We live in interesting times, my friends. As the media sources that surround us constantly shift and modulate, we are subject to all manner of strange ideas and experiments that can be both confusing and entertaining. The flavor of the moment is retro nostalgia, and we’re about to get a big heaping portion of it.
Gaming giant Ubisoft has given us the video game equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger ripping the door off of a smart car. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, a standalone modification of the already existing Far Cry 3, mutates the well-known FPS franchise into a campy, 80’s themed, kill-everything action adventure.
A look at the virtual box art (surprise, it’s made by the same guy who did the art for the movie Drive) gives us a good preview of what will follow. Everything is purple, 3/4 of the characters are cyborgs, and there are dinosaur-like creatures that shoot laser beams out of their eyes. We’re off to a good start.
The year is 2007. The world is in the throes of nuclear war. You are Sergeant Rex Power Colt, a cyborg warrior with enough one-liners to make Duke Nukem cry. You’ve been sent on a dangerous mission to find an ex-military warlord known as Colonel Sloan. Leading a private army known as the Omega Force, Sloan plans to disrupt the negotiations for peace between the remaining world powers. As Rex Power Colt, your prime directive is to stop Sloan from ushering in a new age of chaos to the remaining inhabitants of the earth. Other than these basic facts, there is really not a ton of depth to be had here. As a game that is far from taking itself seriously, Blood Dragon is all too aware of the commonalities we see in the FPS genre. The developers seem to have been more concerned with entertaining players with fun mechanics and humor than a richly detailed background, which is welcome in my book.
Blood Dragon is an interesting piece of work in that it pairs high definition models and environments with retro filters and tons of fog. There is a constant overlay of horizontal scan lines in the character’s vision, a quality exclusive to CRT screens of days long past. The island that Rex Power Colt finds himself on is bathed in a constant eerie darkness. The angry red and purple sky occasionally flickers with bolts of lightning. Most wild creatures are somehow mechanical with radiant colored eyes. There are tons of neat lighting effects, from eerie purple glowing trees to garrison beacons reflecting off of the inky water. Looking into the distance, much of the island is veiled in a persistent pink fog, adding more uncertainty and mystery to the place.
The mixture of high definition graphics with a bit of retro ambiance makes Blood Dragon look completely different from the original game it is based off of. Projectiles from weapons usually come in the form of a fat laser beams and explosions really stand out against the dimly lit ground. Enemies emit a faint red glow when spotted, and when inevitably killed by the player, emit a whole lot of glowing blue cyber-blood. Cut-scenes are displayed in a style much befitting the retro appearance of the game, as they are minimally animated and look like they’d be at home on the Super Nintendo. Of course, all the cut-scenes have a fair amount of goofy humor that lampoons themes of action movies and serious shooters we’ve been inundated with in the past couple decades.
Blood Dragon retains the open world aspect of the original Far Cry 3, allowing the player to explore the island at his or her own pace. Ziplines, hang-gliders, and strategically placed climbing vines facilitate a range of play styles that players can adopt. Vehicles such as trucks, boats, and jet-skis also make an appearance in order to help expedite travel across the island. A fast travel system, activated by looking at the island map, is also helpful in getting players where they want to be.
A huge step away from the carefully planned skill trees of Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon starts the character off with a number of devastating abilities. Straight from the beginning, players can run absurdly fast, jump with zero fall damage, breathe underwater, and execute chained take downs The chained take down once an unlockable ability in FC3, is a large part of the Gameplay of blood dragon. This allows the character to use a stealth takedown to incapacitate an enemy, and then jump to nearby enemies for more take downs as part of the same sequence. This is very useful when dealing with multiple hostiles in a very small area. If another enemy is just too far away and threatens to break the chain, the player is able to throw a shuriken, killing an enemy at a distance that would otherwise be unreachable. Leveling up your character also unlocks different take down abilities, such as stealing a recently deceased soldier’s pistol or grenade and using them against their comrades. Stealth remains an important aspect of Blood Dragon, with the inclusion of the rock throwing mechanic from Far Cry 3. As they are useful for distracting and positioning enemies for take downs you’ll find yourself using them a lot to line up the perfect chain. The visibility meter also makes a comeback. When the meter is filled, enemies can see the player and take action such as triggering garrison alarms for reinforcements.
