Review: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

FarCry3BloodDragon

One has to imagine that the first question that most people are going to have about this game is, “Does this game have anything to do with Far Cry 3?” The short answer is, “No.”  A slightly longer, more dorky, answer is “Yes, but it only has the same engine and similar in-game activities as the last, non digital only Far Cry game. If you’ve played Far Cry 3, a lot of what is going on in Blood Dragon will seem familiar, but you in no way had to have played the big game to play the little one. It’s not an expansion pack or DLC, it’s what people would have used to call a ‘total conversion’ when people still played so many PC games that they grew sick of them and played fan-created reskins of those same games. Who wants to play some Desert Combat?” 

At some point Ubisoft may have thought about kicking this out on the usual download channels with the horribly generic sounding name Blood Dragon. If that was the name, with the accompanying silly action movie cover image, then no one would have given this game the time of day. By associating it with a solid game, Far Cry 3, the amount of eyeballs looking on becomes far greater. Which is a good thing, because this one of the better downloadable games to come out in the first half of 2013.

Set in the distant future of 2007,  an American super-soldier named Sergeant Rex Power Colt is tasked to investigate another cyber-agent who has gone missing, Colonel Sloan. In the intro, told largely through a series of barely animated, highly pixelated sprites on painted 2D backgrounds, Colt learns that Sloan has gone rogue and taken possession of the Omega Force, the newest in the line of American super cyber soldiers and research into the effects of the blood of the beasts known only as Blood Dragons to further some unknown plot. As it turns out, Sloan has not betrayed lady liberty to work for Russia, the United States’ enemy in a thermonuclear war that destroyed most of the world in the 1990s, but has instead devised a plan to launch an ultimate act of terror from a secluded island. Rex’s only ally is a seductive femme fatale, Dr. Darling, who is an expert in cybernetics and the effects of Blood Dragon blood on these cybernetics. With character names like Rex Colt, Sloan and Dr. Darling, cyber soldiers as well as video effects like an auto-tracking bar and distorted static-laden images with warped sound that could only be naturally produced on deteriorating analog, magnetic Video Home System tapes, it should be apparent to anyone over twenty-five that the style of Blood Dragon is cut from the cloth of Hollywood sci-fi action movies of the original RoboCop and Terminator era. For those younger than twenty, this title should give a good impression of what a lot of movies were like before people made things like this, and when people went to video stores to rent tapes of these movies.

Once the ancient cutscenes stop and you are in the game proper you will be confronted with something that is reminiscent of the datascape in Tron. The island where the game is set appears dark, in an almost perpetual night with a grey sky with pillars of light arcing toward the heavens. The enemies and walls of their compounds are accented with neon circuitry and all speak with a distinctly artificial tone. Think of a more whinny, less throaty Soundwave and you’re there. The entire experience is capped off with a soundtrack that is right at home on an old VHS. Thumbing beats accentuated with short drum rifts and sudden shifts in the music make it very clear that the sound design team has done their homework. Many of the in-game items resemble iconic props in movies of the era.  The pistol, the A.J.M. 9, looks exactly like RoboCop’s gun and even shoots in triple bursts like Detroit’s cyborg protector (named Alex J. Murphy) and the shotgun, until it is upgraded to have multiple barrels, should be familiar to anyone that has seen Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Piling it on, when Colt uses his cyber-eye like a pair of binoculars or to tag enemies for identification, the world is covered by a filter that looks like what people in the Reagan’s administration thought robots saw. Everything is crafted to evoke the blockbuster movies of the mid-80s to early 90s without being so full of references that it feels like an episode of Family Guy. The enemies are primarily faceless, not-very-distinct cyborg drones, but they do bleed florescent blood and give oddly endearing toneless screams when Rex tears their hearts out to feed them to the animals on the island.

All of this cyborg killing is centered in a relatively small, open-world environment with a variety of things to do. There is a main story that is simple and fun enough but is largely what is seen in most shooters: go through these buildings and kill these guys. It would be possible to complete the dozen or so main story missions in about five hours, but that sort of race to the end would miss much of the charm of the gameplay, really the only thing that makes it a Far Cry game other than the publisher trademarking it thusly. When I think Far Cry, I think open-world environments that allow players to approach objectives from a variety of angles. Dotted throughout the island, marked by giant neon-red pillars of light that splash the Omega Force logo on the sky, are garrisons of bad cyborgs. Since Rex is a good cyborg, it is his job to go kill the bad cyborgs in their bases. (The setup is really as simple as that sentence.)  The thing that makes it interesting is the variety of ways that he can do the job.

