Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon is a gloriously silly game. It’s the kind of game you get when developers have a chance to really let their imagination run free. And while that zaniness could quite easily have gone awry, Blood Dragon remains a smart, violent action game that's wholly worth its $15 / 1200 MS points price. And even better, it doesn't require the original Far Cry 3 to play.
The story is wildly different to Jason Brody’s adventure. You play as Rex Colt, a cyber-soldier and all-American hero sent to an island to foil the world-domination plans of an ex-Colonel gone mad--think early Schwarzenegger films like Commando. Along the way you’ll battle cyborg soldiers, be horrified by mutated animals, meet a brilliant, sexy lady scientist, and disarm nukes to save the world. It’s classic '80s stuff.
However, in terms of gameplay, it’s virtually identical to Far Cry 3. Blade takedowns, scouting out locations, liberating garrisons, shooting wildlife, even realistic fire--it’s all here. If you haven’t played Far Cry 3, there’s a light-hearted tutorial to familiarise you with the controls and how to play the game. The tutorial actually makes fun of itself, referencing the fact that you probably just want to start blowing stuff up immediately and Rex, even grumbles about being constantly interrupted by instruction screens.
In fact, it’s Rex and his supporting cast that really make Blood Dragon. While the '80s themes and early '90s visual style make this game feel very different to Far Cry 3, it’s the smart, often satirical dialogue between characters that will put the smile on your face. “If guns make me safe, then big guns make me safer” growls Rex as he picks up the Terror 4000 mini-gun. “He got the point,” he puns while stabbing a man through the chest with his knife. It’s a collection of the best '80s action movie clichés, wrapped around Far Cry 3’s deliciously violent gameplay, and finished off with an original, electro soundtrack that oozes retro cool.
Cut-scenes, done using Contra-style 2D character models, are incredibly well observed, perfectly capturing the camp spirit and style of late 80s / early 90s action games. While the voice-work is crisp and clean, the dialogue intentionally sounds like it’s being read directly from a game like the original Bionic Commando (clunky writing and all).
In addition to the stylish new look, Blood Dragon does add a few new gameplay elements to the Far Cry 3 formula, the most significant of which are the titular Blood Dragons. These massive t-rex style beasts roam the island (which is about half the size of FC3’s first landmass) attacking anything they find with teeth or massive laser beams that shoot from their eyes. Oh yes! They glow a different neon colour dependent on their mood--green is passive, orange is curious, and red is angry. Early on, the Blood Dragons are intimidating, but they lose menace as you get hold of the game’s more powerful weaponry. If you don’t want to get into a fight, you can sneak past, or lob the hearts ripped out of your cyborg enemies to distract them. You're encouraged to work out how to lure Blood Dragons into enemy outposts to do most of the murdering for you, although this can be more trouble than it’s worth, because you then need to kill or remove the Blood Dragon to claim the outpost.
The Blood Dragons are one of only a handful of genuinely new features. Sure, all the weapons are different, but they’re just futuristic versions of Far Cry 3’s armoury. Even jeeps and jet-skis are largely the same, and the wildlife is just cyber versions of their real-life counterparts. We appreciate the fact that Ubi have tweaked the gameplay slightly to make Blood Dragon more immediately fun than Far Cry 3--so Rex can run much faster than Jason, most abilities are unlocked from the start, and you can fall from pretty much any height without losing health. New side-missions include ‘scientist rescues’ (humorously called ‘Save a nerd’) but they feel very familiar. We’d like to have seen something else that’s genuinely new to freshen up the action a little.
Another potential bug-bear--although it didn’t bother us--is that the game takes place in a dark, post-apocalyptic future. While the neon of your cyborg enemies and the bases they patrol is bright, the island you explore is dark all the time, so you might find yourself craving some of the lush, tropical colours of the original Far Cry 3. Perhaps if Blood Dragon was longer than 6-10 hours--depending on how many side-missions you tackle--it’d start to grate. For us, though, the game feels the right size; it never outstays its welcome, the jokes never get stale, and it definitely goes out with a bang… although not quite the bang we were expecting.
Minor criticisms aside, Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon does a fantastic job of servicing the demand for retro nostalgia, but inside the comfortable setting of a very modern, very well-made shooter. It’s the best of both worlds: it looks like a fun retro game, but plays like a properly modern one. What it lacks in genuinely new features it more than makes up for in pure style, and although it controls in exactly the same way as Far Cry 3 the setting makes the action feel fresh. The game itself may be gloriously silly, but we seriously advise you to give Blood Dragon a try.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.