Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon looks to have been developed on a shoestring budget. Free to strip-mine Far Cry 3's engine and assets, this neon-tinted shooter cuts corners at every turn. It's supposed to resemble a cheap straight-to-VHS 1980s action movie after all; right down to a nonsensical script, hokey production values and art direction focused on using the least expensive props possible.
Indeed, you get the impression that Ubisoft probably spent about £8.50 all told, most of which went to Aliens star Michael Biehn who drawls through some of the most hilarious and hammy dialogue to have ever graced the medium. We assume that the talented musicians behind the truly exceptional original soundtrack must have been paid with a pint and an IOU scrawled on a beer mat.
Compared to the extravagant budgets of Square Enix and EA, who find themselves losing money hand over fist, this relentlessly silly little escapade is barely a drop in the ocean... yet it provides a few satisfying hours of fist-pounding, quad-barrelled, neon-edged, laser spewing, dragon killing, hard rocking, side splitting power-gloved fun for just £12.00. Better yet, Blood Dragon painstakingly captures the spirit of 80s blockbusters, everything from the omnipresent synth to overblown training montages. Pay attention, other AAA publishers, because this is how you deliver a proper romp without breaking the bank.
It's the far-flung future of 2007, an age when we fully know that mankind will have destroyed itself with nuclear weapons while wearing fingerless gloves. From the ashes rise a new breed of super soldier, the Cyber Commandos, no-nonsense tough guys who pull off impossible missions in totally radical ways. If this sounds like the premise for a terrible movie sequel or Saturday morning cartoon, you're definitely on the right track. As Sergeant Rex "Power" Colt, you'll descend onto an island fortress to do battle against an army of cyber soldiers and their nefarious commander... "Mark IV style. Motherf****r."
Ubisoft approached Blood Dragon with the intention of making it feel like an over the hill 80s action movie franchise, one of those 'so bad, it's good' guilty pleasures that we still watch from time to time while pretending to be much more demanding and pretentious than we actually are. The script has been painstakingly penned to emulate the jingoistic nonsensical plots and dialogue we're used to from the period, full of dated technobabble and over the top insults that fall completely flat. Biehn redeems his lacklustre performance in Aliens: Colonial Marines by hamming up every line with gleeful gusto, yet delivering enough earnest seriousness to make each epithet completely misfire. In art direction terms, enemies wear tacky costumes made of hockey pants and bits of old vacuum cleaners, while the island itself is a purple-tinted gestalt of every post-apocalyptic 80s movie ever made.
As a parody, Blood Dragon casts a wide net with its humour, referencing with merry abandon. Pixelated Mega Drive cutscenes depict arduous training montages, awkward love scenes and more national pride than you could shake Lady Liberty at (who also makes a cameo appearance). Biehn's randomised one-liners constantly steal the show - "Something got stuck in your throat... me," he'll sometimes intone after a stealth kill - while his very presence helps add depth to the washed up franchise vibe. Riffing on everything from Predator to the Terminator, Alice Cooper and the 'can games cause violence?' debate, Blood Dragon throws so many gags at you that most of them end up sticking. Though the comedy can never be described as subtle (Team America is a reasonable benchmark), it lends Blood Dragon a sense of genuinely hilarious fun and mischief that makes it stand out from the FPS crowd.
Not only is Blood Dragon a parody of every goodbad action flick you've ever seen, but it's also an homage to the sleazy excess of the 1980s itself. Everything drips with lurid tacky neon, not limited to your bow and its arrows. Everyone wears enormous shoulder pads, spikes and speaks in contemporary catch phrases. Much like WayForward's Double Dragon Neon, a sensational soundtrack goes big on oppressive synth and plaintive wailing guitar, alongside the occasional power ballad and upbeat hard rock anthem about friendship and loyalty, firmly rooting you in the decade.
