We all thought it was a joke.
On Apr. 1, Ubisoft released a promo trailer for a game that was dubbed Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Like all things on the Internet that day, it was perceived as a joke for everyone to enjoy. There were hints of it being real, such as the appearance of Achievements, but no one thought much of it. At the most, people thought it was DLC for Far Cry 3 and not a stand-alone downloadable game. It wasn't until the Uplay exploit a week later that people discovered that this was indeed a real game. They also discovered that Blood Dragon is a really good game.
Despite being a spin-off of last year's Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon tells a new tale that isn't related to the previous game. The year is 2007, and the aftermath of a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States generated the cybernetic super soldier. You are Sgt. Rex Power Colt, an American cyber soldier who is, along with his partner Spider, assigned to travel to a mysterious island to hunt down their former leader, Colonel Sloan. You're both captured, Spider is dying at the Colonel's hands, and you have been left for dead. Fortunately for you, one of the Colonel's scientists rescued you and needs your help. It's now your mission to kill the Colonel and save the world.
If Blood Dragon sounds like a mediocre 1980s action movie that hasn't aged well, that's because it was intentional. The plot is typical of that era's films, which often used nuclear war to end the Cold War. The pacing of the plot is also typical and even comes with the mandatory training and sex montages. The dialogue is filled with technical jargon and corny dialogue that make no sense today, and the hero spews catchphrases, especially after a good kill. Even the load screens mimic the tracking of an old VCR, and everything is covered in scan lines to mimic old CRT TVs. The game is relishing in that nostalgia, making the story and treatment solid in a strange sort of way.
Otherwise, the game isn't afraid to reference the time period. Your character is cynical but maintains a straight face when saying silly things. The loading screens display very obvious tips that are laced with sarcasm. The dialogue mentions how winners don't use drugs, and cut scenes move into a 16-bit scheme with stilted animations and a limited color palette. Some item descriptions are reminiscent of bad film taglines of yore. Gun names reference older movies, and the game pokes fun at tropes from modern games, such as forced tutorials and item collection. In short, you can think of it as Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard with humor that doesn't feel forced.
Admittedly, you'll need to be familiar with the time period to get the most out of the humor. Jokes and references fly at such a rapid pace that you'll likely miss many if you aren't familiar with the '80s. The game is more funny than serious, despite being labeled as an action game and not a comedy. Those expecting a deep, meaningful game or some semblance of seriousness will be sorely disappointed. It will most likely not bother many players, who (should) know what they're getting but it is worth pointing out for those who haven't figured out the zaniness yet.
The cut scenes are actually quite flawed in execution. The context and delivery are fine, but the game has a problem with smooth transitions to the next block of dialogue. More often than not, you'll run to a block of dialogue, experience a noticeable period of silence, and then have the next block play once the scene changes. You can skip and pause the cut scenes entirely, but there's no way to make them run through dialogue more quickly, so some of the jokes don't flow as well as they should have.
On the surface, Blood Dragon is exactly what you'd expect if you've played Far Cry 3. Though you can explore the interiors of some buildings, most of your action takes place in the open world by way of jeep, Jet Ski, or on foot. With the exception of specific missions, you're free to go where you want and do what you want, whether it's hunting wildlife or collecting VHS tapes and old TVs. Liberating garrisons still gets you access to more weapons and bonus rescue and assault missions. You can choose either an all-out assault, a stealth approach, or a combination of the two. The core ideals of the game remain the same, but they're in a different wrapper this time around.
There are a few major differences to the formula, though. Your main character really changes the perception of the game. Jason Brody from Far Cry 3 was a typical spoiled party guy who transformed into an efficient killer in a very short period of time. Even though this was supported by some mysticism, it was somewhat unbelievable how a guy who never handled a gun could snipe enemies without breaking a sweat. With Rex Power Colt, who's been a cyborg from the very beginning, his proficiency at killing never comes into question, so the acts become more believable even as the rest of the game gleefully departs from any sense of realism. The character change also gives the developers an opportunity to add more superhuman abilities in the name of enjoyment. Rex can run at top speeds without slowing down or catching his breath. He can survive long falls without a scratch and can hold his breath underwater forever. You still have to be careful, but more reckless exploration and play is certainly acceptable.
The second major difference is in the titular Blood Dragons roaming the island. With your superpowered abilities giving you the tools to make quick work of the other island inhabitants, they represent your only threat. Early on, they can easily wipe you out in one shot. Until you obtain the right weapon, your best bet is to sneak by them at far distances so they can't detect you. However, because of their neutral nature, you can use cybernetic hearts to coax them toward enemies, so you can watch the chaos as they pick apart the enemies.
The other major difference is the streamlined Far Cry 3 experience. Your leveling system no longer has any branches, so you're only able to get generally more powerful instead of specializing in specific skills. The syringe and segmented healing system is still in place, but there's no opportunity to get special syringes for temporary augmentations or gather ingredients. Likewise, animal hunting is there, but you only collect cash from their corpses instead of animal hides. It means that you only need to visit weapon vending machines and not worry about trading.
While they make the game more enjoyable, these changes affect the overall approach of the title. Even though you still have the freedom to approach the game however you want, the title certainly focuses more on action. You can still employ stealth, and the game rewards you with more XP for stealth kills, but there are more tools at your disposal if you want to rush headlong into battle. This is especially true once you level up and get weapons that are powerful enough to take down the Blood Dragons, making stealth only necessary if you choose to play that way. This shift makes the title much more fun, but those looking for a more balanced experience will be missing that here.
Those familiar with how Far Cry 3 looked on the PC should expect something quite similar with Blood Dragon. The island's rich detail and expansiveness are still accomplished with an engine that only uses loading screens when moving into cut scenes or into building interiors. The rest of the time, you're treated to a place where no texture pop-in exists and vegetation is lush. Players with high-end video cards are treated to some amazing visuals, but those with lower specs won't be shortchanged much. The different setting and mood dampen the graphical experience, though. The scan lines are permanent, and while the red skies give off a sinister vibe, the darkness hides some of the detail that you're used to seeing. On the other hand, the heavy use of bright neon lights and saturation gives the game a somewhat stylized look that helps it stand out from the crowd. That's always a plus in a genre that is increasingly crowded by the second.
Likewise, the audio is top-notch. The voice work is great, even when they're uttering some bad lines, as the performances are all done without a hint of irony. Gunfire and explosions are what you'd expect, but with more of a sci-fi slant due to the presence of lasers. Aside from the opening turret sequence with Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" playing in the background, the score is very heavy on synthesized music, which was popular during the time period. None can be easily tied to a single property, but there is a tinge of familiarity to each track, and much like the jokes, players who grew up in or are familiar with the '80s will feel nostalgic.
Although it wasn't meant to be taken seriously, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a surprisingly good game. While the abandonment of some of Far Cry 3's deeper mechanics will leave a hollow feeling for some players, the focus on old-school run-and-gun action and mechanics in a more modern setting make the game feel more focused. The humor consists of mostly hits, and the misses aren't so bad. The visuals work well in a quasi-retro sort of way. Even if the nostalgia of the '80s doesn't pique your interest, the satisfying action should, and that's more than enough of a reason to try Blood Dragon.
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