FAR CRY 3: BLOOD DRAGON (2013) – UBISOFT MONTREAL
I wasn’t even alive at the time (child of the 90s), but I know full well that the 1980s were terrible. In the United Kingdom, the miners brawled with the police as Thatcher’s Britain took form, the stocks fell and the yuppies arrived. Everyone wore hideous clothing, sported big hairstyles and awkwardly shuffled around to Blue Monday, and all the while humanity cowered at the ongoing prospect of nuclear Armageddon as the Cold War escalated for the final time.
Fortunately, no one cares to remember the real version of the 80s and instead reminisce about the TRUE 80s – a time when synthesizers were king and new fangled computers called ‘Nintendo Entertainment System’ & ‘Commodore 64’ stole away many a childhood afternoon. A time when people draped themselves in hot pink and danced madly to the latest pop sensations. And a time when an average conversation was made up entirely of quotes from Miami Vice and an endless number of action and sci-fi films such as Die Hard, The Terminator, Aliens and Predator. Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit and basing my knowledge of the forgotten decade entirely upon Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, but my point is that people now see the 80s, particularly those latter films, as a cool thing to emulate.
Enter Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon – while the game may share its name with the excellent open world title from 2012, that is where the similarities end. Far Cry 3 tried to place the player in an insane and harsh jungle environment where they would become savage warriors. Blood Dragon gives players a quadruple barreled neon shotgun and tells them to hunt dinosaurs that (and I quote) ‘shoot lasers out of their fucking eyeballs’. It’s a sumptuous throwback to the great excess of the 80s and gives the middle finger to an industry looking to make games more serious and dramatic.
Even a basic synopsis of the story can highlight that the developers just wanted to have fun, with the narrative liberally taking cues from loads of classic 80s B-movie romps. Taking place in a dystopian version of 2007 (‘in the toxic ashes of Vietnam War 2’), you play as Sergeant Rex Power Colt, a Mk4 Cyber Commando voiced by none other than Michael Biehn. Colt is sent to an island to find Colonel Sloan, his former commander who has gone rogue and created a network of terrorists called Omega Force. After confronting Sloan and learning of his plans to enslave the world with rockets fueled by blood from the titular Blood Dragons, Colt teams up with Dr Elizabeth Darling and moves across the island sabotaging Omega Force before Sloan’s plan succeeds. Exposition segments are told through cheesy animations, and Rex spends the entire adventure pulling quips and delivering hilarious retorts as he mows through an army of cyborgs dressed up like Daft Punk.
The core gameplay shares a lot in common with FC3; outside of story missions Colt has to liberate outposts and can engage in sidequests to save allies, find collectibles and hunt wild animals. Leveling up has been simplified and the extensive crafting system has been removed completely; but if anything the streamlining of the game makes the more blatant thrills of Blood Dragon more accessible. All the controls are identical, and yet Blood Dragon simply pulls it all off with such aplomb that you really don’t care. Elsewhere the developers seem to gleefully mock FC3 and its protagonist Jason Brody. Unlike Brody, because Rex is a cyber commando he can run faster, swim faster, fall from heights without damage and handle ludicrously powerful weapons with casual indifference (seriously, the awesome reload animations are worth a purchase on their own). He openly questions the logic of hunting cyber animals (tigers, cows and other mammals from the original given a cyborg makeover) and vocally complains about having to find collectibles (regularly referencing the hunts for feathers and flags in Assassins Creed). Its 7-8 hours of taut, neon drenched hilarity that makes the original seem quite stale in comparison.
And my word is it lovely to watch unfold; I played this game on max settings on a PC and it squeezes every last drop out of the game engine. The ever darkened skies and heavy use of red neon means that Blood Dragon isn’t quite as pretty as the lush jungles of FC3, but the many, many explosions are crisp and the general presentation is the subject of great attention to detail: the menu’s have all changed to resemble mid-80s computer screens that you would see at NASA. The soundtrack is also worthy of special mention; composed by Australian electronica duo Power Glove, Blood Dragon is filled with thumping techno beats and mixes that moreso than anything else in the game feel like they have been plucked straight out of an 80s sci-fi flick.
All hyperbole aside, Blood Dragon (much like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance which also came out last year) is well worth a play simply because it is dumb fun at its apex. Releasing it as a standalone piece of DLC was a wise choice, and it was so popular that fans have been calling for Blood Dragon to turn into a franchise – not bad at all for a game that when initially revealed on April 1st 2013 was thought to be an elaborate joke.