Warning. The following review contains minor spoilers and some extraordinarily harsh language. Language like “Eat monkey shit, you cyber-cockfucker” – a line which perfectly encapsulates the experience you’ll have once you boot up Ubisoft’s standalone expansion for Far Cry 3.
That elegant bit of dialogue is uttered by one Rex Powercolt, a Mark IV Cyber Commando (good guy) on a mission to rid the world of Colonel Ike Sloan and his Omega Squad (bad guys) in a post Vietnam War II world. Backed in a corner and outgunned, you’ll lead Rex Powercolt on a quest to kill bad guys with extreme prejudice (re: tear out their blue, glowing cyber-hearts), avoid death at the claws of ultimate beast machine: The Blood Dragon, and learn whether a cyber commando can have a soul … And learn to love.
If that reads like the back of a VHS case in a forgotten corner of a video store in 1986, there’s a perfectly good explanation for that.
Blood Dragon is a love letter to 1980s cyberpunk written on a brick C4 and stuffed in an anthrax envelope. From the second you boot up the game, you’ll be bombarded with neon and cliches with a frequency and severity that will drive you to hum Journey songs. The rave-drenched, post apocalyptic hellscape of 2007 whirrs and clicks like a long-disused VCR, red scan lines blanketing the draw distance. Everything you remember from Far Cry 3 is present and accounted for, though it’s been put through a filter usually reserved those members of the populace who have indulged in one-too-many disco biscuits.
What you’ll like.
The ridiculous and hilarious dialogue and plot.
Nuclear holocaust, Raegan-era politics served on a thick slice of ham, post-Vietnam War perspectives on war and the warrior, sexist and racist stereotypes so blatant they have to be laughed at; the driving ethos of many 80s cyberpunk films. Every box checked in Blood Dragon, and presented in wonderfully low-fi animatic cut scenes reminiscent of those found in Ninja Gaiden for NES.
Above: Mark IV style, muthafucka!
It makes perfect sense that Michael Biehn voices the main character. The movies in which he starred from 1984-1988 are the direct inspiration for not only Rex Powercolt, but for much of the game itself. He barks one liners at nearly every opportunity, cut scene or otherwise. Headshot? “He really lost his head.” Blow something up? “Now that’s what I call a blowjob.” Even the character animations echo this “who gives a shit, I’m a badass American Hero” attitude. Try to melee attack when there’s nothing to melee and watch Rex give nothing-in-particular the finger.
And these one-liners and this sense of humor aren’t just an aside, they are the driving force of the story. They are the very core of a tale designed to elicit nostalgia at all costs. From the opening cut scene, to the tutorial, to a musical montage straight from Rocky IV, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon nearly drowns in its reference-based humor.
In fact, Blood Dragon is one gigantic 80s/very early 90s reference. Title and menu screens, dialogue and weaponry, characters and cosumes; all referential. These references are so chiefly important in setting Blood Dragon apart from the original Far Cry 3, that I could very easily spoil the whole experience for you if I mention too many of them. The game is the references. So I’ll just mention one: The shotgun is called the Galleria ’91. That’s all I’m saying.
Far Cry 3’s gameplay is back, brightly colored, and more explodey.
As mentioned, everything that made Far Cry 3 a joy to play has been rounded up, dumped in a vat of neon paint, and wrapped in LEDs from the set of Tron: Legacy. Freeroaming, emergent gameplay, stealth kills, well-executed shooting mechanics, ziplines… stabbings.
Above: …cyberpunk Jeep driving … Muthafucka!
Through the course of the 3-4 hour campaign, you’ll liberate garrisons (Blood Dragon’s version of FC3’s outposts), chain-kill hapless guards, do some mild platforming, throw grenades under jeeps, use a mounted gun (that never overheats) to blow up a helicopter, collect Blood Dragon’s take on FC3’s relics, and jump off of a 100 meter embankment because why not. This time around, however, that last one won’t kill you. Just one of the many benefits of being a Mark IV Cyber Commando.
And this particular is from whence most of the (very minor) departures from Far Cry 3’s gameplay stem. From the outset, you’ll be quite a bit faster than Far Cry 3’s Jason Brody and capable of staying underwater indefinitely. Instead of throwing a rock to distract the guards, you throw a d20 die. Instead of a machine gun that shoots bullets, you’re given a machine gun that shoots lasers. Instead of using a camera to scout enemy bases, you’ll use Rex’s Terminator inspired cyber-eye. Instead of a left arm covered in tattoos, you have a cyber-arm from the pages of an Ultron comic. When you heal, expect to see a welding torch.
Appropriate and welcome changes.
The control seems really cleaned up from Far Cry 3. I don’t know if these were intentional “improvements” or just the product of a Mark IV Cyber Commando being a bigger badass than Jason Brody, but they damn sure work. The stealth kills seem more responsive, and I don’t find myself in a situation in which I should have stealth killed, but instead sliced the back of a guards knee cap, alerting him and causing hell to rain down. Though should hell try to rain, Rex Powercolt will cyber punch the fucking lavadrops back into the cloud, cuz that’s his job as an American Hero. Over-the-top action as the result of a failed stealth attempt doesn’t only seem acceptable, but encouraged.
