Blood Dragon was originally unveiled on April 1st 2013. This ultra-retro, dystopian re-imagining of the original Far Cry 3 was a seemingly clever April fool’s prank that clearly resonated with the internet generation but nothing more. Then the impossible happened and Blood Dragon was outed as not just another joke but an entire game that would release only a month later.
I felt that Far Cry 3 provided a great experience, with high production values, tight controls and an entire island worth of activities that provided longevity and kept you invested in the game world. While the story component met with lukewarm reviews, especially the wildly different endings, the story did have a clear beginning, middle and end. It was to my dismay then, when I heard that Far Cry 3 would be getting the “DLC treatment”, the first of which would be single-player no less. The game had some clever ideas and unique characters but a return to that world seemed unnecessary. I am pleased to report however, that not only does this standalone game (the original is not needed at all) stand tall as a single-player experience, it offers huge amounts of nostalgia, humour and fun.
In fairness, the actual gameplay that Blood Dragon offers up is almost identical to that of its predecessor. You still get to drive cars and boats, you still hunt animals, you still upgrade weapons and you still shoot bad guys. You will still spend most of your time looking down an iron-sight,shooting, running, stabbing and sneaking around a single (noticeably smaller) open-world island. The controls, animations and engine are all identical to the original, which to be fair, executed most of these mechanics incredibly well, although I think it’s safe to say that if you didn’t like Far Cry 3’s gameplay then you won’t like Blood Dragon’s. While usually that would be considered a negative, I felt that it helped actually helped Blood Dragon overall as it allows for the original games freedom to “play how you want” a strong mechanic that I’m glad carried over.
I do still urge you to play this game though, as that’s where the similarities between the two games end and Blood Dragon’s clever use of 80’s archetypes kick in. Rex Power Colt’s (played by Aliens’ Michael Biehn) story is presented in 8-bit cut scenes, peppered with 80’s movie references and truly terrible (yet awesome) writing that all serve to enhance the experience. Set in the aftermath of “the second Vietnam war” and subsequent nuclear catastrophe the original games bright colours are replaced with dark earthy oranges and reds contrasted by the “futuristic neon colours of the year 2007″. This colour palette carries over to the wildlife and enemies, as the fearsome sharks, crocodiles and even the cassowary of the original game get a “cool” makeover replete with glowing eyes and skin. Gone are the pirates, replaced with cyborgs pulsing with blue blood and robotic hearts just asking to be violently ripped out. Spotlights dot the orange sky of this completely reworked island and the titular Blood Dragon’s are a sight to behold. Hulking, blind beasts they bring an added layer of strategy into fights as they help or hinder you take down your robotic foes with their “laser eyes”.
These clear differences help establish Blood Dragon and flesh out the experience but it’s the minute details that really breathe life into the world. The throwing knife is replaced with a ninja throwing star, scan lines appear on the terrain, the musical score is phenomenal with some obvious inspiration from the Terminator franchise and even the tutorial is fantastic. All of the above can be experienced in the first twenty minutes but the game manages to feel fresh and inventive right until the closing credits, continuously spitting out clever references or hitting nostalgic nerves. It’s clear that a lot of love and care went into keeping a clever, consistent theme and Ubisoft should be praised for it’s clear fan service rather than just churning out the expected half-baked DLC.
However, a trip down memory road like this also leads to most of Blood Dragon’s shortcomings. The story while funny, still comes across as shallow and somewhat lacking. The artificial intelligence can still be a bit daft as I often took out entire platoons of enemies without so much as being shot at. Some of the continuously repeated lines of dialogue sour the experience a bit and the crude humour is certainly not for everyone. Quite a few of the jokes went over the head of my somewhat younger room mate (though not all of them) and after already having played Far Cry 3, I didn’t feel compelled to complete all of the similar side missions. The screen tearing and frame-rate hiccups also resurface on the console versions along with some graphical glitches like “flying jeeps”. All of these issues, while noticeable, never really detract from the experience but do point to the fact that Blood Dragon is not perfect. The game is also quite short and I clocked the main story in roughly 6 hours. Having said that, I should also mention that I finished Blood Dragon in a single sitting not because of it’s length but because rarely has a game made me laugh out loud so much.
And that’s what you get for your money, a game that does humour and nostalgia “right”. It doesn’t go for the easy joke, but rather creates a “straight-faced homage” that revels in it’s silliness instead of mocking it. It’s hard to feel anything but that fuzzy warmth as a game manages to honour the best parts of your childhood, something rarely experienced in any medium, let alone gaming. As a game it’s not perfect, but as an experience that appeals to a specific audience it cannot be beaten. It’s also great value for money and at times I had to keep reminding myself that this was not a AAA game but a 1200 point downloadable title that I enjoyed more than most recent games I have played. It is certainly worth your time and your hard drive space.
– by L1ghtn1ngZA