We get new Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty games every single year, but the big budget nature of games development means we can still be left waiting epochs for most of the sequels we desperately want. Just Cause is a perfect example: we’ve been waiting for a new instalment since 2010, enduring years of radio silence that started to have us wondering if Avalanche Studios’ hit open world adventure series had wound up in the same limbo as Half-Life 3.
But no: at last, Rico is in sight, grappling his way over the horizon. Just Cause 3 is set to arrive on PC, PS4 and Xbox One later this year. While details have been scant so far, we managed to snag an interview with the game’s director, Roland Lesterlin, to find out more about what to expect. Naturally, we had to ask, with such a cult fan base, why the long wait?
“There’s always a moment of thinking what is going to be the next game,” Lesterlin tells Red Bull from Avalanche Studios’ Manhattan office.
“Obviously with the success of Just Cause and the big jump forward for Just cause 2, deciding to do a Just Cause 3 felt pretty natural. I joined the company back in 2011 and the early conversations about it were just starting up at that point, and then we entered into production around 2012.”
For Lesterlin, a former product development manager at Atari, the appointment was a dream come true. “I came on as a fan more than anything else at the beginning. Avalanche is one of the few developers in the world that I wanted to work with, and when the opportunity came to come join the company it was one of those pretty special moments.”
Naturally, there were a few things on his wish list for the series, which is all about high octane action in a vast sandbox world, with stunts that make the Fast & Furious series look positively sensible. These are mostly wrought from rocket launchers and a grappling hook that leaves Spiderman in the lurch. It’s a wish list he believes will please the series’ most vocal fans.
“We started chatting about all the things we wanted to do, and some of the features that you see in the game are indeed repercussions of that. A lot of it comes also from what the fans want and what the modding community has done. You do a lot of research into how people have been playing, the dreams that didn’t quite make it into Just Cause 2 and see if any of those needed to get into Just Cause 3.”
"Really, we wanted to stick to the core pillars when we started thinking about how to make the game. That kind of traversal feeling, the really incredible ability that [protagonist] Rico has to move through vertical space, the three dimensional movement. So we looked at all the activities, sling shotting, paragliding, freefalling, and wingsuits seemed to be a pretty natural progression for the franchise.”
Lesterlin pauses excitedly. “That in combination with the grapple hook is spectacular, it’s one of those things that just makes you smile with joy as you move through the map.”
Naturally, wingsuiting is also much more fun when you can do it away from massive explosions. “Of course Just Cause is known for destruction and beautiful explosions, so we wanted to make sure we were really getting out in front of that one,” he says. “Thanks to our relationship with Havok [the developer of a leading game physics engine], which has been amazing over the years, we’ve been able to really push our destruction to another level there and really push huge, epic explosions.”
And then there’s the world. In Just Cause 3, Rico is leaving the jungles of south-east Asia behind, and headed home to the fictional nation of Medici in southern Europe.
“The Just Cause series has always been a vacation compared to other games, it has really bright colours, that saturated feel, that sense of the crystal blue waters and the green trees and beautiful beaches. We really wanted to keep that vibe, but we had done the jungle twice and a lot of other games had followed suit there. So we wanted to look around for a place that would give us both the beautiful crystal blue waters and that vacation feel, but at the same time have really vertical landscapes. And that’s when we ended up with the Mediterranean – which also gives us all of the history of humanity behind it.”
Just Cause 3’s story sees espionage super agent Rico returning home to the fictitious island of his upbringing, which, wouldn’t you know it, has been taken over by a ruthless dictator in the interim. “With Rico, we wanted to develop him a bit more as a character...we realised we needed to go back to where he was from, ask why did he become Rico? We have a bit of a genesis story.”
Really though, as Lesterlin argues, that’s almost not the point. Just Cause 3 is a massive sandbox for you to have your own adventures in, and one that will have much more in to do than its predecessors.
