Imagine, if you will, an alternate version of the 1980s where technology progressed a little faster, but everything else stayed the same. While Jane Fonda was rockin' the workout videos, you were playing video games on an Xbox 360 instead of an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Now, imagine one of those games somehow ended up here, in our reality. If you can do that, you might know what to expect from Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.
Although Blood Dragon has Far Cry 3 in its name, this game is its own thing. Forget Jason and his kidnapped friends. The only things Blood Dragon shares with its namesake are an engine and basic gameplay. The content and missions are completely new, and some of the game mechanics have been revamped. It is downloadable, but it's not DLC (you don't need the base game to play Blood Dragon), and it's not an expansion pack.
The best way to describe Blood Dragon is as a total conversion, a type of PC game mod that was extremely popular in the late '90s. Total conversions were so named because they took an existing game and "converted" it into something new. That's exactly what Blood Dragon does to Far Cry 3.
The story, if you can call it that, is so over the top that it's ridiculous, but the tropes are smartly played in a "so bad it's good" SyFy channel sort of way. "Sharktopus," eat your heart out.
In this '80s version of a postapocalyptic 2007 future, the US and USSR had it out with nukes in a big way. With casualties mounting, the US created Omega Force Cyber Commandos. Half-man, half-machine, and all American, they were built from the battlefield dead. All was well until the prospect of peace broke out and Colonel Sloan decided that just wouldn't do. He rebelled and is now using what remains of Omega Force to threaten the entire world. It's up to Rex "Power" Colt (that'd be you) to save the world (and get the girl).
Blood Dragon's future wasteland should be familiar to anyone who grew up with dystopian '80s sci-fi. It's constantly storming, technology has been used for great evil, and the sky is blood red. Neon is everywhere, and wildlife has either mutated or turned into cyborgs. The best creature in the game is the titular blood dragon. Think Komodo dragons, except two to three stories tall. They're super strong, super fast, and they shoot LASERS out of their EYES! Killing one is almost impossible unless you damage the weak spot on its chest.
The blood dragons are more than just beasts to kill. They're also very useful tools due to their "hostile to just about everything" nature. Using the cyber hearts that you've ripped out of dead Omega Force commandos, you can lure blood dragons to various places. Get one outside an enemy garrison, and it'll start firing lasers at the troops inside. Lower the shield, and the rampaging blood dragon will do the dirty work of clearing out the enemy forces for you. Of course, that leaves the little issue of you killing the blood dragon once you've taken over the garrison, but that's nothing a big gun and good aim can't solve.
Big guns are something that Blood Dragon seems to have in abundance. Yes, you have a laser gun. You also have a shotgun, which can be upgraded to quad-fire, a pistol and a sniper rifle with optional explosive bullets. There's a (neon!) bow, a flamethrower and an impressively awesome minigun called the Terror 4000. Finally, there is one extra, super-secret (unless you read Internet spoilers) ultimate weapon. When you get it, Rex does his best He-Man impression as its power courses through his veins.
Little references like that abound throughout the game, from random comments by Rex and other characters, to events within the game and story elements. Just reading the item descriptions is comedic gold. There is even a plot thread that illustrates the horrors of doing drugs and a "Winners Don't Use Drugs" sticker that appears on various shipping crates.
If you lived through the '80s, there is plenty here to make you either laugh or cringe. Either way, the humor is spot on. What makes it all work is Michael Biehn's ("Abyss," "Aliens," "Terminator") delivery. He voices Colt with extreme gravitas, even when the situation doesn't call for it.
The retro references extend to other parts of the game. Blood Dragon's main menu is incredibly minimalistic, and the cut scenes are all done in low-res, low-color mode (even if they are fully voiced). It's the exact opposite of games of the day, when the cut scenes usually looked better than the game itself. Collectible items include tube TVs and VHS tapes.
Despite the retro love, don't think that Blood Dragon is a kiddie game. There is swearing (lots and lots of swearing), story text about lost genitals and even nudity. Granted, it's 256-color nudity, but there's still blatant nipple. Yes kids, that's what CompuServe porn was like back in the day. It's not the kind of game you want to play with your mom in the room. Just sayin'.
For the most part, Blood Dragon is technically solid. It streamlines the Far Cry 3 experience, getting rid of bits like crafting, but keeping the garrisons, side missions and weapon upgrades. Little quirks, like the overly picky waypoint system and sometimes brain-dead AI, are still present, though they aren't major issues. Larger features, like multiplayer and the map editor, have been cut.
Really, there are only two places where Blood Dragon stumbles. One is in the difficulty curve. Most of the game has a consistent challenge. Then, the sixth story mission suddenly ramps things up, for seemingly no reason. After that, it drops down again in the final mission — there isn't even a final battle. You get to the showdown and … it's a cut scene. We won't spoil the ending, but it was somewhat disappointing that we didn't have the option to end it with an epic blowout.
The other negative about Blood Dragon is the gamma level. Yes, red and purple horizons make for a great nuclear wasteland, but they don't make for an easy-to-see screen. With all the darkened hues, some of the beauty of the Far Cry 3 engine was lost. Unless you are playing at night (or in a darkened room), it can be very difficult to make out the subtle details. Even the test image in the options menu was barely there, and that was with the brightness turned up all the way. The same TV was fine for Far Cry 3.
Blood Dragon may not be as big as Far Cry 3 (most players will complete the main missions in a day, all of the optional missions in two), but it fires on all cylinders pretty much every step of the way. It'll have you laughing one minute, saying, "WTF?!?" the next, and topping it off with a, "Holy sh*t!" It's awesomesauce in a digital package, and it's sure to appeal to anyone who isn't named Jack Thompson. What more could you want for a mere 1,200 MSP ($15 USD)?
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