Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon Review

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon had to have been made on a dare. We can think of no other logical reason for its existence. Fortunately, it’s awesome, so we can’t say we mind its existence at all.

For those who didn’t get the memo about this little slice of 80’s-inspired heaven, allow us to try and explain this interactive acid trip of epic proportions. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a standalone expansion to last year’s fashionably late, but also awesome Far Cry 3. What this means is, a copy of Far Cry 3 isn’t necessary to download, play and enjoy Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (though we strongly recommend you buy Far Cry 3 if you haven’t already, as it’s easily last year’s most noteworthy and impressive triple-A shooter!), feasibly allowing you to own the main game on Xbox 360 and this expansion on PS3, or vice-versa. Despite billing itself as an expansion however, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon has absolutely nothing to do with the tropical vendetta of Jason Brody, or Rook Island, or the real world as a whole. Don’t worry, we will clarify in due time.

Far Cry 3- Blood Dragon - Title Screen

With the shooter market becoming rather overblown and bland in recent years, Far Cry 3 proved remarkably refreshing at the end of last year. It was a welcome shooter sequel that stood effectively apart from the competition, thanks to its massive open world, addictive legion of island takeover tasks available, and of course, its darkly twisted storyline about the innate savagery of the human condition. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon brings back and condenses this same gameplay foundation, with a couple of sledgehammer-sized presentational tweaks. It completely throws out the narrative intelligence, drenches everything in 80’s-flavoured neon and synth, and gives us something much cheesier, much more self-indulgent, and much more relentlessly ridiculous. Put simply, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is an 80’s action movie, designed as a video game backed with modern production values. It’s loaded with awful one-liners and anti-drug PSA’s, takes place in the dystopian future of, ahem, 2007, and like we said before, everything is drenched in neon and 80’s rock synth! It proudly wears its absurdity like a crown, and it doesn’t take itself at all seriously. In fact, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is so brain-meltingly stupid that it’s actually rather brilliant, just as brilliant as Far Cry 3 in fact, just, in a very, very, very different way. Enter the ass-kicking tale of ‘cyborg commando’, Rex Power Colt, voiced by The Terminator and Aliens star, Michael Biehn, naturally.

So, it’s 2007 (apparently), and the apocalypse has suffered an apocalypse. Whatever that means. Rex and his buddy, Spider are being airlifted to an island to stop an apparent nuclear plot by the Soviets (to the soundtrack of Little Richard), who have already nuked Canada into an uninhabitable wasteland. What they discover however is that the Soviets are not the true evil on the island, which instead happens to be Colonel Ike Sloan, their former commanding officer before Rex was shot dead and rebuilt as a justice-dealing cyborg, during… Vietnam War II. Of course. Yes, it’s a Robocop reference, and yes, we’re completely sure it’s wholly intentional that Rex resembles The Terminator. Anyway, Sloan is trying to build an unstoppable society of primal drug-induced savages, with only he and his cybernetic army, Omega Force to rule over the ruins of the new world. For Rex, that will not stand, as he swore an oath to a special lady, Lady Liberty, because winners don’t use drugs. Thus, with the help of Sloan’s lone lady scientist, Doctor Elizabeth Jane Darling (seriously, that is her name), it’s up to you to become a one-man cyborg army of Rex Power Colt justice!

We assure you, the greatest challenge that you will encounter all year as a gamer, is to recite the premise of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon to someone else (preferably, a significant other who is not sold on you being of sound mind), stark seriously, and keeping a straight face the entire time. You can’t do it. We certainly can’t! If it seems like we’re dwelling on the game’s presentation here, we’ll admit it; The presentation is one of the key hooks of this game. Absolutely every element of the writing and general disposition of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a tongue-in-cheek love letter or playful homage to something else, almost always something 80’s-related.

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Of course, as much as the game loves bringing back what was cool (and not so cool) from that decade, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon doesn’t waste any opportunities to poke fun at even today’s video games in general either. There’s a side-splittingly hilarious tutorial sequence right around the beginning that lovingly mocks mandatory shooter tutorials to every conceivable degree. Between loads, you’ll be greeted with ‘hint’ screens that are just as likely to make a sarcastic remark about video game convention as they are to provide an actual hint, which is still almost always done in a cheeky manner. Lastly, as you round up collectibles, which naturally include TV Sets, VHS Tapes (complete with fake titles and plots that reference the cinematic cheese of beloved 80’s movies), the rather ‘enlightening’ notes of a drug-addled scientist, and a set of cyborg animals to kill, Rex will sometimes bitch and moan about how collecting things doesn’t make sense for his mission, mocking the idea of forced video game collectibles. He’ll even specifically hope that he doesn’t have to collect any flags or feathers, a blatant jab at co-developer, Ubisoft Montreal’s own highly popular Assassin’s Creed franchise.