“We focused on a [game world] map of 400 square miles…we wanted to have one of the largest maps we've ever done to really increase the verticality,” Lesterlin says. “With the way games are designed these days sheer scale is no longer as needed I guess, but we didn't want to bring it down in size, as having a big world makes toys all the more fun. We wanted to keep it the same size, but this time keep it more on density.”
That extra detail includes a whole web of “tunnels and caves”, as well as the ocean surrounding the world. As if speedboats weren’t exhilarating enough, Avalanche has really focused on the physics of the sea this time around. “We worked on the water…which makes driving boats become so fun because you get that sense of jumps and randomness that is now a new moving terrain.”
Of course, none of this would be possible without the power of the next generation of consoles and top-end PCs. Lesterlin says that even as far back as 2010, the team was gravitating towards a big platform leap for Rico in Just Cause 3.
“In the very beginning of any game you think to yourself ‘what is going to be best for the game?’ To be honest, really from the start we were saying the things that we wanted to do with this game just couldn’t be done on the last generation. It’s going to need the extra memory and power that the new generation of consoles provide. As a nerd I kind of enjoy the huge amount of power to do things that we really just couldn't have done before.”
Lesterlin isn’t prepared to talk about framerates and resolution on PS4 and Xbox One just yet however, a subject that has proved contentious for other PS4/Xbox One-only titles so far, such as Assassin’s Creed Unity and Driveclub. “We're going to do everything we can to have the most optimized experience possible, I don't think we're setting any targets right now,” he says. “It's going to look spectacular.”
He also ducks around the more pressing question: why is there no multiplayer in Just Cause 3? Just Cause 2 was a single player game – until fans modded it to support an absolutely berserk 2,000 player mode, which proved to be every bit as fun and anarchic as it sounds. Yes, 2,000. Not surprisingly Just Cause 3 multiplayer was high on many fans’ wish lists as a result, before Avalanche delivered the bad news that it was not on the roadmap. Why not?
Lesterlin insists that Just Cause is still a game best experienced solo – but if modders can come up with something, they’ll be first in line to play it. “How do you build the best Just Cause 3 console experience that we can? I think there's some great lessons to be learned there and we want to encourage the modding community as much as possible,” he says. “But Just Cause is a sandbox, it's your sandbox. Sometimes if you want to create an epic chain of destruction, that really needs to be your sandbox so nobody will change that for you.”
Instead, he says the focus will be on more “emergent gameplay”, showing off your insane achievements that even the developers did not know were possible. “We felt we would push down on online features in a more asynchronous fashion,” he explains. “We wanted to be able to push things like challenges, leaderboards that allow you to interact with your friends, a bragging system….this should encourage the social side to it. I think we're going to get a lot of people showing off their incredible skills.”
And what about Lesterlin’s own skills? What tricks has he pulled off in the game that his employees never saw coming?
“I can be a little dark sometimes,” he admits. “I guess the way you can multiple tether to chain a whole group of objects together, and take down a whole outpost with one motion. I'm also really enjoying trying to hit a helicopter with a motorcycle. It's a pretty tough stunt to pull off but it's pretty hilarious when you do it.”
That, Lesterlin believes, is the game’s real achievement – and why he can’t think of any features he wanted to add this time around and was unable to. As Rico, it’s up to you to create those features with the power of your grappling hook, wingsuit and whatever vehicles you care to blow up.
“We watch players combine systems together in a way we didn't think was possible, open up another 100 possibilities. You can jump a car off of a cliff and then backflip off the car...it's those little things that just make you smile every day.”
The game is up and running, and tracking a holiday 2015 release, according to Lesterlin, which means it will be facing some stiff competition. Not that Avalanche should be concerned.
The first few Xbox One and PS4 exclusive titles haven’t quite blown us away, leaving the remasters and cross-generation titles to pick up the slack, but if Just Cause 3 comes anywhere close to matching the adrenaline rush of the first two games, that’s going to change. Christmas, and Rico, can’t come soon enough.
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