Mixing the established quality of Far Cry 3 with the endearing cheesiness of 1980s pop-culture, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon is a standalone slice of radical awesomeness, says Stace Harman.
Ubisoft Montreal’s Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon ranks as one of the most knowingly ridiculous games I have ever played and, for that, I love it. It’s a psychedelic amalgamation of dozens of 1980s pop-culture tropes that combine the psyche of macho action films, the wackiness of Saturday morning kids TV and several fondly remembered childhood toys to deliver a heady blast of nostalgia and utter silliness.
It’s not all tomfoolery and in-jokes, however; built atop last year’s excellent Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon’s FPS mechanics are of a proven high-quality and ensure that the game itself is as enjoyable to play as it is to look at and listen to. For Far Cry 3 aficionados, Blood Dragon provides an additional hit of familiar game play, while for those turned-off by that game’s expansive open-world it serves as a more focused vertical slice of the Far Cry 3 experience.
Its quality pedigree may be assured, then, but it’s not this inherited DNA that gives rise to Blood Dragon’s most enduringly memorable moments, instead these come from its own deliberately ludicrous narrative, goofy character design and consistently funny script. This is a game that is generously sprinkled with punchlines and parodies like so many Hundreds and Thousands over a childhood ice-cream cone. Even the loading screen messages are funny, for goodness sake.
Aside from its writing, Blood Dragon’s unique selling points are its visual aesthetics and aural design. The soundtrack is superb: an evocative mix of Terminator-inspired heavy beats and genre-defining synthesized sounds created by Powerglove, an American outfit named after Nintendo’s of-the-era accessory. A special mention must also go to the song that plays over the end credits, which manages to be both cheesier and catchier than Street Fighter 4’s so-bad-it’s-good “Indestructible” theme tune.
Visually, Blood Dragon’s perpetual twilight allows its garish neon sheen to glow all the brighter and, as we all know, slathering everything in neon paint is the universally accepted visual indicator that this is “The Future”. Here, the game’s endearing 8-bit cut-scenes and 1980s references conspire to portray a far flung future of 2007, in which one of those pesky nuclear war type events has happened. However, all of this pales into insignificance the moment you discover that this is a game that features glow-in-the-dark dragons.
The bat-crap crazy logic that dictates that after Far Cry 3’s tigers the natural next step is to add laser-firing dragons is a hallmark of Ubisoft’s approach here. This extends to the narrative, too, which sees Rex Power Colt fighting to take down his former commanding officer who has gone rogue and now wants to inject the world with mutation-inducing dragon blood. This once loyal soldier-turned-megalomaniac is a hard-bitten soldier whose government no longer has need of his services; he’s a man out of time and unable to adjust to a new era; in short, he’s a stereotypical 1980s movie villain.
Colt’s journey to stop Colonel Sloan plays out over seven missions that are, for the most part, tightly scripted. However, Far Cry 3’s open-world rears its head in the thirteen garrisons dotted around the island, which can be liberated it any order and at any time. As with Far Cry 3’s outposts, you can either go stealth or enter all guns blazing but Blood Dragon offers up a third alternative: to lure one of the titular dragons to the garrison and let them do the hard work for you. Then you can chuckle as Sloan’s Omega Forces try in vain to repel the mythical menace before sweeping in to claim the glory for yourself. Even getting caught in the crossfire can be a source of entertainment, as a screen tip helpfully points out: “When you catch fire, scream along with your character. It’ll be like karaoke.”
Character progression in Blood Dragon is a simplified version of Far Cry 3’s experience system. There are no crafting components and no skill trees, though you can still purchase weapon attachments after completing side missions. There’s a pre-set skill ladder that grants a new ability or perk on every one of its 30 rungs but, by default, Colt has access to a number of the skills that have to be unlocked in Far Cry 3. His own upgrades simply grant additional health, reduce specific types of damage and open-up the flashier takedowns. As you’ll have little trouble reaching the level cap my advice is to mix-up the garrison liberation missions with the story-based ones in order to maintain a pleasing sense of variety. As each garrison has further side quests associated with it this also keeps your options open when deciding what to do next.
As much as I enjoyed Blood Dragon, it’s not as subversive as it might have been or sometimes pretends to be. Its cutting indictment of modern-day tutorials is still delivered alongside an unskippable tutorial of its own, which it no doubt intends to be ironic but still chafes a little. Similarly, its dig at meaningless and monotonous collectibles doesn’t prevent it from offering close to 60 of its own for you to find, all of which are visible on the map removing any need to explore the island fully. This is particularly jarring as only twelve of these collectibles have any humorous exposition associated with them but that’s really a complaint that there isn’t more of the excellent writing to enjoy than a genuine downside.
Were it built from scratch or perhaps the progeny of a less well-accomplished forbear, Blood Dragon could be accused of favouring style over substance. However, as it is effectively Far Cry 3: Reskinned it’s a solid game with a consistently funny script. If it proves popular I can well imagine it might open the flood gates for other publishers to adopt this re-skinning model as a way of offsetting spiralling next-gen development costs.
With this in mind, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon could be considered something of an experiment for Ubisoft and a litmus test for the industry as a whole, but even if that’s the case there is nothing here that screams half-arsed cash-in. Ubisoft Montreal has embraced its 1980s theme with genuine affection and delivered a brilliantly entertaining slice of parody complete with lasers, dragons and quad-barrelled shotguns. To snub it wouldn’t just be folly; it would be the very definition of insanity.