The year – 2007. The future. Nuclear World War 3 and the Second Vietnam War have taken their toll on the world. You are Mark IV Cyber Commando Sergeant Rex Power Colt, sent to retrieve vital information from the evil Colonel Sloan – a mission that is vital to Saving The World™.
Don’t come expecting Woolf, or Austin, or even Joyce. It’s not that. Blood Dragon is pure pulp. It’s more akin to a Terminator and Alien fan fiction by Hunter S Thompson. On drugs. All of the drugs. As a result, the narrative is more concerned with being quirky than coherent. When not being told through rather charming retro storyboards, you’ll go from point A to point B in your quest to save the world, kill the dudes, and avenge your friend Spider. It’s ridiculous and dumb, but it’s not a game intended to live or die by its story.
That’s not a big issue, since the inherent fun of the Far Cry 3 gameplay returns. Sergeant Rex Power Colt is in a small sandbox island, with a smattering of occupied bases and animal nests. You’re given a main quest-line with a few objectives, and are free to tackle whatever you want whenever you want. Taking over a base will open up optional missions, where you’ll either rescue a scientist or hunt an animal or cyber enemy with a certain weapon. It’s nothing particularly new or different from Far Cry 3, but the gameplay remains solid and engaging.
As before, killing enemies, liberating bases, and completing side missions grant experience, which go towards levelling up. The levelling path is linear now, with Rex Power Colt gaining new abilities automatically. It’s not difficult to gain new abilities, and they don’t particularly differ from the original game, but they do help add a sense of progression.
Sergeant Rex Power Colt has some rather familiar stealth and assault abilities for eliminating all the bad cyber dudes in their cyber bases. Stealth takedowns are back, with Rex Power Colt able to chain takedowns from the get-go. He can also mirror Brody’s knife throw takedown, except instead of a knife, it’s a CYBER NINJA STAR. Whereas Far Cry 3 rewarded careful planning and observation before a stealth approach, Blood Dragon’s combat revelry would suggest a more frontal fight. Careful stealth still works, but it’s somewhat at odds to Blood Dragon’s shoot first ethos.
Also returning are the collection mechanics. Rex Power Colt can collect money from the bodies of dead cyber enemies and cyber animals, with which you purchase weapons, ammo, and upgrades. There are also random collectables like letters, video tapes, and TV sets (the old CRT kind) that will unlock attachments for purchase when a certain number are found. They’re not as well hidden as in Far Cry 3, but a completionist will get an extra few hours out of them.
Some cuts have been made to fit Far Cry 3’s core into the six-ish hours of game that is Blood Dragon. Most notably, there are only eight weapons. One type of pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, and sniper rifle, as well as the bow, flamethrower, minigun, and a super weapon.
The first four can gain a plethora of attachments, and you can attach almost all the attachments at the same time. There are fewer vehicle options, and animal types to encounter. Cyber enemies are largely just reskins of Far Cry 3. Disappointingly, flying via the wingsuit has also been cut – although Rex Power Colt doesn’t take fall damage, and a handful of hang gliders can be found.
New are the titular Blood Dragons – hulking lizards and veritable tanks, capable of vicious melee attacks and equipped with eye-lazers (always lazers). Taking them down at the beginning of the game is not the best idea a Mark IV Cyber Commando could have. Luckily, Sergeant Rex Power Colt can distract them with a carefully thrown cyber heart, which he harvests from dead cyber dudes. A clever player can lure Blood Dragons into attacking enemy bases, although most bases are protected by a defensive force field that denies Blood Dragons access. But not their lazers. Taking the time to disable the field can lead to some lovely carnage, as the grumpy Blood Dragon tears through the cyber bad-dudes. As Rex Power Colt gains power and weaponry, fighting the Blood Dragons becomes a viable option, and killing them rewards you with decent amounts of cash and experience, along with the happy satisfaction that you are eradicating something rare and beautiful.
Plenty of effort has gone into the appearance of the game. Blood Dragon retains the visual quality of Far Cry 3, but almost everything has been completely reskinned. Cyber bad-guys are appropriately blazoned with their evil insignia, while creatures like cyber leopards and cyber crocodiles have eyes burning neon in the dark. The art direction is a great mixture of neon lazer futurism and 80s VCR scan lines. Pink lights lance out of the stark red and purple darkness, giving a clear and likeable aesthetic. Reload animations are suitably over the top, with Rex Colt Power twirling magazines around his fingers before dramatically slapping them into place, or – my favourite – tossing individual shotgun shells through the air and into the breach of the shotgun. There’s a blasé panache – utterly unnecessary but completely essential.
Most of the visual design is great, which is why the decision to obscure everything with a thick fog is utterly baffling. The best part of Far Cry 3 was triumphantly lording over the entire island from the towering mountain you just climbed. Blood Dragon instead decides that nope, you don’t need to see past your hands (an exaggeration), let’s blanket the world in fog. It makes the island feel tiny, and robs you of that anticipation of spotting something interesting in the distance that you want to explore. I suppose it effectively disguises the step down in level design that the Blood Dragon island suffers from. Still, it’s a rubbish feature that does nothing to embrace the benefits of having a sandbox, and instead makes it feel like a badly scripted, loose shooter that doesn’t have the self-belief to be a fully linear experience.
Effects are great, with all the pew pew lazers zapping in the expected way. More subtle are the mechanical whirrings as Rex Power Colt’s joints push him to a sprint, or the heavily filtered techo-voices of the cyber enemies. The soundtrack is, appropriately, a blast from the past. Featuring retro-futuristic electronic tunes, the score completes the 80’s style. Synths buzz up and down over insistent drum beats, creating a bold soundscape that would not be out of place as a Terminator b-side.
Voice acting, as a whole, is perfectly on-pitch for the cheesy futurism. The much-touted Michael Biehn delivers his lines with a cheesy self-aware growl. Every line you hear is delivered with just the right amount of ridiculous exaggeration. Unfortunately, the barks you’ll hear and deliver yourself, while fun at first, get rather repetitive after a few hours. There are only so many times “I really STUCK it to him”, or “I guess he LOST his HEAD” can elicit a laugh.
My main issue with Blood Dragon is that it feels confused about what it wants to be. Gameplay rewards stealth, but discourages it through its tone. It gives you an open sandbox, but feels at its best when it’s a close-in linear corridor shooter. There’s a vast, open, dynamic-looking island, but any potential visual splendour is nixed by the thick fog. And at six hours, the zany, tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness outstays its welcome. Blood Dragon is a great concept, and Far Cry 3 has great gameplay, but the pair is perhaps mismatched to the extent that the whole is lesser than the sum of its parts. It’s still a very good game, and kudos to Ubisoft for releasing it as a standalone title, but it’s just not as good as Far Cry 3 was.
(Reviewed on PC. Review code supplied by Ubisoft. Thank you.)
ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE
Story – 7/10
Gameplay/Design – 9/10
Visuals – 8.5/10
Sound – 9/10
Lasting Appeal – 8/10
Overall – 8/10
(Not an average)
Platforms: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft Shanghai
Ratings: M (ESRB), 18 (PEGI)