Neon dragons that fire laser beams from their eyes in the worst/best '80s film never made
After the divisive Far Cry 2 Ubisoft needed to get Far Cry 3 right, and they did exactly that, gaining a superb 9/10 from ourselves in the process. If Far Cry 3 can be faulted however it’s that it’s totally lacking in neon, motorcycle-helmet-wearing robot guards, cybernetic killers voiced by Michael Biehn, giant dragons that shoot lasers from their eyes, and the pull of terrible Eighties B-movies. Fortunately Ubisoft realised this, and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is now here to correct these massive oversights.
I have no idea how Blood Dragon came to happen but I am very glad that it did. The story is intentionally like a bad ‘80s movie with hilariously terrible writing to match. It’s the far off apocalyptic future of 2007 (!) and two Mark IV Cybercommandos (one of which is your Biehn-voiced character Rex “Power” Colt) are sent to an island dominated by a rebel army packing genetic experiments and nuclear missiles. It’s the type of story where nuclear missiles can be disarmed by punching them, a montage to a fast-paced heroic pop tune makes things happen fast, and cheesy lines are commonplace. Personal favourites of mine include “part man, part machine, all Cybercommando!” and, upon Rex taking down a soldier with a knife, “something got caught in your throat – me!”. Cutscenes are told through early ‘90s NES-style animations and are a frequent highlight.
My favourite but sadly one of the rarest examples of FPS today is the Comedy Shooter, and after the underperformance of Bulletstorm and the what-the-hell-was-that of Duke Nukem Forever I didn’t expect another major publisher to back one any time soon. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is consistently genuinely funny from start to finish. The tutorial for example beautifully parodies Far Cry 3’s annoyingly in-depth tutorial by literally forcing you through as many ridiculous ones as the developers could think up – including “Press A to demonstrate your ability to read” or “hold the Sprint button to move a bit faster than walking”. Michael Biehn is also a constant highlight, going between commenting on the ridiculousness of missions and utter deadpan delivery of some of the intentionally dumbest dialogue seen outside of straight-to-video movies.
Before I actually got my hands on Blood Dragon I wondered why the hell Ubisoft kept Far Cry 3 in the title as there seemed to be utterly no connection to last December’s excellent FPS. After playing it though despite the look and the humour the gameplay is identical. Pull up the map and you’ll see animal locations and outposts to liberate, which are particularly fun since they’re often in crazy locations, like a castle at the top of a cliff or on an oil-rig – and for extra fun you can even lure Blood Dragons in to take the garrison down. General gameplay still consists of the excellent mix of action and stealth, with a bow and extreme takedowns, that Far Cry 3 did so very very right. Controls are the same, the gameplay is the same, the goals are the same. It may look like Tron but this is Far Cry 3, except with D20 dice to throw instead of rocks.
Apart from the obvious there are proper gameplay changes however, mostly in the name of simplifying some of Far Cry 3's more complicated design. Levelling up is still in but you can no longer choose your upgrades (they’re automatically assigned) and crafting is completely removed, which is a good thing really since Blood Dragon isn’t really about that – although its absence does make showing animals on the map a bit pointless. Those animals themselves are all of the robotic variety (it may look like a cassowary but it’s dead inside) so looting them gains you money rather than a messy skin, apart from the huge Blood Dragons which simply explode in a shower of neon guts.
In general gameplay is the same wonderful mix that made Far Cry 3 such an entertaining romp. Trouble is though it’s still got the same hang-ups. Checkpoints still aren’t saved if you quit in the middle of a mission, so if you start one of the few major missions in Blood Dragon (which usually last at least an hour) you better not be planning on leaving it. Also back and annoying is having the last post-mission conversation replayed unskippably after you load a game (funny the first time, painful by the fourth time), and sadly there are still only a few actual side-missions to choose from (particularly sad because they’re all great). At least Far Cry 3’s famously over-helpful UI has been cut down, which instead has been given a voice and is intentionally over-helpful. Blood Dragon correctly gets the idea (that some games miss, such as Retro City Rampage or Duke Nukem Forever) to make fun of problems but not repeat them. It does have other new problems though, like a tedious early escort mission, laser rifles and pistols not packing much punch, and the Blood Dragons not being much fun to fight as they’re just a little bit too powerful. And hang on a sec, there’s no rocket launcher?
It’s the look of Blood Dragon though that brings both the game’s biggest strength and its saddest weakness. Everything from Far Cry 3 has been (almost) completely redone. The sky burns red and flashes with lightning and explosions. People, animals, and certain landscapes give off a colourful glow. Soldiers look like they’re wearing cheap motorcycle gear, elites have American football padding, and flamethrowers look like vacuum cleaners. Everything looks both cheap and glorious at the same time. There’s even a VHS-style tint over everything.
Implied explosions to come!
But the huge, colossal problem with the game’s graphics is that everything looks black. The landscape is black, objects are black, enemies are dressed head-to-toe in black, trees and rocks are black, water is black, and roads and grass are black. Sure, Ubisoft tries to mix it up by giving enemies a red aura to make them stand out, but it’s still too easy to lose them against any background. More than once I’d thoroughly scout an area, sneak in then get discovered because I wasn’t able to see a set of stairs leading to another floor – which a completely overlooked guard had just walked down behind me. One of my favourite bits from Far Cry 3, freeing a captive animal to attack its captors, is back but near impossible to notice since the animal’s cage is damn near invisible. Hop in a jeep and you’ll crash in moments because everything looks the same. There’s just so much black it all blurs together into one big dirty mess. Play Blood Dragon in a room with windows in daytime and you won’t be able to see a thing. Why can’t plants and trees be neon pink? Why can’t enemies be painted red? Why can’t water be orange? I know it’s meant to evoke Tron but that film was all hard artificial lines that were easy to see – and most importantly, there weren’t rocks, hills or trees to smash a light-cycle against. It’s the one big downer I have on Blood Dragon and it’s incredibly frustrating, which really upsets me because there is so much awesome here.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, expansion or no, is the game Duke Nukem Forever should’ve been – all ridiculous lines, over-the-top moments, glorious cheese all the way, with plenty of moments where you feel like the greatest bad-ass in the world. There’s twelve garrisons to liberate, lots of hidden items and weapon upgrades to unlock, a number of side missions (not enough though) and several huge missions packed with more terrible dialogue than you can swing a VHS copy of Highlander III at. There’s about 10-20 hours of game here, which is a superb amount for an expansion, but I can say without hesitation and in the best way possible that it’s not enough. Yes the overwhelming blackness of the landscape and a few of Far Cry 3’s quirks may have knocked the score down more than I’d like, but goddammit what I wouldn’t give to have more Blood Dragon until I burst. Did I mention the Terminator/Blade Runner-esque synth soundtrack with fake cheesy pop songs? How about punching the nuclear missile? What about the 8-bit boobs? Just buy Blood Dragon already.
Platform Played:Xbox 360
TOP GAME MOMENT
The Predator mission hunting four turtles hiding in the sewers surrounded by pizza boxes, making friends with rats… hang on a tick, that sounds familiar.