the artistry and psychology of gaming


Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

The Good:
+ Comedy jumps between over-the-top 80s parody and deadpan self-awareness – and excels at both
+ Action and stealth gameplay are faster and more streamlined than the original game
+ Sidequests and collectibles are actually entertaining this time

The Bad:
– Unnecessary sandbox and control quirks inherited from Far Cry 3
– Villains and retro-futuristic setting are barely used at all
– Blood Dragon-related gameplay does not fit the game’s tone or pacing

Far Cry 3 has been a bit of a pleasant surprise. In the current climate of game publishing, the game had no obligation to be anything other than a forgettable sequel to a forgettable sequel, but instead materialized as a character-focused descent into insanity and the effects of glorified violence. I don’t think it did it particularly well, mind you – the protagonist’s arc was rather erratic, and the campaign and open world were even more padded and bloated than the average sandbox shooter. But the fact that it tried for something with sophistication and character at a time when AAA releases, especially sequels, can be summarized with “durr hurr manly guns” makes it rather praiseworthy.

Similarly, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was much more likely to be overpriced mission pack DLC, but is instead a standalone expansion focused on relentless comedy, ridiculous retro style, and a lot of fluorescent, explosive fun. It again sidesteps the “durr hurr manly guns” theme, this time by embracing it with a smile and a wink (or rather, a big sign reading, “I AM A PARODY”), and arguably becomes even more of a departure as a result. It certainly doesn’t approach its full potential – its gameplay is firmly rooted in its base game whether it’s appropriate or not, and many corners were clearly cut to squeeze the product into its low budget. But dedicated comedy games are few and far between, and any game that goes out of its way to break the industry’s cycle of iterative money sinks is a game worth supporting, so check this one out if you feel this particular brand of humour is for you.

The game is a loving homage to all things 80s. Sci-fi action B-movies are the primary target, with hilariously awful one-liners, a darkly silly vision of the future, and Michael Biehn proudly offering protagonist Rex Power Colt (yes, Power is literally his middle name) the most ridiculous gravel-flavoured voice performance since Solid Snake. But really, the whole decade is in the crosshairs here. Much of the imagery has a classic Mega Man feel to it, the barely animated 2D cinematics are ripped straight out of the NES Ninja Gaidens, and the soundtrack is primarily low-fi synthesizers and embarrassingly earnest shrieking guitar rock. And of course, the neon-drenched art style is completed with a layer of perpetual scan lines and VHS fuzz. And it’s all hilarious.

Hello, 1988.

The humour never loses momentum throughout Blood Dragon. Lines of dialogue, loading screen hints, item descriptions, and player actions are all fuel for jokes. Even the healing animations are funny. But it’s the range of the comedy that’s most surprising and impressive. Obviously, the big overarching joke is that the game could be accurately titled Schwarzenegger’s Career: The Punchline, but it also takes the time to parody RockyStar WarsTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and any other 80s staples it can get its hands on. And it doesn’t rely solely on parody, either. The anachronistic inclusion of a bow and arrow is justified with “That’s why we put neon on it. Because neon is the future.” This kind of deadpan self-mockery and Rex’s oblivious testosterone overload are funny regardless of your familiarity with any source material. There are even jokes that poke fun at the original Far Cry 3 itself.

Despite this, Blood Dragon’s gameplay owes nearly everything to its base game. So while there’s explosive gunplay and viciously satisfying stealth combat, there’s also a pointless open world and an overly complicated control scheme. To its credit, Blood Dragon does streamline some of Far Cry 3’s more superfluous mechanics. The weapon selection has been reduced to just one of each category, rather than a truckload of interchangeable assault rifles and shotguns, and the skills now unlock along a linear path, rather than an unnecessarily branching web. Accordingly, Far Cry 3’s now tonally-inappropriate “vulnerability” phase has been removed, since Rex has access to several advanced techniques from the beginning, as well as higher speed and jumping height. And when it plays to these strengths, Blood Dragon is a lot of fun.

It feels more like Far Cry’s one-time spiritual sequel Crysis than anything. The kind of game where you can slowly sneak up on an enemy and take him out silently from behind, but it may be more fun to sprint across rooftops and tackle him from above while tossing grenades indiscriminately. The level design usually reflects this, with fewer stealth routes, more opportunities to play like a Terminator, and a larger number and earlier appearance of heavy troopers. Although that last one’s not so positive, since heavy troopers take forever to bring down and often ruin hostage rescue missions, which do require stealth.

