When first revealed, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon felt like an April Fool’s joke that would be great if it was actually true. It soon turned out that it may possibly be, and sure enough, when official confirmation, and hilarious behind the scenes videos were posted, the game found itself firmly on many a neon radar. The brainchild of creative director Dean Evans, Blood Dragon is a flamboyant, irreverent and gorgeous standalone trek through Far Cry as seen through Maverick’s Ray Bans dipped in a vat of pure 80’s nostalgia.
The only explanation for Blood Dragon is that the creators were trapped since 1989 in a Video rental shop, and immediately upon being rescued, charged with creating the ultimate interactive shooter. Suffused with faux-machismo and the power fantasies so prevalent in the decade of excess, Blood Dragon is a surprisingly effective fit for the ludicrous nature of videogames and conceptually, a most natural fit for the Far Cry series a result.
In a world that has had a double apocalypse, Rex PowerColt (voiced with suitably grizzled gusto by Michael Biehn) is a cyborg soldier betrayed and left for dead in pursuit of a big, bad Alpha male-rogue -cyber-villain by the name of Sloan who appears hell bent on bending his cyber-will onto the whole world. Story isn’t essential, and takes a huge back seat to simply presenting proceedings with as much radioactive, decade of excess, energy as possible.
Eighties references: The game is full of them. Whether its the name of the achievements, the database entries, or the enemies and environments you come across, it’s as if the whole decade was put in a blender, swallowed in one by Max Headroom and vomited out onto the CryEngine. Aesthetically, the game takes it’s cues from Tron, Terminator and numerous other brightly coloured movies of the decade, capturing not necessarily the feel of these films themselves, but of the marketing: the trailers, the posters, the VHS covers. The look of the game is spot on. The soundrack is a cross between Brad Fiedel’s moody score for the original Terminator and John Carpenter’s numerable slightly sinister scores. It evokes perfectly that excitement that 80’ VHS trailers used to generate, the kind of excitement the actual film itself could never hope to achieve.
The titular Blood Dragons are possibly the game’s most awesome addition. Giant Komodo Dragons with glowing skin and laser shooting eyes? What Video Game wouldn’t be better without them? They are a genuine threat beyond anything in Far Cry 3, and are a sight to behold. It is even more fun to utilize them in the same way you could use the wildlife in Far Cry 3. They are particularly attracted to the cyber-hearts of the soldiers you collect and throwing these in the vicinity of an occupied garrison makes for some of the most fun the game has to offer. In addition to the giant lizards, there are all manner of souped up fauna, from cyber sharks, to neon snakes and cybernetically enabled panthers, but nothing beats those dragons.
Alongside the varied wildlife, there are plenty of collectables scattered across the island, all given an 80’s spin. VHS tapes can be collected, as well as hissing TV sets and doctors notes. Some offer amusing database entries, which all feed into the system of levelling up weapons, such as offering double barrels for your shotgun or extended mags for pistols.
Tonally, the game is constantly poking fun at the conventions of the shooter and videogames in general. It doesn’t take itself seriously for a moment, though crucially, like all good satires and pastiches, the characters within it do. The tutorial is hilarious in presenting Rex’s frustrations with his HUD (and the computer in his brain is called that) telling the player every little thing they need to do, even down to pressing A to understand that you can read. There is a sense of ridiculousness constantly being conveyed to the player.
However, it is still Far Cry 3. It has both the same physics and mechanics as last year’s game, but the lick of neon paint it has been given covers both the good and the bad aspects of what that game had to offer. It has much of the spontaneity, and the emergent stories that the open world offers. There are the usual garrisons, which can be tackled in whatever manner you want, though there seems to be little bonus this time to opt for the stealthy route. The shooting is solid and weighty, and choice is given to Rex in combat, although with weapons such as the ‘Terror4000’ (effectively Blane from Predator’s awesome minigun) and the A.J.M 9 (guess what the initials stand for? – think Robocop), this being an 80’s action pastiche, and Rex being such a douche, it actually felt perfectly satisfying blasting through this with as little subtlety as possible..
The use of stealth often helped when it came to gaining XP and levelling up. This time round there are no skill trees and choices to make in terms of how you want your character to develop. Granted, this felt a little superfluous in Far Cry 3 as most skills could be obtained relatively easily and it wasn’t long before you felt you were wasting or storing skill points, but some semblance of choice would still have been welcome here.
There is also a fairly high difficulty spike later in the game, when the ubiquitous ‘zombies’ make their appearance. Granted, your are clearly warned that this a point of no return, but the game had been pretty unproblematic up until that point, so to be faced with a spike that almost, almost made me stop playing was a little frustrating.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a brave move by Ubisoft and should be applauded as an example of how to develop brand content. This could have easily been DLC, or a simple extra island, but the chance was taken on a crazy, creative idea, and overall, it has paid off. Blood Dragon is a blast, not only being a showcase for the Far Cry experience, but a possible model for the future direction of the series. Despite it’s changes and additions being mostly a cosmetic, but awesome one, you must pay attention to the Far Cry 3 part of the title, because it is this that will inform you if you will enjoy it or not.
MLG Rating: 7/10 Platform: PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 / PC Release Date: 01/05/13
Disclosure: Craig Hallam purchased a copy of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on a Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.