Make no mistake, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is ridiculous. That’s obviously a completely intentional decision and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s wonderful whenever a large publisher puts out a game that is perfectly happy to just be ridiculous and fun.
The narrative is clichéd and, if you’re a child of the ‘80s that grew up with the kind of over-muscled movies that are being lampooned in Blood Dragon, it’s quite predictable too. The dialogue is cheesy, although incredibly self-aware and packed with jokes and references that regularly caused me to pause for a while until I could stop laughing. Some of the one-liners do get a little repetitive but they’re that good you’ll probably forgive a little repetition. “Call for a medic… so I can kill him too,” was a personal favourite, although there’s plenty to choose from.
The tutorial begins with an on-screen note that says “Press A to demonstrate you have the ability to read” before walking you through the usual tiresome list of moves and instructions. The difference with Blood Dragon is that our protagonist is audibly expressing his displeasure with the tutorial sequence too. Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens) plays Rex “Power” Colt, a cyber commando with a robotic arm and an augmented eye.
Think one part Robocop and one part Kyle Reese and you’ll have a fair idea of the character.
Thematically, it’s difficult to justify the “Far Cry 3” prefix on that name but mechanically, it makes perfect sense. You skip almost all of the weapon-collection and skills upgrade curve of Far Cry 3 but Blood Dragon has the same control scheme, the same outpost unlock system, the same takedown moves (with ninja star throws rather than knives) and the same kind of open world map.
You lose the crafting and selectable skill trees – instead having set rewards for certain levels – but the gameplay feels quite similar, in spite of the much altered look. It feels almost like a reskinning mod with audio sampled from 1980s action movie VHS tapes someone found in a basement.
The game takes its name from a huge new animal presence, which is also a key plot point (no spoilers here). Blood Dragons glow with a traffic light system to show how aware of a threat they are – green if you’re safe, amber if they’re curious and red if they’re about to shoot lasers from their eyes. Yes, they shoot lasers from their eyes. They also take some killing, so stealth is usually the most advisable tactic, but they can be used as a tool for taking over outposts if you disable the shields of an encampment and tempt them towards it.
The Blood Dragons will have difficulty spotting you if you’re crouched and are easily distracted by throwing cyber hearts, which is what you will pilfer from defeated enemies (spare ammo is picked up by running over, hearts by holding a face button). You can even throw hearts to tempt a nearby dragon into large groups of enemies and then stand back and wait for him to finish them off for you, clearing your path. You can also distract patrolling enemies in the same way as you did in Far Cry 3 but it’s not rocks you toss here, it’s D20 dice or “nerdrocks” as the game calls them.
It’s quite clear that Blood Dragon was designed by a team that loves the era it’s portraying. A kind of 1980s view of what the not-too-distant future might be like (the game is set in 2007) offers the chance to really have some fun with the presentation and dialogue. Blood Dragon’s 4:3 ratio loading screens offer “tracking” bars and simulated analogue noise on the video signal, just like an old VHS might. The cutscenes are jerkily animated in a pseudo-8-bit style, delivered via little screen-shaped boxes because of their low resolution.
There’s a loving amount of attention to detail in how the game is presented.
Unfortunately, the same attention to detail has not been applied to the game’s pacing. The fact that it drops a healthy amount of weaponry on your lap right from the start is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it’s nice to have guns but on the other hand, you’re expected to be capable with them all from the start. Far Cry 3 perhaps went a little slowly with its learning curve but Blood Dragon swings the other way and throws you in at the deep end a little too soon.
That’s indicative of its attitude to the way the main mission path plays out, too. There are a number of instances where the game rushes you into situations that you haven’t practiced for. At least it doesn’t feel drawn out and packed with filler.
There were also a few game-breaking glitches during my play through but that sounds much worse than it actually was. Once or twice there was a mission-critical element that just didn’t quite spawn properly and I had to reset to the last checkpoint and trigger the event again. This was never more than a minute or two of gameplay so it’s not a major concern but it was momentarily puzzling while in the heat of battle, before I figured out that there was something awry.
- Concept and presentation are brilliantly executed.
- Dialogue is often laugh-out-loud funny.
- Blood Dragons offer an opportunity for a decent new stealth mechanic.
- Occasional glitches.
- Pacing is a little erratic.
- More could have been done around the new Blood Dragon mechanics.
Blood Dragon is a high-octane, grimy neon view of the future, as seen through the lens of a 1980s action movie project and it’s brilliant. It ditches a lot of the learning curve from Far Cry 3 and strips out some of the systems but, in the end, that doesn’t really matter. For a downloadable title that’s significantly more than just an expansion (and doesn’t require Far Cry 3 to play) this is a lot of content and a wonderful idea, well presented.
I would have preferred it if the narrative arc and the game’s pacing were a little more measured but this isn’t the sort of game that leans too heavily on its storyline. Blood Dragon is all about loud, brash, silly fun and in that respect it achieves its goals easily.