There will be no wistfully staring off into the distance to appreciate the disco landscape, as the open world itself encourages this increased call to action. Every 15 yards, it seems, there’s a battle jumping off between Omega Squad commandos and the bullet fodder scientists that stand in for FC3’s Rakyat. Yet another push from Blood Dragon to throw subtlety to the ground like an old lady in a riot and get on with the badassery. The amount of ammo you can carry, and the fact that nearly every damn thing on the map explodes when you sneeze near it are additional not-so-subtle pushes for not-so-subtlety.
Leveling is also streamlined for the sake getting out of the way and, in the words of Rex, “letting you shoot shit, already.” Gone are the Far Cry 3’s level trees and point system. You’ll simply get an automatic upgrade for each level (up to 30), and these upgrades are identical to those found in the original Far Cry 3, with a few omissions.
You’ll also find some entertaining differences in the games interior areas, many of which look like they came straight from the pages of a Katsuhiro Otomo manga. They don’t offer a tectonic shift in the way you’ll play the game, but they will require a slightly different approach than anything from FC3, and are many and varied enough to keep the game from being… well… just a brightly colored version of FC3.
Above: Pictured: Muthafuckin science!
The Blood Dragons
I’m going to get through this review without using the word “titular.” … Shit.
Functioning like a hulked-out version of the wild animals from Far Cry 3, Blood Dragons roam the landscape and (especially when you’re at lower levels) present a very serious threat. This threat can be abated, however, by distracting the beasts. Simply chuck the pilfered cyber-hearts of your fallen enemies like a doggie treat. This particular mechanic also aids in the “liberation” of garrisons, a new gameplay element that can make the job of “liberation” an easy one.
After turning off a base’s protective shield, toss a cyber-heart through the gate and let the laser-shooting super dragon do all the work for you. Once every living thing has been “liberated,” toss another to draw the beast back out of the base. Job done.
Should you find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance of fighting a Blood Dragon 1-on-1, you can a)run or b)die. At least until you’ve cleared level 15 or so.
In the spirit of making the game’s aesthetic bombard every sense possible, Ubisoft enlisted the help of Australian electronica duo Power Glove (not to be confused with the American group of the same name), whose old school synths and pads kick off in a thumping cacophony that deliberately emulates 80s film score. Everything from Terminator 1, Scarface, even Fletch aren’t safe from musical parody, and not only are the tunes pretty damn good, but the perfect compliment to a game world so 80s that the 80s think it should tone down its color palette.
What you won’t like.
The ridiculous and hilarious dialogue and plot.
For the first couple hours of your Blood Dragon experience, you’ll laugh hard enough that putting down the game controller might be a thing that needs to happen so you can recover from the hilarity without being cyber-shot. By the time you find yourself mopping up the remaining garrisons after completion of the main story, you might chuckle. You might be completely sick of it all.
In this regard, it works to Blood Dragon’s advantage that it’s such a short game. It tells a good joke, but that joke is not immune to going stale. And unfortunately, it does go stale, and you’ll start to notice the mold growing on it. Prolonged exposure is not advised.
The gameplay and environments are a bit repetitious.
The gameplay is especially repetitious if you’ve played Far Cry 3. There are many subtle differences, yes, but the core gameplay is unchanged. Scout garrison, mark enemies, shoot enemies, stab enemies, quick travel, buy guns. All very well executed, but after 20+ hours of Far Cry 3 and 6-or-so in the world of Blood Dragon, you might be done with the whole affair.
Additionally, Blood Dragon’s neon everything is neat and hilarious and the point of the whole game, but after 6 or so hours, you find yourself begging for a color other than hot pink or neon green. Again, this game’s length works to its advantage and you should be finishing up right around the time you start to taste colors.
Above: Muthafuckin blood dragon!… They say “muthafucka” in this game. A lot.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is an offensive, tasteless, referential exercise in nostalgia that’s guaranteed to be one of the more entertaining gaming experiences you’ll have in 2013. The nostalgia is so palpable, in fact, that it will likely be felt by those that didn’t even live through the 80s. Ubisoft must be given credit for so completely embracing everything that this game represents. Like the humor and aesthetic or not, it’s delivered in a tight package that utilizes dialogue, story, art direction, and music to execute its intentions with Ultra-Laser focus.
There are enough improvements and additions to the Far Cry 3 universe to make this $15 standalone expansion a worthwhile purchase, even if you played the original Far Cry 3 enough to be sick of it. It will indeed be a brief romp in the world of Rex Powercolt, but brief is all it needs to be. This game couldn’t exist as a full length retail title, as the jokes and the repetitive gameplay lose their luster after the first few hours. Though, this seems entirely the point. Blood Dragon is popcorn, plain and simple… Sugar-coated, neon-colored popcorn.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a standalone expansion for Far Cry 3 available on PS3 and PC for $14.99 and Xbox Live for 1200 Microsoft points. Reviewed on Xbox 360.
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase your ticket now to save $200!