Just Cause 4
WHEN Just Cause 4 was announced at E3 2018, Square Enix foresaw a quick turnaround time. In fact, Avalanche Studios was tasked to oversee a June-December affair, no mean feat given the weight of expectations accompanying the projected release of the latest title in the action-adventure franchise. Still, confidence accompanied the development, spurred in no small measure by upgrades to the Apex game engine; most significantly, the souped-up version of the software environment figured to enable the in-game portrayal of extreme weather effects. Needless to say, the feature was right in line with the over-the-top predilections of the decade-old series.
To be sure, foremost among the creative minds at Avalanche Studios was the need to minimize, if not altogether eliminate, the technical issues that prevented Just Cause 3 from being a critical hit. Shiny new playthings were all good, but improvements to the old had to be addressed as well. And so they went to work, pledging, among other things, to get rid of long load times, to tweak interactions with non-playable characters, and to enhance freedom of movement — all crucial to making Just Cause 4 not just bigger, but better.
Fast forward to the holiday season, and Square Enix found itself reaping the benefits of its latest release. For all intents and purposes, Just Cause 4 represents all the best of the franchise. Positive reviews accompanied red-hot gamer reception, and with reason. It wasn’t that Avalanche Studios managed to reinvent the wheel; it was that edges got smoothened to ensure complete and efficient delivery of promise. Gorgeous visuals are the norm rather than the exception, with images jumping off the screen even — and, perhaps, especially — during frenetic action and frame rates staying constant throughout. Track modulation is an option, but, really, at full blast is the only way to appreciate the superb sound mix; no distortion is evident even during spectacular sequences featuring explosion after explosion after explosion.
And then there is the gameplay. Just Cause 4 widely sticks to script, getting familiar do-it-all protagonist Rico Rodriguez to go up against yet another dictator, albeit with a twist. As the series shifts to the wide expanse of fictional Solis in South America, it takes on a more personal turn; he endeavors to learn more about Project Illapa, tasked with creating weather cores capable of controlling nature, because Miguel, his father, appears to have had a hand in it. En route, he is given free rein in an open-world setting, able to commandeer any vehicle and wreak havoc on all that stand between him and his purpose.
Needless to say, Just Cause 4 proves true to its roots, unleashing hell in creatively destructive ways. Concomitantly, Rodriguez is near to invincible as he redefines the depth and breadth of his capacity to cause chaos, but within the story structure. The narrative moves forward through missions he must undertake and fulfill, with every completed task unlocking another part of the map that serves as a guide to his father’s home country. And side quests aren’t merely game fillers aimed at creating the impression of heft; they add variety and value, with vehicle and weapon bonuses awaiting gamers upon their completion.
Parenthetically, Just Cause 4 is propped up by the sheer size of Solis. It isn’t just sweeping and spacious, as Just Cause 3’s playing field of Medici was ultimately exposed to be. Rather, it’s very cleverly designed to avoid any impression of repetition. For all the freedom Rodriguez is given, and for all the work he needs to do, no area seems similar or glossed over. And while not all goals require destruction and debris, there can be no downplaying the sense of satisfaction derived from finishing a mission and getting to explore another part of the map — not to mention acquiring new toys to use on it — as a result.
Admittedly, Just Cause 4 panders to its target audience. From the outset, Avalanche Studios was determined not to mess with the formula that made the franchise’s previous releases fly off store shelves. And so, in polishing the series’ latest offering, they highlighted factors that made it unique, if seemingly devoid of challenging mechanics. They retained Rodriguez’s virtually indestructible persona; he’s still quick to the draw, able to heal quickly and often, and armed with a do-it-all tethering device that maximizes mobility and turns enemy equipment into personal playthings. And in their belief that success is defined by the journey and not the destination, they made sure to accentuate the fun factor through the inevitable completion of a given mission.
All things considered, Just Cause 4 can be termed a retread of Just Cause 3, but justly developed, and with cause. It’s bigger and badder, and, in the final analysis, better — precisely what Avalanche Studios envisioned it to be. It lives up to its billing, fulfilling its promise to diehards of devilish demolitions presented in ways only the Just Cause franchise can. Finishing it is a foregone conclusion, but the thrill of the ride en route is its real purpose, and, to this end, it delivers. The series lives on.
• The best in the series to date
• Improved Apex game engine amps up visual effects
• Over-the-top action
• Addresses technical issues of previous release
• Map is expansive and not repetitive
• Principal protagonist close to indestructible
• Completion of missions inevitable
• Improves but not innovates on gameplay
The first hour of Neo Atlas 1469 pretty much sums up what it requires most: patience. It serves as both a fitting preamble for the main storyline and a thorough tutorial of gameplay mechanics. Players take on the role of the head of a trading company, and, within that time frame corresponding to the three years prior to the title date, build the firm up for what’s to come. Following the completion of the period of instruction (which cannot be skipped), they are asked by the king of Portugal to look for new potentially valuable-resource-bearing territories beyond Europe, and specifically that of Zipangu.
The premise of Neo Atlas 1469 is nothing new. Early generation consoles are replete with titles that provide simulations of relationship building across continents. In fact, it’s a port of a Vita release of the same name, which was a remake of Neo Atlas II on the Sony PlayStation. For all its supposed negatives as just the latest in a long line of point-and-click adventure releases, however, it’s the best of the lot to date and a decidedly unique offering on the Nintendo Switch. Rewards await, but aren’t collected merely by going from Point A to Point B; en route, players are compelled to make budget and personnel decisions that affect their capacity to meet their objectives within the allotted 30 years.
Most of the map that governs activities in Neo Atlas 1469 is unavailable at the outset, and is made clear only upon exploration of the fleet at the company’s disposal. As the designated admirals set sail for lands far and wide, costs mount, but so, too, do opportunities for favorable trade through proper inventory management and efficient transport of goods. Gamers benefit from added play through knowledge amid the expansion of routes, but are occasionally presented with the risk-reward dilemma of treasure hunting.
For all intents, the level of micromanagement required by Neo Atlas 1469 should please quarters literally and figuratively comfortable playing the long game. And, in this regard, NIS America rightly believes there is a viable market, having just released a physical copy of the title out West. (8/10)
Hard West is exactly that: a gritty 19th-century Western that boasts of an outstanding story told from varying points of view via distinct character campaigns. Heavily influenced by XCOM: Enemy Unknown, it features turn-based tactical gameplay through a handful of modes that serve to drive the narrative forward. Even seemingly inconsequential decisions to further strategic objectives weigh on how events unfold and are appreciated. In this regard, the text-heavy interface benefits from tight editing (although, admittedly, sometimes too tight as to border on dismissive).
Lest Hard West be judged as a copycat, it separates itself from other similar tactical titles, and even from XCOM, in its conscious effort to avoid randomness and instead introduce “luck” as an integral component to character development and advancement; depending on circumstances and turns of events, it can either be replenished or reduced to positive or negative effect. Additionally, CreativeForge Games chucked experience points in tracking protagonists’ upgrades, instead relying on playing cards — collected following the attainment of specific mission parameters — to form poker hands that provide corresponding buffs and bonuses.
The enemy artificial intelligence is occasionally a letdown, but, overall, Hard West delivers on its premise and promise of a Cowboys and Aliens experience. At $19.99, it’s a good buy, especially since it runs well on the go and includes from the outset all content previously released on other platforms. Recommended. (7.5/10)