So, it’s pretty easy to see that the game is hilarious, action-packed and delightfully stupid in all the right ways. It still begs the question though; How does it play? Well, if you’ve already enjoyed Far Cry 3, you should feel right at home with a similar set of game mechanics, and even if you haven’t, the game provides a highly enjoyable way to get your feet wet with that game’s formula. Like in Far Cry 3, past the introductory sequences, you’re unleashed on an open-world environment that you can explore at your leisure. There’s a handful of story missions that will probably take you about four or five hours to blow through, but as with Far Cry 3, the real meat and long-lasting value of the experience comes from side activities, specifically gradually wrestling control of the game’s island setting away from Omega Force.

Of the handful of side tasks available to Rex, the most important is liberating Garrisons, which take the place of Far Cry 3’s Outposts, serving a similar function. To liberate a Garrison, you need to defeat all of the enemies in it. You can do this by being stealthy, picking off stray soldiers with your Bow and assassinating any who wander obliviously close to you, or by just going in guns blazing, mowing down any soldiers that come your way. We must say, there is a unique thrill to just walking into an enemy-occupied Garrison with a minigun and going to town while headbanging to an 80’s synth tune and getting Rex to flip off his victims, which is done by pressing the melee button whenever Rex isn’t engaging an enemy in combat.

Far Cry 3- Blood Dragon - Gameplay 1

Just like Far Cry 3, there is no wrong way to go about your island takeover, which is fantastic! The excellent stealth mechanics of Far Cry 3 do remain quite rewarding in Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon as well, effectively allowing you to use the silent kills of your arrows to gradually whittle down enemy numbers before they knew what hit them, disabling alarms all the while, so the Garrison can’t call reinforcements if you’re spotted. We must say however that the game does seem to be geared a little more towards aggressive combat over stealth this time around. You can still opt to play stealthily, but it’s more difficult, especially since Rex doesn’t seem wholly built to be sneaky. He sprints around with much more speed and stamina than Jason Brody ever could, is completely unharmed by even the highest fall, is capable of chaining melee kills together when the player moves him in another nearby enemy’s direction during a melee kill animation (you can even toss a shuriken as a final long-distance assassination with a separate button, and it’s awesome!), and packs in a lot more durability against bullets and other such attacks. Considering that the direct combat mechanics have effectively been boosted to go with Rex being a super-powered cyborg, it’s a bummer that the stealth mechanics of Far Cry 3 weren’t also taken further. This will no doubt disappoint players who would rather shirk mindless shooting and would rather go the silent assassin route.

When you finally come face-to-face with one of the game’s gargantuan titular Blood Dragons however, you’ll no doubt be thankful for Rex’s increased combat capabilities! As you navigate the island, and during set points within certain story missions, you may run into Blood Dragons, which can spawn in the island overworld at random. Blood Dragons are immensely powerful, able to instantly destroy your enemies, and able to quickly flatten Rex if you try to carelessly engage them directly! It is possible to kill them, particularly by shooting at a purple weak spot on their underbellies, but it takes time and more than a few upgrades before Rex will stand a chance against these intimidating foes. In the post-game, when you have all of the best weapons and upgrades, killing Blood Dragons isn’t so big a deal anymore, even on Hard difficulty, but beforehand, they’re a force to be reckoned with!

Fortunately, as fierce and dangerous as Blood Dragons are, they can also be manipulated. You can distract them by throwing a Cyber Heart, which can be ripped out of any dead Omega Force soldiers you leave in your wake, (along with some extra cash for ammo and weapon upgrades), allowing you to either summon one to you, or give you an opportunity to slip away if you’re outmatched. Best of all however, Blood Dragons can be turned on Garrisons. The lone new way to liberate a Garrison, which obviously wasn’t available in Far Cry 3, is to find the Master Control Switch for the Garrison’s Power Shield, and shut it off. This will cause Blood Dragons to attack the Garrison, allowing you to spectate from a dark corner and laugh as the frightening beasts inflict your carnage for you. You’ll need to get rid of the Blood Dragons afterward, before the Garrison is yours, which can be done either by trying to lure them away with Cyber Hearts, or of course, by killing them. Still, this is perhaps the one rewarding new stealth option for players opting to try and carry out Rex’s dirty work unseen.