To take over a garrison all of the bad guys have to die. Rex can stealth into the base, performing silent takedowns upon inattentive soldiers. Or, there is always the overt machine gun and grenade method which can cause reinforcements to show up if the enemies are not dealt with quickly enough. Each base is surrounded by a Mega Shield whose sole purpose is to keep out the titular Blood Dragons which will attack anything that moves. Turning off or blowing up the Shield’s generator will cause the electronic walls to fall and havoc to ensue. But for the option of throwing dragons that shoot laser beams out of their eyes into the mix, the stealth/guns-blazing dichotomy is not that unique, but the paths to success are. Because all of these little bases are placed in an open world, players can choose what path is the best way to infiltrate. The front gate, jumping over a small side wall, hang gliding in from above or in a few instances diving underwater into the heart of the territory all are available as options on how to get in and end cybernetic life. Depending on the surrounding geography it is even possible sometimes to sit on a hill near the base, spot and identify all of the tangos, and proceed to headshot all of them before they have a chance to call for help. Not every base will yield to the same pressures and methods of destruction, but that is part of the fun of the Far Cry games, determining how to best attack a location based upon the landscape.

In addition to granting experience points which lead to levels and little upgrades, more health, less damage, etc., clearing garrisons will turn the red skybeams green and make other side activities available. All of these involve shooting, but they add additional restraints to make things harder. Some involve killing supped up versions of the beasts that wander the landscape with specific weapons or rescuing a hostage from several baddies who will begin to kill said hostage whenever they see Colt or evidence of his presence. As with the garrisons themselves, none of these activities should take very long and are all varied enough so that they remain entertaining until they are all completed. They are completely optional but do grant additional income that can be used to buy better guns and additional ammunition.

It is also possible to buy maps that show the dozens of collectibles available for finding, with or without a map. Of course I recommend a map. These will unlock special weapon upgrades for purchase at weapon vending machines to increase ammo capacity or improve stability (whatever that means). Rex will quip many times as he collects these trinkets with gems like “Why am I doing this?” or “Well, at least I don’t have to find any fucking flags!” Which pokes fun at another Ubisoft game and ignores the basic problem: collectibles are usually not that fun to collect. This game proves the rule, and not by exception. Making the meaningless things to find VCR tapes and static-ridden CRT televisions in a drab island instead of Templar Flags in Acre does not solve the problem of having a bunch of junk-collecting padding out the game.

Lame collectibles aside, this is an entertaining downloadable game that for the most part has a sense of what era it wants to emulate and goes for it without getting rid of what you would expect from a modern action game. The only real criticism I have of it is that the jokes are inconsistent. The text that appears in the loading screens and information files is very self aware that the speaker is talking about things that could only live in a silly 80s movie, but all of the humor in the game world takes things fairly seriously, which is not what you want in something this dumb. Too many winks at the camera make the piece a parody and not a loving homage. It is jarring to switch back and forth between the two styles of comedy. Maybe they were shooting for something akin to Stephen Colbert’s ‘The Word’ segments, but it does not come off as effectively here as game action and dialogue and menu text is not coming from the same place or perspective. It would have been better if the menus were played straight to lean into the fiction and setting of the main game.

If this were a full retail game, it would be harder to recommend as it is possible to finish everything there is to do, including picking up all of the glowing trash, in 12-15 hours. Thankfully, it is way less than sixty bucks and you can play it right now without even having to go to the store. You don’t even need to own a copy of Far Cry 3 proper. That kind of convenience is something unthinkable in the era when cybersoldiers would have been considered a legitimate subject for a game or a sci-fi blockbuster. I don’t think I need an entire full-sized campaign featuring simplistic music and a person named Sergeant Rex Power Colt fighting the Omega Force, but for a short but substantive digital release that looks as good as a full retail game, it works great.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Fantastic sense of style
+ Shooting is fun, weapons are well animated
+ Multiple ways to attack various situations

Cons:
– Sense of humor is inconsistent
– Can be repetitive in long stretches
– Not much replay value

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on XBLA for Xbox 360, also available on PC and PSN
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 4/30/2013
Genre: First-Person Shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1
Source: Game purchased by reviewer

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About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.