Reviews
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Hasta la Yippie-ki-yay, Creep!

By Seán O'Sullivan - May 23rd, 2013

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At the tail end of a console generation that’s fallen into a cycle of safe iterations on formulas that provide predictable successes, it’s amazing that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon ever saw the light of day.

The first of many trends that Blood Dragon bucks is the naming scheme – this stand-alone first person shooter has no narrative link to last year’s excellent Far Cry 3, despite its liberal plundering of its many assets and gameplay systems. Blood Dragon is best likened to that artefact commonly seen in the late 90s – the heyday of fan-made ‘Total Conversions’ of popular PC games – in which the source material is twisted and shaped into something new, even if some elements have clearly just been painted over.

Blood Dragon is a paean to 80s meathead action flicks, which it wears on its sleeve with glee. This not only informs the presentation, but also the moment-to-moment gameplay, ultimately resulting in one of the most refreshing 3-6 hours of first person shooting in recent memory.

Blood Dragon’s presentation is striking. It’s set on a tropical island permanently darkened by nuclear winter, lit by gaudy streaks of neon and innumerable surfaces that glow-in-the dark for no other discernible reason other than it looks cool. When the player takes damage or gets close to an explosion, the image distorts and snaps back into soft focus like a well-worn VHS cassette. Pixel-art cutscenes deliver the key story information, perfectly imitating the NES-style of clumsy exposition, and it’s all backed by a soundtrack that takes turns aping classics like Terminator and Escape from New York. The writing is regularly hilarious, harpooning countless 80s tropes in a reverential fashion, while never quite going into outright farce.

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There can never be enough neon…

Players assume the role of cyber commando Rex “Power” Colt, and much of the satisfaction from the game-play comes from the power at his disposal. He doesn’t take any fall damage, can sprint at high speeds indefinitely, never has to come up for air when he goes underwater, and his pockets are deep enough that he can carry up to nine grenades and Molotovs on him from the get-go. Blood Dragon streamlines Far Cry 3 character progression system by nixing the crafting system (only cash can be looted from dead animals now), and the skill tree has been replaced with a linear leveling-up system that grants perks and abilities as Rex goes about his violent business.

The end result is a game that often dares to be mindless entertainment. Rex’s abilities mean that entire armies are no match for him – stealth is a viable option, but so too is showing up at the front door with your sniper-rifle that shoots rockets. Throwing caution to the wind and unloading hundreds of minigun (laser) rounds into a sea of enemies while cackling is pretty much the ultimate 80s-action-hero trope, and that Blood Dragon regularly conspires to fulfil this desire is laudatory.

To keep battles from getting monotonous, Ubisoft have introduced blood dragons – these gigantic, neon-streaked, laser-breathing dinosaur foes roam the world, wreaking havoc on anything in their path. The blood dragons are initially terrifying (in large part due to clever narrative framing), but their utility as an effective (and hilarious) way to quickly take out enemy encampments is another genius demonstration of Ubisoft’s knack for introducing systems that are just fun to toy with.

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Protip: Advil will not help you fix this problem.

The story is very short (I breezed through it in just over two hours) and left me wanting more, so I was grateful for the abundance of side-quests, collectibles, and enemy outposts to capture – which kept me absorbed in the world a little longer. A word of advice for newcomers: distract yourself away from the story as much as possible – my second play-through of the missions with advanced weaponry was all the more satisfying as a result.

Blood Dragon is a goofy, off-kilter experiment that succeeds on almost all fronts. It takes Far Cry 3 and twists it enough so as to not harm its relevancy, while cranking up the action, injecting a healthy dose of humour and wrapping it up in an 80s aesthetic that’s unlike anything else in gaming.

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