Playing Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon reminds me of the 90’s action flick Solo. Solo was the worst kind of 90’s movie, with the same super-soldier tropes, ridiculous set pieces and cardboard acting that Blood Dragon parodies so successfully. But back in 1996, my eight-year-old wanted desperately to see Solo. Alas, its PG-13 rating proved prohibitive.
It wasn’t until years later, when I stumbled upon Solo on Netflix, that I actually got to see it. And I really, really wanted to like it, if anything, just for nostalgia sake. Unfortunately, it was terrible, and all the nostalgia in the world couldn’t change that.
Blood Dragon is not a terrible game like Solo is a terrible movie, and the things it does well it does very well, but I came away with an experience that I wanted to like far more than I actually liked.
Despite its name, Blood Dragon is not a sequel to Far Cry 3, last year’s open-world shooter that was one of my favorite games of 2012. Instead, this is a stand-alone downloadable title that shares nothing with its predecessor save for the basic gameplay mechanics. There are garrisons to raid, animals to hunt, and side missions to unlock better weaponry, all draped in a neon-blasted 2007 as if it were straight out of an 80’s movie, and it’s all served with a heavy dose of satire.
You play as Rex “Power” Colt, a cyborg super-soldier fighting to save the world from a rogue agent named Sloan. Cutscenes are presented in retro 8-bit graphics, 80’s power ballads rain down in the background, and Rex delivers some of the truly worst dialogue I’ve ever heard. Everything is done with tongue firmly in cheek, and when it’s clicking, it’s one of the funniest games I’ve ever played. The tutorial in particular, which constantly reminds you how terrible tutorials are and how it’s sure you’d rather be killing people, speaks to a level of self-awareness that most action games seem to lack.
Whereas Far Cry 3 placed a heavy emphasis on custom progression and item crafting, Blood Dragon simplifies everything in a significant way. Leveling is now completely linear, with each level unlocking a predetermined health increase or skill, and Rex begins the game with the majority of the takedown and combat moves already unlocked. The emphasis is on jumping right in with guns blazing rather than building up slowly, and while it fits the tone of the game, I missed being able to craft my character to suit my preferred play style.
When those guns blaze, man do they blaze hot. The game opens with you laying waste to an enemy base from a helicopter-mounted turret, and doesn’t let up until an equally explosive finale. Blood Dragon knows how to do action, and the core gameplay is still tight and a joy to play. But streamlining the experience means that the main storyline is over in just a few hours and, in what continues to be a frustrating Far Cry theme, the final showdown with the lead antagonist is a decided letdown considering the over-the-topness of the rest of the experience.
The biggest addition to the game are the blood dragons themselves, massive dinosaurs that shoot lasers out of their mouths and stomp around the wilderness. You can use cyber-hearts to lure the blood dragons towards enemy garrisons and then sit back and watch as they lay waste to your enemies. The blood dragons are intimidating for the first half of the game, but once you learn their weakness, that intimidation disappears quickly.
Blood Dragon certainly understands what it is, and stands in stark contrast to Far Cry 3’s flawed attempt at creating a vulnerable but ultimately overpowered action star. But on the same token, I found myself much more interested in that flawed development rather than anything I did in Blood Dragon, and despite the harkening back to the video games and movies of my childhood that should have made me like it more, I found myself just wanting to go back and play more Far Cry 3 instead.
This is a good game, and a fun game, and the laughs alone are probably worth the price of admission. But by being a streamlined action game, Blood Dragon strips away much of what makes Far Cry 3 so much fun to play, and the result is something that, despite a fresh coat of neon paint, is a bit too similar and light on content to be a home run.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon XBLA Review/ Ubisoft 2013/ Ubi.com
(This game was reviewed with a download code provided by the publisher)
(Cameron Gidari is a freelance writer and the author of Seattle Before8. Follow him on Twitter at @CGidari)