If I had my way, I’d give this game an 11/10 for being... well, rad
. Yeah I know, that’s a bit of an on-the-nose line in a review of a game whose premise is built around an 80s sci-fi ideal of what the future would actually be like, but I’m a true child of the 80s and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon speaks to me in tones, colours and a language anyone not of that era could (or should) fully understand.
To get the most out of Blood Dragon you need to have a healthy respect for just how ridiculous our creativity was 30-odd years ago. Neon, lasers, cybernetics -- all obviously exist today, but rather than the glaring over-the-top aesthetics we assumed they’d be, they’re far more subdued, and rarely ever used for evil machinations (well, neon aside). Blood Dragon takes on the classic vision for these things we take for granted now, and takes no prisoners in its representations of them. And that's the best thing about this alternate future history -- at its very core it’s not pretending to be anything other than a reverent and self-referential look at our past and what we play today.
I wrote a piece specifically calling out Far Cry 3 and its hand-holding segments I felt detracted from what the rich game-world could offer the inner explorer in gaming. In many ways Blood Dragon pokes fun at the same thing, with its incessant tutorial pop-ups and perceived hand-holding -- but its a broader laugh here where a lot of other games really ought to pay attention. But I’m overthinking it, and Blood Dragon is the antithesis to thinking, it’s a broad smile-fest that nods to so much 80s-era popular culture, you could turn it into some sort of drinking game, taking a shot every time you picked up on a familiar and nostalgic reference.
It actually kicks off in familiar territory too. In case you haven’t heard, 80s sci-fi action go-to, Michael Biehn, has taken on the mantle as the game’s protagonist, Rex Power Colt, and delivers the performance of his career (or at least the performance he was born to) and he sounds so at home in the role, I can smell a low-budget flick starring the Terminator, Aliens actor sometime in the future. The game’s story is delivered in hilarious 2D NES-quality stills replete with zero-to-one animations and classic subtitles. The only thing different actually, is the high-octane language and mature references that would have been lost on me when I was 13 and playing this sort of game. Dialogue is no holds barred and often makes very little sense -- a sentiment our lead often brings up through gruff tough-guy sighs and grunts. Blood Dragon knows exactly what sort of game it is and makes no pretense to let you know otherwise.
Early on in the piece you could be forgiven for thinking the whole experience is going to be a linear one, but just like its parent game, Blood Dragon opens up after an initial “tutorial” mission of sorts, and then throws the Far Cry 3 formula at you, but with a condensed twist.
The whole thing is actually a standalone game, so you won’t need the original to play it, but it’s a more trimmed down version of the FC3 island, though many of its systems remain. You’ll be clearing strongholds in order to unlock new attachments for your weapons because the goal is to apparently make them as badass and unbelievable as possible. There are also Path of the Hunter challenges also available for augmented animals from the original game, and every time you see a cybernetic cassowary walking around, I challenge you to not smile.
Structurally Blood Dragon is very similar to Far Cry 3 with the island hub offering up plenty of side-quests for you, as well as the main storyline, all of which can usually be broached in anyway you see fit. It’s not nearly as long to play through as the first game, but that’s fine with me, because there’s only so much neon the eyes can take outside of the actual 80s, and I’d argue that its length is pretty much spot-on.
Stealth, takedowns, distractions, enemy tagging and the rest of it from the first game remain, though in many ways they make more sense here. Rex is a hardened soldier, out for revenge and answers in ways only an 80s action hero could get them. He has the requisite love interest, a black partner who dies early in the piece and an ex-Captain gone rogue as his main enemy. It’s 80s sci-fi action 101, only there really are dragons here and they’re the biggest differentiator to any of the references the game throws at you from the period.
The dragons need to be tiptoed around, and taking one on yourself would be a huge mistake. Thankfully they have a taste for synthetic hearts you rip out of enemy chests, and these can be thrown in a hilarious game of fetch for them. The best thing here though, is throwing them at the entrances of strongholds to have the dragons come in and essentially clear them out for you. They have a greater purpose I’d rather not spoil, but rest assured, the only thing Rex really needs to fear on this neon island hub is waking up an angry, hungry blood dragon.
While we bitched and moaned about the angles attempted (and often failed) in Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon very skillfully promises very little and delivers quite a lot. It’s more than Far Cry 3 reskinned, and the effort gone into the soundtrack, voice-acting, scripting and all that unfortunate research the team probably had to do to get their references just right, is top-notch. If you’re a child of the 80s and want to play a game that pokes fun at the modern gaming landscape while throwing back to a simpler time, you can’t go wrong with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. It’s mechanics and systems are nice and familiar, which means you can spend the majority of your time laughing and feeling like a 13-year old kid again, and as far as I can see, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.