It was a time of big hair and big ideas. Gordon Gecko was the high priest of greed, and Ronnie "Raygun" rubbed shoulders with a Soviet guy named Gorby. It was a time that defined an action film with spandex and Terminators, and it was a time when a kid flew with Louis Gossett, Jr., to take on the air force of an unnamed Middle Eastern nation to bring back his father.
It was an era when giants such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone single-handedly destroyed nations on the silver screen. Chuck Norris saved the United States from a Communist invasion on Christmas Eve, later hooking up with old-school badass, Lee Marvin, to shoot in and out of Beirut to rescue hostages. MTV actually played music videos, 24/7. This was the '80s, and it's fueling Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon's synthesized cyberpocalypse.
I didn't think Ubisoft was serious on April 1st when it dropped a teaser for this, but the joke was on me when the game turned out to be the real deal. Far from being a simple piece of DLC for Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon is a stand-alone game that uses the Far Cry 3 engine to deliver an open-world shooter at a bargain price. I spent over eight hours doing nearly everything in the game (and it's still telling me that I'm short two weapons), and that's more than I've spent in other linear, single-player campaigns.
The most surprising thing to me is that Ubisoft signed off on this insanity, and I'm really glad that it did. Blood Dragon is a kind of Toejam & Earl moment for the company. Not everyone is going to get all of the inside jokes, but it has plenty of other stuff to enjoy.
An 8-bit inspired slideshow menacingly narrated by a deep voice sets up the inspired world of Blood Dragon. Nuclear war has destroyed civilization in the "near future" at "the end of the 20th century." The Soviets and the U.S. are locked in mortal combat while Canada burns as an irradiated wasteland. It's 2007, and a new world is rising up that features cybernetics and super science, but no sorcery.
It's a world that has re-assembled Rex Power Colt, voiced by Michael Biehn (who fought Arnie in "The Terminator" and exterminated Aliens with Sigourney Weaver), into a Mark IV super cyborg soldier. With his best bud, Spider, the two chopper into enemy territory to investigate potential enemy activity.
As you navigate this shoot-'em-up sandbox vacation, you'll notice that Blood Dragon's homage to the '80s permeates everything, from the synthesized soundtrack to Colt's endless one-liners. He almost always has a smartass comment at his disposal. When he pops someone with a shotgun, Colt may say something like, "I call shotgun" among many, many others. Harvest a heart from the corpse of a bad guy, and Colt may say that he put his heart into it.
The '80s neon also bleeds into nearly every other aspect of the game, from the mega-macho weapon descriptions to their names. Fans of "The Karate Kid" will do more than sweep the leg with the Kobracon sniper rifle while "RoboCop" fans will immediately recognize Colt's pistol. Nothing from the '80s is sacred in this over-the-top parody, especially when it also pokes fun at gaming conventions. There's the forced tutorial at the start of the game, and Colt complains that he hopes collectibles won't involve feathers or flags, sound like he's channeling Matt Hazard from Vicious Cycle's Eat Lead.
Synthesized tracks borrow themes from "Scarface" to "The Terminator" that would make any Golan Globus production proud. A piece from "Rocky" rounds out everything. Visually, the game is drenched in techno-lit detail with sci-fi bunkers and ladders while the wilderness is soaked in a crimson palette that saturates everything in blood. Wicked-looking bases, whooshing creepy doors, scattered ruins, and tons of explosions round out the atmosphere's bombastic retro homage, right down to the pixel jaggies of an obligatory 8-bit sex scene.
If you've played Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon comes off as the "diet" version, keeping the same relatively similar taste while stripping out a number of elements to make it a compact experience. There's no multiplayer or co-op; it's all single-player heroics, but it's still an open island that allows players to be creative in their approach to certain objectives. Players can still ride around in jeeps, there are side-quests, there's experience (combat points) to be earned, there's an insane arsenal of weapons, and there are mods for most weapons. The crafting system is also out, so there's no need to harvest animals for extra pouches or whatnot. If you pilfer an animal's corpse, you'll get credits that can go toward buying weapon mods or other supplies, such as an armor vest or nano-injectors for healing.
Colt's health is measured using blocks and as he kills, quests, and kills some more, he earns combat points that level him up, giving him neat skills such as moving more quickly while crouched. As long as a block isn't entirely exhausted, it slowly regenerates. If a block is wiped out, only a nano-injector can restore it.
If you didn't like the protagonist who went from thrill-seeker to Rambo in Far Cry 3, Colt is the complete reversal of that role. He's the ultimate predator and has all of the same moves, but they seem more fitting in his shoes. He has a cybernetic arm and a cyber-eye to zoom in and track baddies, but he can also kill bad guys and look great doing it. This guy can chain kills, just like the party kid could in Far Cry 3 after a while, and he uses shurikens to shred the necks of anyone who gets in the way.
The game only has seven missions for the core campaign, and they can be as long or as short as your playing style determines, but the player is free to explore the island between missions to liberate bases. As in Far Cry 3, liberating bases places them under your control with the spotlight turning a happy green once all of the bad guys are dealt with. If the base is yours, it unlocks a vending machine that allows Colt to stock up on everything he needs to continue fighting, such as armor or a map that shows the location of collectibles in a region.
One twist is the blood dragons after which the game is named. Imagine a Tyrannosaurus Rex with useful forearms and the ability to fire a fusion shockblast from its eyes that can vaporize almost anything. Now imagine it with armored hide that would make an Abrams tank blush and give it the movement speed of a small car, and you'll realize how terrifying these things are. At the start, these will destroy your day. Quickly.
Players can take over a base stealthily or with guns blazing. Players can also opt to shut down the anti-blood dragon shield around each one and toss a cybernetic heart to lure one in. Instead of setting tigers free from a base as I did in Far Cry 3, now it's about the giant mini-Godzilla trashing everything in sight. I hope you have a plan for killing it when it's done.
Harvesting hearts from bad guys is useful because you also pilfer cash from their pockets. Money and experience points aren't a problem in this game, thereby maintaining the quick, action-packed pace of Far Cry 3. Doing local side-quests send Colt to rescue someone or kill something in the game with a specific weapon. Doing this awards valuable combat points and can unlock new weapon mods.
As much as Blood Dragon has going for it, however, its AI copies quite a few of the suicidal tendencies of its counterparts in Far Cry 3. After a while, even Colt's one-liners started to wear thin as Blood Dragon's punch line started wearing thin over several hours. The scary blood dragons also lose much of their threat level once Colt's arsenal is beefed up, or when they're stuck against some of the buildings.
Even with what might be the best wrist-mounted weapon and cutting the player loose to wrap up unfinished business after the end, the game flattens out after Colt turns into the master of his own universe. Beyond the occasional firefight between scientists and bad guy troopers, there are no other random events, multiplayer, or recurring activities to keep you coming back. There's not much more to it after you've done everything and can regularly serve up blood dragons. This is only a tiny sliver of Far Cry 3's thunder. The ending, as disco-awesome as it is, also feels a little sudden. I was still itching for a bit more action, but much fun was had.
If you grew up in the '80s and had an 8-bit console with a VHS deck hooked into a RF switch dangling from the back of the family TV that still had rabbit ears, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon could be a welcome serving of nostalgia that's served up with 21st century pizzazz (pew pew!). Even if you didn't, players might wonder what it was like to live in a decade that inspired games like this. Even though it runs out of gas near the end, the outrageous weapons, offbeat setting, the intentionally cheesy lines, and fast action make Blood Dragon an enemy of cookie-cutter tyranny everywhere.
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