Around the northwest of Solís, a South American island nation under the rule of the Black Hand, a tornado is rampaging. It’s ripping up everything in its path — cars, buildings, boats — in a physics-based torrent.
A few kilometres away, Rico Rodriguez is running repeatedly into a motorbike. The bike is sitting on its top, handlebars splayed like a pair of bike stands, its flat seat creating a stable platform.
Just minutes ago this arrangement was a minor victory, but now it is a great inconvenience. After all, if the bike is upside down Rico can’t ride it. And if Rico can’t ride it, he can’t fling himself into the tornado, which is twirling its way towards the horizon as he watches.
What’s fantastic about an upside down motorbike is the access it grants you. Attaching things to the undercarriage is easy if you’re in a garage, but if this is a bike you just stole from an unfortunate local you need to improvise. And if you’re looking to rig up your bike with a series of helium-filled balloons and vertical thrusters, and structural integrity is at all important to you, then you’re gonna need to flip that bad boy to access the best possible anchor points.
Unfortunately, Rico isn’t super accustomed to working with balloons. Thrusters alone, and this Motorbike would already be twisting in the wind, both figuratively and literally. The balloons are creating a significant amount of ballast — a gyro hasn’t caused our hero this much trouble since the time his local ran out of lamb.
Rico’s typical experience with balloons is different.
The Real Fun of Just Cause
Outside of the blimps he’s accustomed to, inflatable devices for him have typically been relegated to mods. Modding Just Cause to experiment with the open world and the physics engine powering it has long been one of the most exciting things about the series for some people, and inflatables are a mainstay among modders.
In Just Cause 4, the balloon is a Grappler mod Rico acquires early in the game which he can use to make things float. Think of the Fulton Recovery Extraction system from Metal Gear Solid 5, except instead of stealing soldiers, you’re trying to create a hoverbike directly inspired by Lawnchair Larry.
There are three mods for the Grappler in Just Cause 4, and each of those can be modded further. The Retractor is the classic Just Cause two tether system. You anchor it in one spot, attach it to another and the two things are drawn inexorably together, like Rico is to banana republics. In Just Cause 4 you can alter the speed at which it retracts, cause the tethers to explode when fully pulled together and even create a “power yank,” which is just two letters off getting you arrested.
The booster was previously an explosives modification in Just Cause 3, creating jet propulsion when activated. The awesome thing about the physics engine in Just Cause 4 is that — when working correctly — the boosters can do everything from make a cow fly to turn a merry-go-round into a centrifuge of such terrifying speeds that anyone on board would surely be liquefied.
It can be modified too — the boosters can burn out quickly, the thrust vector can be managed individually, their power output can be ramped up, and they can explode when finished with.
Finally we have the Air Lifter mod, which adds balloons to anything Rico tethers. The balloons can be indestructible, they can be fragile, they can be modded to follow Rico around, and they can, of course, explode when finished with.
Rico can create three presets with ease, switching between them with the push of a button. He can combine them, too — having a tether with a booster, balloon, and a retractor on it all at once if he can work out why he would want to.
Because this is new technology, Rico couldn’t be expected to know that attaching four balloons to an upside down motorbike would make the motorbike perfectly stable (and near impossible to flip).
Here he was though. It was better than some of the other places he’d been. Attaching 10 boosters to the back of a Blimp created a scene akin to the Hindenburg Disaster played in super fast forward.
Attaching air lifters to the wings of a jumbo jet so his passenger airliner could gain VTOL abilities worked beautifully — but trying to fly it sideways between the struts of a bridge did not.
Do Anything From the Start
Solís is massive, with four distinct biomes to explore, and Rico can tackle them in any order and manner he chooses, so our suave hero has a ton of options. The Breath of the Wild philosophy means he’s basically plonked down on the island — which hosts the most landmass in any of Avalanche Studios’ games to date — and unleashed.
Completing missions and playing through the story will help with Rico’s assault on the Black Hand — the sinister para-military corporation controlling Solís — but it’s not required if he just wants to get it over and done with quickly.
Cruising around, missions pop up for Rico when it seems like he’s starting one. If he flies his stolen helicopter over a nearby Black Hand base, details on how to render it useless spring up. If he floats by a “re-education centre” in a yacht, radio chatter will tell him to head in and rescue the citizens trapped within. Accomplishing these tasks will help Rico out — he’ll get supplies and support from the people he’s helped. It means there’s no real pressure on Rico to do anything in particular.
Which means if he wants to jury-rig a bike into a makeshift tornado testing device, he has all the time in the world. A thought occurs to him. He could retractor-tether the bike to a nearby tree by one of its wheels, and then detach the tether and let the bike fall to the ground.
Now About That Tornado
By the time Rico has managed to flip the bike over, the tornado has absconded just behind a nearby mountain. Luckily, the jet-powered hover-bike is more than up to the task of tracking it down. It’s actually quite easy to track the tornado itself — the telltale storm clouds above it mean it’s rarely hidden for too long, regardless of the size of the mountain.
Rico’s jet-powered hover-bike rips along the countryside. The Grappler’s mods can be customised to activate automatically, when holding the button or at a tap — which means Rico can inflate and deflate his balloons at will.
The interstate highway that winds its way through Solís is packed with traffic, most of it unperturbed by the giant funnel of windy death just a few kilometres along. Rico’s jet-powered hover-bike is unperturbed by the traffic, floating around 10 metres above it as he is.
When he’s just a few hundred metres out, Rico lets the bike fall back to the ground. The jets, and the lack of friction on the ground, mean he’s going roughly twice the top speed of the bike itself, around 300km/h. He’s not wearing a helmet.
With just 100m to go, he can see cars ahead being pulled up into the vortex. The dark funnel stretching up towards the sky is filled with the broken parts of cars, the remains of a fuel station, and a fighter jet.
Have Faith in the Physics
Rico spots the perfect launching pad for his grand leap, a dirt ramp near the side of the road. He slows down as he turns to line up the jump, but he overshoots it anyway. He turns the bike back around and guns it, using a quick few taps on his booster to speed up the process before stopping 20 metres short of the ramp itself.
He has to go for it now, while he can. The Tornado is running away again. He accelerates hard, careening at the ramp, and just as he hits the bottom of the natural inclination he hits his boosters. The balloons take about two seconds to inflate, so he wants to engage them a little earlier than he needs them.
The boosters fizzle before the ramp runs out. They’ve burned out. 20 metres was barely enough room to get a run-up without the aid of boosters. The hover-bike rolls harmlessly over the edge of the ramp. The tornado will get away. He’s failed.
Then the balloons expand. The wind catches them. The physics engine kicks in, and the massive weather event sucks Rico in. He’s going home. Cars fling themselves around him as he holds onto the bike for dear life. The bike itself is starting to smoke, damaged as it is by the winds and debris. When it explodes, it takes the balloons with it.
But Rico’s already let go. His wingsuit pops, and he’s alive. Alive to experiment again. To fight the Black Hand. To move forward, not backward. Upward, not forward. And always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.