Push it to the limit
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is just like Far Cry 3. Well, except for the fact that it takes place in an alternate-reality version of 2007 where the world has been reduced to ashes by Vietnam War II. And the main character is now a cyborg special-forces commando named Rex Power Colt. And every cutscene features at least one reference to an ’80s action movie. And there’s neon everywhere. And there are dragons that shoot lasers out of their eyes.
So, you know, just like Far Cry 3.
OK, there might be a few minor differences, but I promise you that Blood Dragon does share a surprising amount in common with its predecessor. You’re still exploring an open-world island, capturing outposts, and tussling with the local wildlife. The fundamentals of combat are completely unchanged as well. You can still scout from a distance to mark your enemies and decide whether you want to go in stealthy, guns blazing, or anywhere in between.
Unfortunately, the underlying structure of the game does a fairly poor job of taking advantage of these features. Far Cry 3 excelled at providing you with a wide set of interlocking systems that made every minor gameplay feature both inviting and rewarding. In Blood Dragon, many of those systems have been stripped down or cut out entirely. The crafting system is gone, so there’s zero incentive to hunt animals outside of the side missions that require it. The skill tree has been reduced to a single, linear upgrade path, so there’s almost no investment in your character’s progression. The story missions, of which there are a paltry seven, never really require you to mix things up beyond the standard blunt-force approach.
The most dramatic departure comes from the inclusion of the blood dragons themselves. These overgrown, laser-eyed Komodo dragons are the only new enemy type in the game, but they offer a nice enough change of pace from the otherwise same-y combat. They’re powerful and hard to kill, so taking one down feels like a genuine accomplishment. You can also lure them into attacking enemies for you by chucking the cyber hearts you rip out of your enemies. Trouble is, once the initial luster wears off, they’re really just bullet sponges that are ridiculously easy to avoid and usually more trouble than they’re worth. If the blood dragons were one of a handful of heftier gameplay changes, I might be singing a different tune, but in isolation, they just feel tacked on and uninteresting.
At the same time, gameplay isn’t the most significant part of the overall Blood Dragon experience. The main draw here is quite clearly the nostalgic humor, and it’s an absolute riot. Blood Dragon mines just about every corner of ’80s bizarreness, throws them into a blender, and barfs them out in a strange, puerile pastiche that somehow works. While not every joke is laugh-out-loud funny—and quite a few are groan-worthy—Blood Dragon is the most consistently hysterical game I’ve ever played.
And it casts such a wide net with its jokes that I honestly believe anyone with at least a passing knowledge of ’80s culture will have a great time. The retro, pixel-art cutscenes are packed with references to Saturday-morning cartoons like Dino-Riders, live-action shows like Airwolf, and just about every cheesy action movie you watched as a kid. It’s stupid, unfocused, kitschy, and positively brilliant.
And while Blood Dragon is, first and foremost, a love letter to all the things that made the ’80s awesomely bad, it’s also a satirical take on the things that make games awesomely bad. It’s a tongue-in-cheek nod to the fact that the medium came of age against the cultural backdrop of films like Terminator, Escape from New York, and Road House—and an acknowledgement that we really haven’t made all that much progress since. It’s a modern triple-A videogame about the failings of modern triple-A videogames.
The tutorial segment goes on for so long that even Rex starts to get annoyed with it. Loading-screen tooltips impart absolutely no valuable insight about the game. The dialogue is so full of meaningless jargon and melodramatic exchanges that it could probably pass as the script for the next Metal Gear Solid if you edited out all the winking humor. There’s that requisite moment of moralizing, where your nemesis points out that you’ve become a violent mass murderer in your attempt to stop a violent mass murderer. None of it is particularly subtle, insightful, or groundbreaking, but I’ll be damned if it’s not thoroughly entertaining.
More importantly, Blood Dragon never gets too preachy or self-serious. You always get the sense that it’s more interested in turning a humorous lens on these faults than genuinely lamenting them. It pokes fun at the violence, the hypermasculine empowerment, the brainless simplicity, but it also revels in them. “Games can be stupid sometimes, and they’ve still got a lot of growing up to do,” the moral goes. “Now, blow this dude’s head off with a quad-barrel shotgun.”
That constant back-and-forth culminates in an unspeakably ridiculous climax that feels like a mashup of every ill-conceived final level from the last 20 years of videogaming. You’re mowing down enemies left and right, lasers are shooting off in every direction, and red, white, and blue fireworks are exploding in the distance. There’s so much visual noise onscreen that even Michael Bay would’ve probably told the effects team to take it down a few notches.
In the midst of all the insanity, your ally delivers the perfect summary of everything Blood Dragon is trying to say. “This is fun and sad,” he deadpans.
If there’s a better way to sum up the ’80s, I haven’t found it.
|Developer: Ubisoft Montreal • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 04.30.2013|
If you expected some hefty gameplay changes to match Blood Dragon’s turbo-rad ’80s makeover, you’ll be sorely disappointed. This standalone expansion is essentially a pared-down version of the Far Cry 3 formula with a few minor innovations, but its hysterical take on the decade of excess is well worth the price of admission.
|The Good||Quite possibly the funniest videogame you’ve ever played.|
|The Bad||Not the robust, meaty experience you expect from Far Cry.|
|The Ugly||Vietnam War II. R.I.P., Canada.|
|Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA), PlayStation 3 (PSN), and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.|