Alternatively, you can lure nearby mutants over to assist with your killing sprees.

Unfortunately, the game doesn’t seem able to commit to the linearity that works so well for it. Despite the removal of most of the game’s RPG elements, Far Cry 3’s sandbox design is virtually unchanged for Blood Dragon. And with sidequests made much more rigid and atmosphere thrown out the window at the first cutscene, the world of Blood Dragon is empty and bland, and traversing it is a tedious chore. On the plus side, what sidequests the game has are made more engaging by embracing the new tone and weaving comedy into both collectible descriptions and objective notes. They’re still repetitive busywork, and there’s not much variety to them, but at least they no longer feel like hours of playtime added for the sake of having hours of playtime.

Far Cry 3’s unpolished control scheme also remains intact. Mercifully, the radio tower sidequests and cave exploration sequences no longer exist, sparing us the horrible first-person climbing controls. But the obtuse weapon selection, fickle takedown controls, and overreliance on holding keys instead of just pressing them (which becomes lethal when it comes to healing and putting out fires) all make the gameplay clunkier and more frustrating than it should be. The only gameplay feature that didn’t already exist in Far Cry 3 are the titular Blood Dragons, which I was surprised to learn are an actual thing in-game, rather than an appendage of the game’s sense of humour masquerading as a subtitle. Turns out they’re actually large, laser-spewing lizards that function as grossly overpowered versions of Far Cry 3’s wildlife. While their existence is pretty funny, their associated gameplay, which involves hiding in plain sight due to their weak eyesight, feels very out of place in an otherwise pure action game, and is easily the lowest point of the entire experience.

That said, while the Blood Dragons are the worst part from a more objective standpoint, there are other factors that are even worse, relative to their potential. The complete omission of boss fights is the most glaring hole in the design document. Vanilla Far Cry 3 took some flak for this too, but I actually liked the way it cut to hallucination sequences representing the blind rage and confusion of the protagonist’s drug-addled mind, rather than force a traditional boss fight. Blood Dragon just shifts to one of its static cutscenes, or worse, kills its villains offscreen, robbing the action of any kind of climax. The game also kind of forgets about its own retro-futurism once the kitsch of its art style sinks in; there’s precisely one weapon that isn’t just a conventional firearm with a glow stick attached, and despite Far Cry 3 including a fucking wingsuit, the best way to get around in Blood Dragon is…a jeep. That “neon is the future” line was oddly prophetic.

I also find it absolutely hilarious that the blocky, intentionally stupid-looking weapons look exactly like those from Halo.

The ubiquitous neon isn’t really conducive to gameplay, either. Bright blue cyborg blood just isn’t as viscerally satisfying when everything is equally luminescent, and since the environment colours seem to have been chosen arbitrarily, it’s difficult to discern what anything is at a glance. The enemies’ reddish aura is appreciated, but it seems almost like an apology for screwing with perfectly functional graphics. On the audio side, as mentioned before, the tribal sounds and dubstep of Far Cry 3 have been replaced with something more in line with 80s parody, although it does occasionally miss the memo and play things a little too seriously. The human characters all voice their lines with snicker-worthy conviction, and it never gets old hearing a startled cyborg enemy flatly state, “Holy shit.” I do feel a comedic opportunity was missed with enemy voices, as their heavy distortion makes it difficult to even understand what they’re saying most of the time. Still, anything’s better than the Rook Island pirates loudly complaining about their STDs (seriously, why was that a thing?).

Functional shortcomings aside, Blood Dragon is only constrained by its reliance on the original Far Cry 3. It’s extremely and consistently funny, its gameplay is flashy and entertaining, and even the principle behind its development (i.e. use resources from an existing game to create something with simple flair and artistic significance) is a positive step. I just wish Ubisoft had used a different game for its framework. While Far Cry 3 was alright, its quality hinged on its ambition rather than its execution, so any game that builds on it is saddled with an inherent handicap. So despite its best efforts, Blood Dragon can’t quite overcome its roots to become the classic it may have deserved to be.

Score: 6/10

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