Editor’s note – Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a completely stand-alone downloadable title that doesn’t require Far Cry 3 to run.
From the first moment after loading Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, you know you’re in for something special. Players familiar with old-fashioned VCR technology functionality will delight upon first perceiving the video noise and “TRACKING” notification appear on screen followed by the mildly distorted image of the Ubisoft logo. A proper segue into the front-end, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon’s title screen brightly engages our senses, seemingly channeling a garishly strange marriage between Disney’s Tron and the Miami Vice television series. Here it becomes abundantly clear that the development team behind this title wish to pay effusive homage to 1980s stylistic decor, but is Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon a title that belongs in the modern era?
Built upon the foundation of the critically acclaimed Far Cry 3, gamers looking for an extension or continuation to that title will be profoundly disappointed. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a distinct and comprehensively unique game that only shares fundamentally systemic similarities to its older brethren. As a first-person shooter which hinges much of its mechanics upon traditional Western RPG systems, Blood Dragon’s truncated interpretation to the original game’s game play feature set is designed to fit well within the model of its trimmed asking price. As a narrative, Blood Dragon attempts to carve out its personality by inundating the player’s attention with esoteric 1980s pop culture references.
In Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, players assume the role of Rex Power Colt, a profanity spewing, super-soldier cyborg who is appropriately played by the original Terminator’s Michael Biehn. In a neon light resplendent cold war era timeline, Rex is an agent who is tasked with beating back “commie” aggression and keeping America free. Blood Dragon’s minimalist approach to storytelling serves more as window dressing than something more substantive, as it is presented as a conveyor belt for iconic and classic 80s entertainment adulation. When Rex isn’t doing anti-drug public service announcements or breaking the fourth wall by complaining about in-game tutorials, he is using extreme prejudice to kill bad guys while spouting off one-liners that would even make Schwarzenegger blush; and he’s loving every minute of it. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon’s story culminates in brilliant absurdity, with an aptly played final battle replete with cacophonous bombast and rapid-fire delivered 80s references that alone make the title worth its asking price. But as with any game, does its creative presentation and thematic style compliment the strength of its game play substance?
Thankfully, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon plays like a streamlined version of Far Cry 3. Taking place in a vast open environment, players are tasked with dispatching enemies at their own pace while avoiding and overcoming the dangers of indigenous cyber fauna. In between story missions, players are allowed to free roam at their leisure, taking on quests that become available upon liberating enemy occupied garrisons located throughout the map. Exploring the environment is both important and encouraged. Much needed stashes of currency, ammo, and weapons can be found in various locations; and the menial and rote video game task of collecting items such as T.V.s and research notes can be undertaken, despite Rex’s repeated protestations, rewarding players with useful weapon upgrade unlocks.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a fast, responsive first-person shooter layered atop an RPG system. Defeating enemies and completing quests yields valuable experience, and leveling up rewards players with augments to Rex’s abilities including weapon proficiency, improved health bar and damage resistance. Shops located in friendly garrisons allow for further cyborg killing enhancements, providing players the means to purchase and equip Rex with weapons and various weapon upgrades to tailor their experiences to their personal preferences. When in battle, the underlying game mechanics enable players latitude in how to approach a given situation. For example, when sacking an enemy controlled garrison, some players may wish to go sneaky by quietly eliminating foes from a distance using their bow and arrows. Others may be more inclined toward taking the more direct approach to the same situation, hurling grenades and spraying bullets everywhere with a chain gun. Satisfying certain combat conditions such as scoring head shots or stealth kills earns players bonus experience. However manner a player may choose to deliver mass destruction, fallen enemies can be pilfered for resources such as ammo and a very useful item – Cyber Hearts.
Among the various forms of wildlife such as Boars, Cyber Panthers, and Devil Goats, which can all be hunted and looted for a little experience and cash, the most intimidating and dangerous form of fauna has to be the titular Blood Dragon. A monumental force to be reckoned with, Blood Dragons relentlessly pursue Rex upon contact, and won’t stop until one or the other is defeated, unless they are distracted. Here is where the aforementioned Cyber Hearts play a crucial role. Blood Dragons are attracted to Cyber Hearts and will break their pursuit if Rex throws one onto the ground. This mechanic serves a few useful purposes. First, Rex can avoid an encounter by laying a distraction, allowing him to sneak past the neon luminescent beasts. Second, Rex can escape a losing battle by buying himself a little time with the distraction. Lastly, we have the most entertaining option – using the Cyber Hearts as a lure to lead the Blood Dragon to enemy positions. When this is accomplished, enemy fighters will engage the beast in what is usually a losing battle for them. This technique can go a long way in facilitating the liberation of garrisons, or just eradicating an enemy patrol. Still, some Blood Dragon encounters are unavoidable. Fortunately, they have weak points emblazoned on their chests, which do tend to be difficult to lock-on target. When a Blood Dragon is vanquished, players are rewarded handsomely with a large experience boost and possibly one of Rex’s signature cheesy one-liners.
Adorned in the ubiquity of various shades of pink, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a pretty game when it is well lit. Otherwise, the environment appears to be in a perpetual state of darkness, making it difficult for players to maintain a sense of orientation. During a firefight, it is sometimes difficult to see where you are going, and inadvertently falling off a ledge may occur more frequently than desired. Details in the environment are difficult to see, even when the brightness is turned up a bit, and scavenging for loot can be difficult as a result. This issue is compounded by the vexing problem of not being able to align your perspective easily to bring up the context sensitive button prompt to pick up loot. This mechanic is finicky, at best, and when combined with the design choice of dim lighting, it makes for potentially frustrating environment exploration.
Although Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon runs on a clean and smooth graphics engine, Ubisoft clearly went for style over raw graphics fidelity. Exhibiting an aesthetic reminiscent of a straight-to-VHS low budget 80s science fiction flick, the in-game graphics come overlapped with video noise distortion which gives the game’s visuals a VCR style quality. Because there are no in-game cut scenes, story segments are relegated to 2D static 16 bit style graphic cells. Audio design is inspired, as well, led by the shamelessly campy Michael Biehn as Rex, who seems to be having way too much fun playing the part of action hero. Sound effects seem to be ripped directly from various 80s science fiction T.V. series, and the percussive soundtrack is pitch-perfect in keeping with the thematic style. Given the myriad of source material paid homage to in this title, did anyone else notice the original series Battlestar Galactica Cylon voices of the Omega Squad cyber-soldiers?
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a title which doles out entertainment when players acknowledge one of the many esoteric 1980s pop culture references contained within. Ubisoft did a great job in emulating the feel of iconic American entertainment during a formative decade for so many, while avoiding insulting the fans by taking the camp a little too far. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a crude, loud, explosive, neon-colored spectacle that is not without its share of problems, just like the 1980s were. Dripping with style complimented with the right amount of substance, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is worth its paltry retail price, and it is the type of DLC we hope to see more of in the future.