However, a smart little game lurks behind the lasers and belly laughs. After all, it's based on the exceptional Far Cry 3. Blood Dragon's island is a surprisingly dense piece of real estate bristling with enemy garrisons to infiltrate and clear to create safe havens, each of which boasts multiple avenues of attack and vulnerabilities to exploit. Since Rex takes no fall damage, zip lines, towers and even mountains become viable breaching points. Liberating them rewards you with side quests to accomplish and plenty of reskinned fauna to hunt or turn to your advantage (enhanced mutinous Cyber-Cassowaries? Check.). Beyond the story missions, there's plenty to see and accomplish, while ostensibly 'safe' areas still spawn plenty of random enemies to challenge both you and your NPC allies.
Despite being able to breathe underwater, survive falls from any height and absorb an insane amount of damage, Rex Colt still has much in common with party boy Jason Brody. You'll need to rely on marking targets, stealth, distractions, takedowns and deactivating alarms to succeed (though Rex swaps rocks and knives for flaming twenty-sided dice and throwing stars, naturally), and make the most of your evolving arsenal. As you discover collectibles and complete sidequests, attachments completely change your weapon selection from bog-standard to mindbogglingly outrageous.
The assault rifle soon eschews bullets for lasers, because why not. Your sawn-off shotgun becomes a quad-barrelled beast capable of setting entire hillsides on fire. And, naturally, there's a minigun that makes Biehn scream in triumph every time you hold the trigger down long enough. There's a gun for every occasion, and better yet, opportunities to holster them in favour of clever forward-planning and using the terrain to advantage.
The titular Blood Dragons deserve special mention. These hulking monstrosities can rip cyborgs in half and blast laser beams out of their eyes, making them deadly enemies and deceptively useful allies. Rex can lure them into attacking enemy squads or even bases by throwing tasty cyber-hearts gleaned from cyborg corpses, presenting another pleasingly tactical way of approaching each garrison or side mission. Watching a Blood Dragon tear apart opposing infantry and biting their torsos clean off never gets old. On the flip-side, however, I can't help but feel that their simple AI is just a little too easy to kite and exploit when you're on the receiving end, making battles less tense than they ought to be.
Blood Dragon can be 'completed' in about four hours if you blitz through the story missions, but that would be missing the point somewhat. Liberating all the garrisons, pursuing the subquests, collecting all of the unlockables and generally taking some time sightseeing more than doubles the duration, and is well worth doing for fun as well as weapon attachments. As a serious aside, I'd also urge Far Cry 3 veterans to start playing on the harder difficulty setting, which will present you with a much more satisfying challenge and put the focus on strategic thinking over brainlessly blitzing through enemies with brute force.
In terms of flaws (beyond the intentionally hokey dialogue, voice talent and art direction), Blood Dragon does commit the cardinal sin of parody games every now and again: taking the piss out of something but doing it anyway. Case in point, mocking overlong tutorials and pointless collectibles, yet forcing players to endure both even as Michael Biehn complains about them. Blood Dragon's force of personality ultimately wins through, but some of its gags ring slightly hollow.
Objectively, you've also got to question a few design decisions. For a game predicated on big dumb fun, why does the first 45 minutes feature a turret shooting gallery, barely interactive tutorial, failable escort mission and forced stealth section - in that order? We hate all of these things. Why front-load the campaign with them? There's also a case to be made that Ubisoft could have done more with its reskinned bestiary, retooled a particularly repetitious arena mission that resembles Painkiller on a bad day and perhaps provided a big boss battle to round things off.
But you get what you pay for, and in this case, we're only asked for a paltry £12.00 at most (pre-order PC deals have even broken the £8 mark). For a small outlay, we're given a full-fat campaign, plenty of laughs and an unabashed love letter to the excessive movies that captured our imaginations back in the day - and a precedent that says that you can pay map pack money for a few hours of singleplayer satisfaction. What's not to like?
- Trademark smart Far Cry shooting with bombastic new flavour
- Deceptively large and dense island, plenty to do beyond story missions
- Genuinely hilarious, especially if you're a fan of 80s action movies
- Killer soundtrack and sound direction
- Ropey Blood Dragon AI
- Often falls prey to the genre conventions it mocks
- A few aggravating gameplay sections based on arenas or escort
The Short Version: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon shows you a damn good time for map pack money. If you're seeking bombastic freeform thrills, nostalgia value and laughs aplenty, it's hard to go wrong with this quad-barrelled disasterpiece.