“The year is 2007. It is the future.”
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is the manifestation of every fantasy and wet dream I had in 1992. I was seven years old and up to that point, my consciousness had been filled with nothing but the throbbing synth and pulsating action of 80’s movies and cartoons. Cyborg was the buzzword du jour, dinosaurs were of the man eating variety, villains only knew how to steal nukes, and lasers were everywhere. So many lasers. Blood Dragon nails exactly what it sets out to accomplish. It is the realization of my wildest fantasies from childhood and for the brief time that I spent playing this game, lost in its world, I was seven years old again, and it was perfect.
In Blood Dragon, all out nuclear war between the Soviets and the Americans is a reality and American cyber-commando Rex Power Colt is sent to a mysterious island to investigate the activities of a Colonel who has gone rogue. None of that is important. The plot is absurd, hamfisted, and campy and it revels in all of those things. It is a script out of a bad 80’s movie, complete with the appropriate stereotypes and clichéd story beats. It’s hard to stress how important these things are to the overall experience. Blood Dragon, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, balances its ludicrous aesthetic with solid gameplay mechanics borrowed from the more grounded Far Cry 3, while at the same time offering a tongue in cheek commentary on game culture, derivative action movies, and video game conventions.
To describe the world of Blood Dragon without relying on video or pictures is rather challenging. The best thing to do would be to imagine if we took the designers behind the original Tron movie, Depeche Mode, and James Cameron and locked them all in a room with arcade cabinet games, keyboards, and tabs of acid. The result is an island soaked in neon hues with a soundtrack that never fails to amp you up before you take on robot sharks, cyborg villains, and dragons that shoot lasers out of their eyes.
This game never takes itself seriously. There were moments that were laugh out loud funny and still others that were downright groan inducing. The great thing though, is that the developers want you to groan at those moments. By using the formulaic tropes of the 80’s action genre as a weapon against its audience, the writers propelled me along on a rollercoaster of nostalgia that left me with a dumb smirk on my face. Even the 8-bit cutscenes bring back memories of standing on my toes to read the scrolling text at a gloomy and smoke filled arcade, pumping quarter after precious quarter into those unfeeling machines as they goaded me onward. “Continue?”
Blood Dragon isn’t without its flaws. As a standalone download title, it’s somewhat hamstrung as it relies on the systems from the titular Far Cry 3, on who’s skeleton it is built. At times it can feel like the exact same game and to a point, it is. You still have enemy outposts to clear, hunting and assassination side missions, collectibles to find, and skills to unlock as you progress. Yet even with all of these shared traits, the game is unabashedly different. As a cyborg, you don’t take fall damage, you can breathe underwater indefinitely, sprint faster, and let’s not forget DRAGONS THAT SHOOT LASERS OUT OF THEIR EYES!
The blood dragons add an interesting dynamic to Far Cry’s combat mechanics. As one of the more powerful enemies, taking them on directly can be a challenge. The more stealth minded players can lure them into enemy patrols or camps to wreck havoc and take advantage of the ensuing chaos. In fact, the ability to turn the environment against your opponents is one of Far Cry’s strongest features and I was happy to see it utilized again in Blood Dragon. Will I shoot open a cage holding a captive cyber-panther? Or should I start a wildfire and let it drive the enemy out into the open? It was incredibly satisfying when I’d plan out and stealthily take down an entire outpost with my neon purple bow and arrows. The varying ways I could tackle any given encounter with the tools at my disposal allowed for flexibility that at times was critical. Trying to stalk an enemy patrol from the jungle could change to a full on assault with a laser minigun in a heartbeat, but coming out victorious on the other side was always gratifying.
The game’s soundtrack provided by the band Power Glove borrows heavily from 80’s pop and movie soundtracks but somehow they manage to leave everything I hated about those genres behind. Much like the movie Drive or the indie game Hotline Miami it captures the essence of what made the music of that time resonate in your chest, but at the same time transports it into the present. Even casting The Terminator’s Michael Biehn as our hero, Rex Colt, transports me back to those years and gives the game a sense of authenticity. Every line delivered throughout is either a cheesy one liner or an over the top monologue.
Being seven and inserting a new cartridge into my Nintendo Entertainment System, there was always a rush of adrenaline as I knew I was about to start a new adventure. My imagination would run rampant as it spun stories just from looking at the box art. The ultimate power fantasy was always just out of my grasp, hindered by the technology of that time. The world that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon inhabits is where I wanted to be transported to, and finally I have.
This game is a friendly reminder of a happier time and place, when I didn’t have to worry about mortgage payments or job interviews, and the most pressing matters were G.I. Joes and Transformers and the hope that the next digital adventure would be as wildly entertaining as my imagination. As I’ve grown up, not only have my own personal tastes changed, but the way we tell stories in movies, television, and games has also matured. This game isn’t hurt as a result, but it’s made all the more special. It’s a trip down memory lane with a fully auto laser handgun.
Blood Dragon is psychotically fun. It’s insanely over the top and I love it for that. Seeing a title like this is refreshing and I hope more studios take the risks that Ubisoft Montreal has in experimenting with presentation and reminding us that games don’t have to take themselves seriously.
If you love first person shooters with a unique sense of style and humour or if, like me, you were born before the Berlin Wall came down, you should take this game down off the shelf.
Time on the Shelf - 1 Year and 1 Month. Played on PC for approximately 15 hours. Screenshots