Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon Review (360)
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon may have a lot of new tricks up its cyborg sleeve, but its biggest change is its most obvious. Blood Dragon looks unique and gorgeous.
Drawing influence from 80’s movies and their (incorrect) extrapolation of what the future would look like, Blood Dragon is glowing neon, blue and red lazer beams and clean synth music. It’s a great and original aesthetic to use in a game world, and its CGA monitor screens, retro soundtrack, cliche spouting protagonist and 4:3 VHS presentation are evocative of the world we all thought we were going to live in that never materialized. The visuals filters are layered on thick, but somehow Ubisoft Montreal managed to make something look like it’s playing on a VCR AND managed to make it beautiful.
And while the games setting may be evincing a bleak, hopeless nihilism via the post apocalyptic world of Escape from New York, Terminator and Robocop, the actual gameplay is pure Far Cry 3. Stealthily dispatching enemies with your bow from the tall grass, taking out bases without setting off the alarm and hunting wild animals are all activities you will be undertaking once again, albeit with their own unique spin.
From the early moments of the game it’s clear that Ubisoft Montreal are having a lot of fun. The tutorial is initially very similar to what you would expect in an FPS of this sort, but as the game itself seems to get bored of spelling everything out to you, it starts to spew jokes and gloss over details. The protagonist even declares that this is the worst tutorial he’s ever seen. He may be right, but thankfully the games loading screens are full of useful tips. “Press A to demonstrate your ability to read good.”, for example.
If you’ve played Far Cry 3 then you’ll feel right at home. As it’s a stand-alone expansion though, its possible that you won’t have. If you haven’t, I’d recommend you play Far Cry 3’s campaign first (and read my review here: Far Cry 3 Review). Blood Dragon is a good game in its own right, but it’s best seen as an entertaining spin off and Far Cry 3 will teach you the fundamentals of how to play this properly. If you go into this cold you might find the games complex inter-working systems a bit confusing.
Playing as Sergeant Rex ‘Power’ Colt (voiced by the one and only Michael Biehn), you must fight the Omega Force (an army of cyborgs) in a dark, post-apocalyptic future. The presentation is spot-on, and from the 4:3 loading screen with the “tracking” bar, to the kick ass font, Blood Dragon perfectly captures trashy eighties sci fi.
There was a darkness about sci fi movies of that time (no doubt influenced by the soaring crime rates and looming threat of nuclear war), and Blood Dragon carries that same nihilism in its dystopia. It’s also got its tongue firmly in its cheek though, and it strains to fit in as many references to movies of that time period as it can. For example, your semi automatic pistol was once owned by a “DPD cop who fought in the mega slums”, and you spin it just like a certain agent Murphy. A little later, when you go down into the sewer to kill radioactive turtles there’s discarded pizza boxes everywhere you look.
Not all of the presentation is up to scratch though. While the fonts and interface design are brilliantly retro, the cut scenes are all cartoony pixel art. These don’t work at all. It’s easy for the devs to say that these simple static images with accompanying dialogue are supposed to evoke NES games, but it feels cheap and doesn’t match the aesthetic of the rest of the game. You can’t help but think that it was simply too time consuming and costly for them to reproduce the great interactive set pieces that advanced the story in the original Far Cry 3 campaign. Instead, they took a shortcut and produced some very placeholder exposition that kills the games bleak, dark atmosphere. When the game itself looks like an 80’s movie, its jolting to see cut scenes that look like an 80’s game. Blood Dragon’s character models and environments are gorgeous and they should have been used to advance the story.
Opening with a (somewhat predictable) helicopter journey, Blood Dragon couldn’t be accused of skimping on spectacle. The sky fills up with lasers beams and explosions as the first set piece prepares you for a game that’s always willing to explode if you shoot at the right things.
Moment to moment, you’ll be carrying out many of the same tasks you did in Far Cry 3. Your bow and arrow might be glowing blue like its from Tron, but it works in the same way as its tropical island equivalent. In fact, it feels even more lethal, probably because the developers realised it was most peoples favourite weapon in Far Cry 3. The animals you end up encountering meanwhile are almost identical to in the original game, with the only difference being some modified skins to give them glowing eyes or fangs. As a result you get s strange mish-mash of features, and I certainly never expected to see a neo noir future filled with angry cassowary’s.
