The year is 2007. It is the future…
Far Cry 3 was one of the best games of last year, with great mechanics and a metric tonne of gameplay. All it was missing was a little injection of the ridiculous to make it a bit more fun. Turns out Ubisoft had already used up all their ridiculous. Say hello to Blood Dragon.
While it may carry the Far Cry 3 tag, Blood Dragon is an entirely stand alone title coming to XBLA and PSN soon. It puts you the cyber shoes of Sergeant Rex ‘Power’ Colt, a former soldier who was brought back from the brink of death with cybernetics and heads out to defeat his former commander Ike Sloan who is up to something nefarious on an isolated island.
Did we mention it all takes place in a neon fused version of the future through the lens of a trashy 80s sci-fi flick? Or that Colt is voiced by none other than Michael Biehn, in full on no-bullshit mode?
Blood Dragon is a work of unusual genius - fusing the already near perfect mechanics of Far Cry 3 with a self aware tone, a deliriously entertaining tone and a genuine love for the era its invoking, right down to the numerous movie references (Predator, Robocop and more) and the incredible synth soundtrack from Power Glove.
It’s all meticulously crafted, interspersed with crude cut scenes and dialogue which walks a fine line between gleeful homage and awkwardness. Biehn’s one liners forced a giggle from me on numerous occasions, even commenting on the essentially pointless exercise of tracking down collectibles.
The game itself is certainly familiar, at times little more than a cosmetic reskin of Far Cry 3. But every single element has been tweaked to some degree - even if its just adding some laser eyes to turn that feline predator into a cyber-cat.
But Ubisoft Montreal were intent on making things feels as different as possible - Rex is much faster than Jason and can run indefinitely, while he also laughs in the face of fall damage. This may seem like a small change but it has a massive impact on your tactical options - fancy ducking out of a hangglider to knife an enemy from the air. Do it!
It’s in keeping with the game that Rex comes with a handful of skills already unlocked, including chained takedowns and the ability to throw a neon shuriken during a close up kill. New skills are unlocked as you level up, earning points for inventive kills or completing missions. Unlocks are linear in Blood Dragon - reach a new level and you’ll automatically receive the upgrades, with no choice in which you receive.
Meet cyber people, and murder them Enlarge
It’s certainly streamlined, fitting in with the faster pace of Blood Dragon , but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of depth. For example, weapons can be upgraded as before but you’ll have to take part in side missions to reveal the new parts but first you’ll have to liberate the garrisons. There are 13 of them in total on the island, each protected by massive walls and tenacious guards while also projecting a massive red signal, emblazoning the Omega Force sign on the lightning-laced sky.
Attacking these garrisons can be accomplished like those in Far Cry 3, with sneaky or louder options catered for, but there’s also some help on hand. This is where those titular Blood Dragons come into play. These powerful and deadly beasts roam the island, with the colour of their bodies (from green to red) indicating just how pissed they currently are. All but blind, you can distract them by throwing cyber-hearts, which you can casually rip from your fallen enemies chests (complete with one liner) or put them to more interesting uses.
You see the garrisons are protected by shields which keep the Blood Dragons out but its far from infallible. Chuck a still glistening heart near one of these barriers and the Dragon will seek it out, firing its deadly ranged attack at anything it can spy inside. But my favourite method was to sneak into the compound itself and disable the mega-shield, letting the creature run amuck, destroying my enemies while I watched from a high vantage point.
It’s a neat inversion on the caged animal element of Far Cry 3, and a surprisingly enjoyable experience every time - though it’s a method that does start to feel a little too easy as the game progresses.
On that note, Blood Dragon is not a difficult game. On medium I can count the number of times I died in the entire campaign on one hand. There are a couple of reasons for this, beyond the Dragon spamming - Rex is kind of a bad ass and the enemies aren’t all that challenging. It’s certainly better than a frustratingly high level of difficulty and it does help the game to rocket along to its garish conclusion.
For me, that came in well under 6 hours - with a comprehensive playthrough (including all collectibles which you can pursue after the endgame) taking less than 7. That’s not hideously short but the game is so enjoyable to play that you’ll likely find yourself completing it in one or two sittings. And it’s nice to see the developers give completionists a hand out - finishing the campaign gifts you with the Killstar, a gloriously over powered weapon which makes earning those last few levels a cinch (just murder some Dragons) - and looks super cool into the bargain.
Happily, there’s so much to enjoy during that time that I’d rather have a concentrated burst of awesome than dilute it with an excess of boring side missions. Every briefing is a hoot to read and the story basks in every reference it can muster, up to an including a sex scene lit with unlikely blue light and a ludicrous training montage. And just wait til you meet the games late breaking ally, which we can only describe as BADASS .
Much as I’ve tried, it’s hard to really get across in words how enjoyable Blood Dragon is. If you lived through any part of the 80s or have even a passing interest in the movies, music and games of the time, you’re bound to find the reference hilarious. And, for once, the jokey tone manages not to undermine the competence of the game, making for a more well rounded experience than many full priced titles. More than just DLC, Blood Dragon is a must own.Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon is available on PSN from the 30th of April and XBLA from May 1st from around $15.