just cause 4

Playing in the physics sandbox that is Just Cause 4

Contributed by
Nov 10, 2018, 12:15 PM EST (Updated)

Yesterday we got a chance to check out a hands-on preview of the upcoming game Just Cause 4. The latest sequel in the franchise will be released for Xbox One, PS4, and PC on December 4. We also chatted with some of the developers about the game. Here’s what we learned!

In the game, familiar protagonist Rico Rodriguez has left the Agency and found out some information about the death of his father. He may have died during one of the wild weather events happening on the fictional South American island of Solis. He also may have been working with the Black Hand, a mercenary group working with dictators from earlier games. It’s run by a woman named Gabriella Morales, who we met in the preview. Your goal as Rico is to take down the Black Hand and something called Project Illapa, which is controlling the weather.

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We spoke to Benjamin Jaekle, narrative designer for the game, who explained how this new villain forces Rico to act in new ways to accomplish his goal. He said, “Gabriella Morales is designed to be kind of a really perfect antagonist to Rico. So Rico, and by extension the player, is sort of very intuitive, active, chaotic, goes and does what he wants, when he wants to do it. That’s just the nature of the game that we’re making. It’s about freedom, creativity, and exploration. So we wanted to create a perfect antagonist for Rico. Rico is chaotic. Gabriella is orderly. Where Rico is intuitive and impulsive, Gabriella is restrained and strategic. That kind of forces Rico to approach things in a different way. His strategy is usually just to go at it — but someone has already thought three moves ahead of him.”

Earlier this year at E3, Square Enix and Avalanche spread the word that Just Cause 4 is going to have some amazing weather events like the tornado and lightning storms that you saw in the trailer. We checked them out, along with the four biomes that Solis has as part of the island. These include grasslands, rainforest, desert, and alpine. They’re stunning, but we know that what you’re really interested in is the gameplay. As cool as the storyline is, one of the big draws of the Just Cause franchise is the ability to play around with physics.

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We got to play around a bit with the tornado, which you can only use your wing suit to get out of. You can swirl around with the wind and watch giant planes get sucked up into the tornado, which is being controlled by wind cannons, or you can just take out the cannons and watch the destruction the tornado causes as it moves out onto the land. Jaekle explained that the weather systems are yet another villain in the game, one that echoes the force of nature that Rico himself can be. “Rico goes up against a tornado. Where you would normally see him wing suit or parachute in and own the space, now he has to contend with these swirling winds around him. It forces you as a player and Rico as a character to think a little bit differently about the scenario you’re presented with.”

We also got some info about the sandstorm that you get in the desert biome, something that causes Rico to work very differently than he normally does. Hamish Young, lead mechanics designer, laughed and said, “When Just Cause does stealth, you don't exactly run up to someone and then hide behind the bushes.” However, as he and Jaekle explained, you can’t really be up in the air and shooting down. Rico has to work with a different set of skills here. According to Jaekle, “When you enter a sandstorm, Rico’s normal combat experience is generally to be up in the air… a lot of that is hard to do in a sandstorm. It’s hard to see and the wind will pull you away, so you can’t be quite as precise. It forces you to say, ‘Well, if I can’t see them very well, they can’t see me very well, so maybe that’s my advantage, so maybe I can be more strategic in how I approach the situation.’” He explained that in a tropical lightning storm, you can use it by positioning yourself lower than your enemy, since lightning will hit the highest point. “It’s about challenging the players in a different way and having you think in a different way than you have before.”

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Young told us that “the combat is a much more rich experience. The sandstorm really puts you on the ground and gives you that gunplay that you [might not have gotten] in the earlier game.”

Just Cause 4 has some ridiculously wild options for you in terms of toys in the physics sandbox. Let’s start with the famous grappling hook. There are endless combinations of mods you can put on the hook. There are also lifters, boosters, and explosives that allow you to do all sorts of things with your weapon. Sure, you can pull doors off of buildings, or drag yourself onto a car and surf on it, but there is so very much more! You can head over to a base and find a giant silver fuel tank. Add lifters in the form of giant balloons and then time the explosives. Add boosters on one side, then ride the giant silver Death Star of destruction up into the air and use it as a spherical surf board before it explodes. When it does, if you live, you can use your wing suit to carry you off to the next adventure.

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During the presentation, one of the producers demonstrated another option: You can go to a carnival and attach each of the 10 hooks you have to individual horses on a carousel, light them all up and then rip the carousel apart. There is even a swinging pirate ship that he told us is only there for players to mess around with.

Then there are the vehicles, which are always a fun part of the series. We got to try out a small jet that you can jump into and fly. You can now do barrel rolls, using the controller to move left and right and make flying more accurate. You can fly upside down. Then, while in the air, you can retract the wings and jump out, turning the plane into a torpedo bomb. Essentially, if Wile E. Coyote could think it up, you can probably do it in this game.

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We also got a look at some experimental weapons, which each have a secondary fire. We saw the wind gun, which pushes things with air, and the secondary fire which can shove a car or a cargo container out of your way. Very useful in traffic. That’s not a joke about Los Angeles. You can actually move cars and people out of your way in the game. Then there is the lightning gun, which does exactly what it sounds like, but its secondary fire is also pretty impressive. It causes a 120-second lightning storm, which can catch your enemies and fry them like chicken. We were told that one of the additions to this game was cascading destruction. Say you shoot some lightning at a gas station. First, the tanks might explode and cause the bystanders to run away. Then the store behind it starts to burn. Then the entire thing explodes. But you’re going to want to stay around for the full explode-y event. 

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Young told us about some fun stuff in the game, including a llama sanctuary that is there for no other reason than for players to explore. “It’s not there for a mission. It’s not there for a gameplay reason. It’s just there for a little environmental storytelling. We build layers of things to find in the game. You can play the game very much on the surface, not playing the game for the story, but just for the physics, or you can go find stuff in the wild. The watchword for us in this game is variety, and the depth of variety that we can put in the game. That reads to the combat, that reads to the weather, that reads to the biomes in the world and the variety of terrain that you’re going to encounter. And the narrative, for that matter. We really wanted to make this game rich and deep. I’m really excited to see when the game comes out, how the players enjoy it.”

Are you guys picking up Just Cause 4 when it hits Xbox One, PS4, and PC on December 4? Let us know in the comments.

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