The jetpack - or Bavarium Wingsuit - that you're given at the very start of Just Cause 3's new Sky Fortress DLC is quite a thing. Seriously. Hold a button to blast off from the ground, and then you're up, up and away, riding a trail of neon blue fog as you head for the stars. That initial boost won't last forever, but once you're gliding, you can top yourself up with toots on a recharging thruster, and you can even air brake to pull off fancy turns, or to screw up fancy turns and starfisj yourself against a tree. You have a machine gun and a rocket launcher, both available in-air and saved from spamming by their own cooldowns. Best of all is a barrel roll, which you can pull off just as an enemy missile is about to hit you. It's a beautiful thing, in-game text announcing your success as the golden contrail of the rocket with your name on it races past inches from an arm or leg. People talk about Sky Fortress as being the Iron Man mod, and you glimpse it very clearly in these moments. Swoosh!
Yeah, that jetpack is quite a thing. The rest of the campaign that's built around it is less endearing. It's not a disaster by any means, and I had a pleasant enough afternoon rattling through the mini-campaign's three missions and the padding required to unlock them. The problem is that the whole thing feels a bit like padding.
I think it's the fault of geography. Back on the islands of Medici, Just Cause 3 can rope in that beautiful, expansive open world to bring life to missions which, in truth, tend to be made up of very simple tasks: hunt this down and kill it, hunt this down and protect it while everyone else tries to kill it. The ultimate Just Cause mission is happy to devolve into a convoy: hardly a brilliant piece of creative thinking, but the sheer fact that you're moving through a landscape that's rigged for happy accidents gives it a fresh sense of life.
Sky Fortress, however, takes place, as the name suggests, on a sky fortress for the most part: a huge Avengers-style flying battleship where the evil Eden Corporation is hatching a plan to mine all the Bavarium out of Medici's earth and leave little but a smoking crater in its place. This sky fortress is large enough to be divided into two areas, both of which need liberating before you can unlock the second mission, and then there are landing zones back on Medici itself which need liberating before you can head back to the sky for the climactic act.
Makes sense, but in a game about racing around a huge chunk of real estate and roping the landscape into your wildest plans, this Sky Fortress business is a bit of a dud. The carrier's a lump of metal sprinkled with targets to take down one by one when the design calls for it: open-plan and riddled with deadly turrets on top, warrenous and spiky and filled with deadly turrets below. It's a bit boring.
Inside, meanwhile, the sky fortress devolves into a succession of large, fairly dull chambers where your job is to kill everyone and tackle a boss or two, as a narrative that is thin to begin with only unravels further. I feel like I'm being a bit mean, because none of this stuff normally matters to me in Just Cause 3. The problem Sky Fortress has is that it forces you into such limited confines that this stuff suddenly has to matter: it's you, smooshed up close against the level design, and it isn't always that exciting.
The lingering blandness is enlivened by that jetpack, though, which Sky Fortress relies on again and again, often sprinkling a carrier that you've just blasted free of targets with all-new targets to blast at one more, knowing that you'll struggle not to enjoy the simple pleasures of rushing through the air, locking on, and strafing. Besides that, there's a new assault rifle that fires pretty sprays of plasma, and your own portable drone, which I called in once the DLC was complete, and sent it out to liberate a village for me with its machine guns and missiles. We were safely on the ground now, with the horizon open all around us again. Just Cause 3 was back in its element, and comical mishap, I'm delighted to say, ensued.