As a player, the feel of being so powerful from the beginning of the game differs greatly from the original FC3. Instead of feeling scared and tense approaching enemies, armed only with a knife and a pistol, I felt at home being able to jump right in and wreak havoc with all my weapons and abilities at hand. Of course, Blood Dragon offers players a chance to improve Rex Power Colt’s abilities with a leveling system. Each level unlocks a new perk, such as being able to perform take downs on heavily armored enemies or adding an additional health bar. The level system is capped at 30, which is just about perfect for the length of the game.
Instead of hijacking radio towers to gain control of the island like in FC3, Sergeant Rex Power Colt must infiltrate a number of enemy garrisons and eliminate all enemies that reside in them. Garrisons can be found by looking for red beacons in the sky spread about the island. When a garrison is liberated, its beacon becomes green and certain missions become available to unlock attachments for the weapons the player uses.
The weapons in Blood Dragon are admittedly a bit limited. There’s a pistol, an assault rifle, a shotgun, a sniper rifle, a bow, and some heavy weapons such as a mini-gun and a flamethrower. Grenades and a futuristic variant of C4, termed C400, also make an appearance. Most of the weapons have attachments that the player can earn by doing missions at garrisons they have liberated. These missions either have the player rescue a hostage, hunt a number of creatures, or use a certain type of weapon to take out enemies. Attachments vary from multiple barrel additions for the shotgun to exploding sniper rifle rounds. Attachments, ammo, and consumable items like health syringes are bought at a supply vending machine using credits collected from downed enemies and hidden containers.
The Blood Dragons, monstrous glowing reptilian creatures from which the game derives its name, are natural residents of this strange island. They are said to have poor eyesight (perhaps a homage to Jurassic Park movies), allowing players to sneak past merely by crouching. What really get the Blood Dragons into a frenzy are cyber hearts, acquired by, you guessed it, ripping them from the chests of downed enemies. Cyber hearts act as a kind of decoy to be used to direct Blood Dragons away from the player and toward unsuspecting enemies. The number of cyber hearts a player has is indicated next to the mini-map on the HUD and is limited to 99. This is good, as players can focus more on taking hearts only when they are needed while hopefully avoiding the compulsive hoarding of items that too frequently occurs in open world games.
Man, is this game crass at times. Upon killing enemies (or taking their hearts), Rex Power Colt generally utters some kind of ridiculous one-liner relating to the manner in which they were subdued. Kill an enemy with the bow and you’re likely to hear him say something not dissimilar to “Just the tip!”. You’ll hear a variety of innuendo, including quite a bit of coarse language. Some of the ones I heard while playing are not for the faint of heart. If you aren’t much for cursing, you might want to turn the sound down. The soundtrack is otherwise brilliantly matched for the game aesthetic. Though the opening sequence treats the player to a bit of Little Richard, the rest of the music can be characterized by spacey synth-heavy, and undoubtedly retro sounding tunes. Think Mass Effect with a bit more Knight Rider mixed in and you have Blood Dragon. You’re sure to be pleased by the exaggerated 80’s synth drums and ethereal bass-lines while you traipse across the fittingly retro sci-fi landscape.
Final Thoughts and Rating
Blood Dragon is a game centered around playing. It isn’t trying to regale you with its war stories or make you sit down and learn something. It’s pure, unfiltered FPS action with an attitude that will put a smirk on your face. The developers of Blood Dragon are holding up a mirror to our media culture in the same way that movies like The Expendables did. There is an understanding that something like an action movie loses its charm when it attempts to become something more than it should be. In an attempt to give the people what they want, Ubisoft delivered a blunt and crass, yet witty and charming game that is highly self-aware. At the same time, its particular brand of self-referential humor is neither overbearing nor detracting from Gameplay My only two gripes (small as they may be) are that there are no attachments for certain weapons and that the game wasn’t longer. It doesn’t take a whole lot of time investment to beat Blood Dragon, but it’s a very polished product for $15USD.
I would definitely recommend that you play this game. Remember, you Do not need to own the original Far Cry 3 in order to play this. It is a standalone game. I give it a much deserved 8.5/10.