There’s one new and unique creature though: the titulalar Blood Dragons. Effectively an excuse for Ubisoft Montreal to include dinosaurs-with-laser-beams, these glowing T-Rex’s are seldom an overt threat to the player. Instead, they are an environmental hazard to be used against your enemies. By harvesting cyborg hearts from your felled opponents, you can lure these monsters into enemy bases to cause chaos. Glowing neon veins on their skin show their mood, and when they are red they will be shooting, stomping and generally doing your work for you. Getting them into the bases in the first place requires some stealth to sneak in and lower the shields, and indeed sneaking around bases is a common activity for Sergeant Colt.
The bases are no longer open outposts, but rather are little futuristic fortresses with high walls and energy shields. Liberating these bases is the main activity of the game, and there will usually be several ways in. Sometimes a little side passage will allow you to come in at ground level; other times a zip line from a nearby hill will allow you top slide into a high tower position overlooking the bases courtyard.
Liberating these bases involves taking out all enemies stealthily before they raise an alarm, or if you prefer simply storming in and eliminating the troops as well as the waves of reinforcements they summon. It’s to the games credit that either option feels valid and satisfying.
A good visual indication of your progress and a striking feature of the game world is the big orange beams going into the sky of the enemy bases. This means that it’s easy to find where you’re going next, and as you liberate them they turn green, making them a great visual representation of your success. You always know where you’re going next, and there’s a constant reminder of your progress so far.
At its best, Blood Dragon reminds you why Far Cry 3 was the best FPS of 2012. At one point, a stealth section to rescue a hostage on a boat reminded me of everything amazing about the games free-form combat. I was pulling enemies off the edge into the water silently, using stealth take downs and throwing shurikens and adjusting my plan on the fly, always on a knife edge between perfect success and glorious, chaotic failure.
In another sequence meanwhile, an oil rig was captured by first gliding in, then manning a mini-gun turret and mowing down first everyone on the platform, then the waves of boats that came as reinforcements. Whether you go quiet or go loud, you’ll be rewarded with a great experience.
There’s a lot of Far Cry 3 that’s been streamlined for Blood Dragon, but it retains a lot of the originals DNA too. In truth, Ubisoft probably should have removed more. The animals and hunting often feel at odds with the look and feel of the new game world. Killing animals now just rewards the player with money. Picking things up is an absolute pain though. Moving back and forwards till you find just the right angle for the prompt to loot a dead enemy to appear is teeth-gnashingly frustrating. Removing the hearts of enemies was great in The Darkness (where you had an extending, prehensile tentacle to do it) but squatting over each dead cyborg to do the same is no fun in Blood Dragon. Worse, the game is much, much darker than Far Cry 3’s sun-drenched island and looking for a dark grey gun on the black ground at night is as much fun as it sounds.
In fact the games darkness is a problem throughout, and while it makes a great contrast with the bright laser beams and bright neon of the fortresses, it makes Blood Dragon hard to play during the day. I found my best experiences were had in the wee hours, as the throbbing neon and the pounding synth music made for a strangely soporific but immersive late night gaming experience.
So Blood Dragon still has all the chaos of Far Cry 3. The wild fires after you blow up a vehicle. The fights between enemies and the animals in the environment. The hunting of human targets with the bow and arrow. There’s a twist to everything now though. When you come across the screams and cries of battle and the gunfire of terrified troops trying to fight off creatures that want to eat them, those creatures could be laser shooting dinosaurs instead of simple tigers or cassowarys.
It’s a bit of a Frankenstein game. The great bits of Far Cry 3 crudely mashed together with VHS sci fi movies of the 80’s. Despite this, the setting is so engaging, the soundtrack is so Goddamn groovy and the gameplay remains so groundbreakingly brilliant that I have to recommend this to anyone who likes Far Cry 3. And if you missed out on the original last year, you should play both.
8 Snake Pliskin’s at the Tech Noir out of 10