t a lone novelty even in terms of recent releases. Sony’s Spider-man was similarly praised for its aerial navigation. And Just Cause 4 is not even the first game to make me feel like this either: Saints Row 4, with its multitude of simulation-defying abilities like gliding, super jumps, and sprinting up walls, is the greatest superhero game I’ve ever played. There’s something about the experience of flying—the ultimate defiance of the physical limitations of the human body—that evokes a sense of freedom unlike anything else, and though grappling and parachuting from place to place isn’t exactly flying, it certainly gets close. And who among us hasn’t wished to fly?
Just Cause 4 comes at the perfect time for me in terms of burnout. I really needed something I could play and enjoy while mentally checking out, and the apathy I feel towards actively engaging its narrative (the open world missions aren’t very compelling) works to my benefit. And while so far it seems to lack any substantial thematic or narrative edge over similar games like Tomb Raider and Uncharted, and I’m a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of unfamiliar UI elements and submenus (is it just me, or is this squad and frontline stuff completely useless?), it’s at least refreshing to play something a little different from what I’m used to, despite the learning curve. For now, I’m just happy to mindlessly grapple from roof to roof, nosediving into rivers and soaring aloft on pillars of steam. I guess you could say whatever the game’s flaws, Just Cause 4 has given me sufficient reason to play.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.