Rico Rodriguez is bracing for his greatest battle against the Black Hand in Just Cause 4. The island of Solis is crawling with Black Hand soldiers, but that's not Rico's biggest challenge. His biggest challenge is the very elements, including a giant tornado tearing up the center of the island and moving fast.
Last week, Shacknews got to travel the island of Solid during our hands-on with Just Cause 4. We also had the opportunity to speak with Narrative Designer Ben Jaekle and Lead Mechanics Designer Hamish Young about Rico's journey, the resistance that awaits him on Solis, and the continued focus on chaos and mayhem that have defined the Just Cause series.
Shacknews: What made the team want to return for a fourth Just Cause game?
Hamish Young, Lead Mechanics Designer: We didn't really plan Just Cause as a trilogy. I guess we never considered it as such.
Ben Jaekle, Narrative Designer: Just Cause 3 definitely wraps up a part of Rico's life, but I think that one of the really cool things about Just Cause is that every time you start a new game, you don't get dropped back into the same world. You get dropped into a whole new world, whole new story, whole new characters. So while there are threads that continue, like the story of Rico's family and past and the threat of the agency, a lot of the time there's a different spin on it, because he's in a new land dealing with new problems.
With Just Cause 4, we've amped that up a lot. We created a really large, varied world full of all sorts of different stuff to do. There's a lot of different characters. And our approach to storytelling is much more open and freeform, as opposed to making you walk down a mission path. You get to go out and explore the world and as you explore the world and do different gameplay, you pick up more pieces of the puzzle of the story and put that together. I think that Just Cause 4 wraps itself up nicely as its own game, but also contributes well to both the past and future of the franchise.
Shacknews: Can you describe the kind of threat that Rico's facing this time? What makes this encounter with the Black Hand different than when he's faced them in the past?
Jaekle: The big thing is that this is the first time he's ever encountered the Black Hand on their home turf. They're from Solis, they are many and they are strong. They have all their resources and they have their boss, Gabriela, who is kind of the perfect antagonist for Rico. Where Rico is chaotic and intuitive and inventive and impulsive, much as the player is, Gabriela is strategic, orderly, measured, and thoughtful.
So it forces Rico to change his tactics a little bit, both because he has this powerful opponent and this powerful army backing her, but also because he's in this new situation fighting the weather. Who ever thought that was a thing you were ever going to take on? I know Hamish likes to refer to the weather as an enemy that you can't kill. How do you kill a tornado? You can't! You have to take it on in another way. All of that makes Rico's encounters in this game just ratcheted up to 11 over his previous encounters with the Black Hand.
Shacknews: I want to talk about the tornado. I just want to ask about the story behind the tornado and what other weather effects players can expect to see over the course of the game.
Young: We introduced the wingsuit in Just Cause 3 and it gave you a new way of traversing the world. Early on in concept for this game, we were looking at opportunities for mixing up the gameplay. We want variety. That's one of the cool things we want to do with this game, is add as much variety as we can. Looking at ways of how we would get variety out of a wingsuit, the obvious answer is wind. But because this is Just Cause, it's not just, "Oh, we'll have some wind tunnels and some fans." We want to turn it up to 11, so the logical conclusion for that is, "Let's put a tornado in the game." It becomes this force of nature within the game where you can see from the other side of the island. It has presence in the world.
We have four different types of extreme weather. We have the tornado, which is a very destructive wind. We've got sandstorm, which is low visibility and strong winds. We've got tropical storm, which is focused on lightning gameplay. And blizzard is the combination of all of those things. We're trying to give the player different ways to play the game. Take, for example, the sandstorm. Wind is strong, visibility is low, so the usual "get up high" kind of gameplay that you're familiar with, they have to subvert that gameplay and have a more grounded experience.
Shacknews: I remember the Just Cause 3 DLC focused a lot on land, sea, and air. I wanted to ask, how does Just Cause 4 build on those ideas?
Young: We have a ton of vehicles in this game. We have the largest boat that we've ever put in a Just Cause game. We have the new dirigible things you see in the sky. We have a large range of planes, boats, helicopters...
Jaekle: Trap tanks.
Young: Yeah! Trap tanks! We're always looking into ways to expand our sets of options and toys that the players have. And we're really trying to provide the ultimate playground for the player to have fun in and build these moments with them.
Shacknews: Talking about toys, what are some of the new weapons that Rico can play around with and what went behind the idea of giving everything a secondary fire?
Young: Obviously, in a lot of games, you have these basic archetypes. You have the sniper rifle, the assault rifle, the SMG. We wanted those things in the game, obviously. But having an interesting secondary fire really makes things way more memorable. You pick up a weapon, you go, "Oh, I wonder what this does?" Once it does the obvious thing it should do, it also has a secondary function that can be surprising and interesting.
It's also a way for us to expand how many weapons Rico can have on him at any one time. We see it as, once you can carry two weapons at a time, you just switch between them. You're kind of carrying four, because the secondary fire is generally so different from the primary fire.
Shacknews: Just Cause has always been a series about crazy action and chaos. What's something the new mechanics have opened up for this particular game?
Young: It feels like a small thing, but it ends up being a really big thing, it's the ability to control the grappling hook from within a vehicle. It opens up all sorts of stuff, like the tank with air lifters and boosters turning into a flying platform. That's only possible, partially because you can control the grappling hook from within the vehicle. I think that's such a small point, but actually has massive ramifications for how everything fits together. We're definitely looking forward to seeing how players play with the new toys that we have, both from a weaponry point-of-view and with the grappling hook. But also, we want to see how these things get combined in new and interesting ways.
Shacknews: What's the craziest stunt you've seen over the course of development?
Young: It's a good question. We've actually been asked that quite a lot. The thing is... there's so much stuff in the game, it's tough to have a favorite. One of my favorite stunts is something we planned for. We made a micro, one-person fighter jet where you get to control the wings. The reason for that was that we wanted a plane that could fit in the back of a cargo plane. So the idea is, you get a cargo plane, load the smaller plane in the back, take the cargo plane, open up the cargo bay door, and then drop the small fighter jet and open up its wings and get it to fly. Then you can try and land it back on the cargo plane. We've had this idea almost in the beginning of development as something I wanted to add, but getting to the point where you could actually do it was such a fun moment for me. We do have some stuff that we think about in terms of stuff that we know players can discover. It's also complemented by the systems, which means the players can do all the stuff that surprises us.
The stuff that we know about, we can try and prepare for and try out. It's not going to be the thing that gives us the most joy, because it's stuff we already thought about. What gives us the most joy is when the game comes out, seeing all the crazy stuff we didn't think of.
Jaekle: I saw a player do something really cool the other day. They were protecting a hacker as the hacker was trying to get into a console. The Black Hand were coming in droves trying to kill this hacker, so the player was getting overwhelmed with the combat scenario. What he ended up doing was, he went into the grappling hook menu, turned on his Air Lifter balloons and set them to "Indestructible," and then planted them around the hacker. So there were a bunch of indestructible balloons floating around the hacker, which were absorbing all the bullets. The hacker was totally fine, so he could just play at his leisure, because he did his job.
That wasn't what we built indestructible balloons for, but here came a player who looked at that system, saw how it worked, and applied it in a new and interesting way. That's the stuff that's really cool to see out of Just Cause.
Just Cause 4 is set to release on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on December 4.