Does this spin-off live up to the reputation of the Just Cause franchise? Let’s take a look
As a long-time fan of games centered around military ops, the recent announcement of regional access for the upcoming Just Cause Mobile from Square Enix saw me on cloud nine.
The ABCs of Just Cause: Background and lore
Before we get into it, for those who don’t know, Just Cause is a relatively young franchise developed by Swedish video game company Avalanche Studios Group and published by Eidos Interactive (subsequently Square Enix) that first debuted on PC in 2006 and now has four installments. The franchise brands itself as an action-adventure in the original series and obligatory spoiler alert: you play Rico Rodriguez, an unfortunate orphan turned CIA officer on a journey of vengeance to combat bloodthirsty dictators. However, in the mobile game, the timeline is set after the events of the PC games.
Into the capital D: for Destruction and Damnation
Upon booting up the game, I was greeted with a stunning cinematic trailer, with a cool zoom in on the proud Square Enix logo through an eye lens and some cool Hollywood action. However, the glamour immediately shattered as a messy introduction screen soon followed, as if the game glitched halfway and forced the player out into the main menu. Talk about a rough transition.
Before the tutorial section, you will be introduced to the character customization menu where you get to fiddle around with multiple options to create a character that best suits your style. However, the degree of customizability is scarce as you are only given eight hair options to choose from. To start off my journey I went with the one that looked like a gigachad.
Gameplay and combat mechanics of Just Cause Mobile
The gameplay is where things deviate from the main series. Instead of the usual third-person perspective, your character is controlled from a top-down angle similar to MOBA games. As with all Just Cause games, you will use guns or RPG launchers in combat (more on that later). You will also explore a vast open-world by running around like a maniac and shooting at enemies. However, one particular mechanic I would like to highlight is the grappler-slash wingsuit-slash-parachute movement.
This is where you can pull off some crazy stunts to get around and it, admittedly, takes time to master. The learning curve is definitely there. These actions can be combined together. For instance, you can spin your grappling hook like Spiderman’s web blaster, aim it in a direction and follow up with a tap on the parachute button and voila, you are up in the air. To balance things out, your flight time is limited by a stamina bar and you’ll hit the ground once it is depleted. You can also tap and hold the parachute button to ascend into the skies and glide around by switching to the wingsuit.
You level up by completing campaign quests from NPCs you encounter while navigating through the world (one of the trademarks carried over from the main series) in the fictional island nation renowned for its slums and run-down buildings. You will also travel across the land bustling with many other Firebrand players. But walking is not the only mode of transportation here as you get to ride in multiple vehicles scattered around the map. Speed down the road in style (and perhaps go on a road rage and run over some poor folks), or take to the sky with a chopper. One thing is for sure, it offers players the choice of either gaining air or ground superiority. With that said, at most I’ve only been able to find an armoured vehicle and a transport truck to drive around.
In Triple Threat, you are acquainted with nine of your teammates and are pitted against two other teams on a sprawling landscape. The condition for victory is simple: gain the most points within a set time limit. You have a few options from capturing enemy bases, repelling the enemy’s attacks and conquering the fourth base for extra points. However, you’d be better off clearing the campaign missions since the matchmaking currently takes ages. Last but not least, there are also two other modes, challenge and battle zone modes, both of which require playing through the story to unlock.
When it comes to the storyline, it kept to the usual, formulaic storyline seen in its PC counterparts. Except that the timeline has been fast-forwarded and takes place in the future after the events of Just Cause. You play as a Firebrand recruit with the task of ousting the local big bad Darkwater contingent and the entire series of campaign missions see you helping out locals and sabotaging whatever devilish plots Darkwater is up to. It’d make the Terminator franchise proud.
Each story cutscene plays out like a visual novel; You’re presented with static images. As someone who has played too many visual novels, I don’t have anything against this style of storytelling, but it’d be nice to see some cinematic 3D animated cutscenes play out to add more flavour.
User interface and realistic graphics
While I would say the game nailed it with simple, practical design, it does not have anything inspiring to write home about.
On the aesthetics front, it definitely delivered. Square Enix pulled no punches in expressing the grittiness found in the world of the mainline games and that made it a standout aspect. They really put attention to detail in making the environment as lively and realistic as possible. NPCs are scattered throughout and they are the primary source of quests. Another cool feature is that they will react to your shooting, so you can become an antagonist of sorts and scare the civilians and watch them cower in fear.
The bread and butter of every good action game – simple controls
As for the controls, thankfully it’s laid out in a simplified manner. You move around with a virtual joystick on the left side of the screen, while on the right, you’ll find all the essential action buttons. The trigger button is also located on the right of the screen; You drag the rocker to aim and hold it down to fire. The fact that each weapon’s accuracy varies is a neat touch (and the military humvee’s bullets always miss the mark). I see it as a great opportunity to train the reflex and coordination of your right thumbs.
If you love using controllers, our list of best iOS games with controller support will certainly come in handy.
The RPG mechanics – inventory management
This is where Just Cause Mobile set itself apart from the main series, by heavily emphasizing gear. On the topmost layer, is the weapon category where you get to choose two weapons to bring around to terrorize the innocents…uhh I mean, deliver justice to Darkwater. The options presented are vast.
Areas of improvement
The camera angle needs a lot of work, it’s all over the place and can be very disorientating. You need to constantly rotate it to gain a better view of where your mission objectives are or locate your foes. Sometimes the view will be obstructed by large buildings in the background. Another elephant in the room to address is the spawn rate of enemy NPCs (and vehicles). They’re like mushrooms. After a drizzle they bloom almost every minute and this makes the whole environment too busy. It never ceases to baffle me when the enemy NPC mob respawn almost immediately after killing them a few seconds ago. I was also wondering if this was the source of my frame lag at busier moments.
The character animations felt incredibly clunky too, and are susceptible to glitching out. This could not be more egregious when I am driving my vehicle around to ram the enemy NPCs, which will clip through vehicles while others act unfazed as you push them around. The main character also suffers when transitioning from parachuting to gliding.
One minor nitpick will be directed towards the performance, generally, everything runs smoothly for my phone except in heated combat. Outside of that there’s only the occasional stutter and some issues with graphics not loading incorrectly.
There’s a fair bit of polishing to be done before release but, for a regional early access offering, it’s presentable. The spawn rate, animations and camera angle are the biggest offenders. Other than that, I am looking forward to the official release, One thing for certain. It will delight fans of this franchise to no end if we get to see ragdoll physics fully rolled out in this version of the game.