Platforms: PC | PSN | XBLA | Commodore 64000
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is real, and utterly ridiculous.
It's clearly built on Far Cry 3's DNA. Despite being a downloadable marketplace title destined for Steam, the PSN and XBLA, you'll explore an expansive patch of open world real estate, liberate garrisons, commandeer vehicles and hunt all manner of dangerous wildlife.
But now, the whole thing has been punched up to 11... or should that be 1981. Instead of a displaced party boy, you play as Rex "Power" Colt, a Mark IV cyborg commando hammed up by none other than Aliens and Terminator star Michael Biehn. Rather than a lush paradise, we'll romp around a neon-soaked 80s blockbuster movie set, populated by an army of overblown extras wielding cheap props cobbled together from bits of old vacuum cleaner. And the wildlife? Enormous glowing dragons who shoot omega-lasers out of their eyes, and can be tamed to your advantage by feeding them the cybernetic hearts ripped from your fallen foes.
Put simply, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon does its best to embrace the silly, brash and downright stupid aspects of every terrible action movie you've ever seen. After playing through the first 45 minutes, I'm hard-pressed to think of another game that takes itself less seriously in the pursuit of big, nostalgic fun.
Ubisoft approached Blood Dragon with the intention of making it feel like an over the hill 80s action movie franchise, a series that has jumped the shark in every conceivable way. Picture the scene: with the first two (fictional) Far Cry movies being a huge success, spawning everything from Saturday morning cartoons to lunchboxes, Far Cry 3 is the director's attempt to take things over the top on a limited budget... and straight to VHS. Think Robocop 4. What this means, therefore, is that Ubisoft had to work very hard on making a game that's so bad, it's good.
This paradigm shift requires a very different kind of development. The script and dialogue, based around Rex Colt's mission to defeat the evil Omega Force and his old colonel has been painstakingly designed to be intentionally idiotic; a hilarious mess of cheesy one-liners, brainless technobabble ("I'm hacking the RAM port!") and unnecessary swearing that evokes some of the bestworst movies out there.
Meanwhile, the art department were given a tight virtual budget for each character and design element, with only $100-$150 to spend on each individual model. Characters may look futuristic, but when you get your eye in, you'll realise that they're wearing spraypainted motorbike helmets, hockey outfits and sporting backpacks made from old toasters. And, as you'd expect from a terrible old sci-fi movie, the whole island is an over-designed, lurid embarrassment of cheap neon and spiky fingerless gloves. Covered by CRT scan lines.
Despite an attempt to intentionally suck, there's a smart little game running under here - which is to say that it's still very much Far Cry 3. Everything remains broadly where you left it, though with a not-so-subtle twist. Instead of rocks, you'll throw a D20, because tabletop gaming is rad. Your guns now fire lasers, because everything will obviously fire lasers in the far future of 2007. Advanced melee takedowns are unlocked for the get-go, letting you get straight back into the action as Michael Biehn drawls out a constant stream of hilarious dynamic one-liners. "Something got stuck in your throat," Colt intones as he stabs an unwary cyborg guard through the neck. "Me."
After a fun-filled introduction that sees Colt blowing up a base with a helicopter minigun while Little Richard's Long Tall Sally belts out in the background (yes, it is a Predator reference), we're re-introduced to a relatively familiar setup. Loosed into a huge tract o' land with murder in mind, Colt will set about hunting down Omega Force and flat-out ridiculous prey like Mutant Cassowaries and Cyber Sharks, earning both money and experience from Hunting , Assassination and story missions. New weapons slot neatly into the arsenal alongside more classic options like the silent bow (which is now neon-edged, of course), making for an impressively freeform experience.
Much like before, you'll create safe havens by taking over Garrisons and Outposts, which was one of the most fun activities in Far Cry 3. Rather than sitting on its laurels, Blood Dragon punches up these takeover missions yet further by introducing a bevy of options. You can opt to murder everyone with stealth or unadulterated violence, or rely on the local fauna for help.
The local fauna, in this case, being the titular Blood Dragons. These hulking brutes will attack anyone who gets too close, as they love nothing more than cooking cyborgs with their laser eyes before scoffing down their internal organs. Colt can exploit this fact by ripping out hearts from fallen enemies, and throwing them to lure the Blood Dragons into enemy fortifications. Fun ensues. With even more options open, such as destroying Omega Shield generators to summon every Dragon in the region to a particular base and ziplines galore, there seems to be a huge amount of choice underpinning the sneaking, stabbling and gunplay.
Ultimately, though, Blood Dragon will be probably sold on the strengths of its personality. It's on course to be one of the most self-aware and utterly effective parody games out there; poking fun at everything from videogame cliches (an overlong tutorial asks you to 'Press A to demonstrate your ability to read') to classic Mega Drive classics and our favourite old movies. Gloriously irreverent and unapologetically dumb to a fault, so long as the game can consistently deliver pacing and variety to match the dialogue, Ubisoft could well be onto a winner.
When offered an injection of cybernetic-boosting performance enhancements by a comely female scientist, Colt declines, on the grounds that he's made a promise to a special lady. "Your wife?" asks the researcher, clearly disappointed. "No," Biehn patriotically intones as a star spangled banner drops into place behind him. "Lady Liberty. She told me that Winners Don't Use Drugs."
I couldn't help roaring with laughter, and was relieved to discover that everyone else in the room was doing the same after taking my headphones off. At any other preview session, this would have been a total disaster. But for Blood Dragon, it's about as good as early impressions can possibly get.