Far Cry 3- Blood Dragon - Gameplay 2

Just as in Far Cry 3, you can use any Garrison you’ve liberated as a Fast Travel point, allowing you to move around the game’s open world more quickly and efficiently. You can also take on side quests for more money and Cyber Points, with Cyber Points acting as the game’s EXP, awarded for mission completion and enemy kills, as well as restock your ammo, buy weapon upgrades and outfit Rex with more body armour or healing syringes at vending machines. You’ll get a clear sense of Rex gradually getting more powerful and capable as you play, but unfortunately, he doesn’t have the power of the Tatau on his side like Jason Brody did. To clarify, this means that he always gets the same set health bar upgrades and new combat skills at the same levels, with a level cap of 30, which is very easy to reach if you’re at all thorough. The incredible freedom that Far Cry 3 awarded players with its skill tree was probably a necessary sacrifice for the smaller package of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, but Rex’s linear upgrade progression is disappointing nonetheless.

What has more bearing than just gaining Cyber Points is getting money to replenish your ammo and upgrade your weapons, which is best done by the side missions previously mentioned. These take two forms; Hostage Rescues and Predator’s Path. Hostage Rescues are stealth-based, tasking you with infiltrating a tight compound of enemies and killing as many as you can, trying not to alert them. If they’re alerted to your presence, nearby enemies will try and shoot the hostage dead, forcing you to act quickly and take out all of the opposition before that can happen. Predator’s Path missions meanwhile, force you to equip a certain weapon (albeit with freely refillable ammunition) and hunt down a particular foe, whether it’s an animal or a cyborg. They’re quite easy, even on Hard difficulty, but the rewards are still worth it nonetheless.

In fact, this statement could be made about Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon’s gameplay in general. The game is a huge amount of fun and feels rewarding to play, but it is a rather easy game as far as shooters go. It’s meant more for goofing off and enjoying yourself over actually testing your gaming skills. Cranking the difficulty to Hard might provide a worthy enough challenge for those seeking it, but even on Normal, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon isn’t terribly difficult to complete, even in terms of its bonus objectives and collectibles. On Easy, the game is just a laughable cakewalk, even if you’re extremely careless, so it might be best to play on at least Normal for the game to engage you to any real degree, and to play on Hard if you’re actually expecting any level of resistance.

Far Cry 3- Blood Dragon - Gameplay 3

Frankly, even the handful of Achievements/Trophies in the game aren’t at all difficult to earn in the console builds (the PC download is sadly missing Achievements entirely, just like the PC version of Far Cry 3), with the worst of them merely being a bit time-consuming. Even then, beating the game and earning every Achievement/Trophy probably won’t take you longer than eight hours or so, tops, assuming you’re clear on how to earn a couple of the trickier ones that might require a rare bit of thought. The PlayStation Store edition doesn’t even have a Platinum Trophy. In fact, it doesn’t even have a Gold Trophy! Every Trophy is a Bronze Trophy, with the exception of a lone Silver Trophy given to you for beating the main story. Xbox Live Arcade players will likely get a better value of accolades in their online profiles with the mandatory 400 Gamerpoints’ worth of Achievements available in that version of the game.

This brings us to the question of whether any real difference exists between the PC download, Xbox Live Arcade download or PlayStation Store download. The game is always a hilarious and highly enjoyable shooter romp, regardless of your platform of choice, but for multiplatform gamers who want to split hairs, we’ll outline some decisive points on each of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon’s three versions:

If you’re a PC gamer that’s been playing Ubisoft games frequently over the past several years, you’re probably well aware that they’re not the most reliable company for top-tier PC ports. As expected, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon’s PC download doesn’t buck that trend. Just like with Far Cry 3, There’s nothing really wrong with the PC version in this case, but there’s nothing outstanding about it either. The system requirements are actually pretty modest, with even merely moderate rigs still sporting Windows XP able to run the game without issue. Even on maxed settings however, the visuals are more of a mixed bag when stacked up against the two console offerings. The draw distance can sometimes be a little better on PC, but the colour contrast is actually worse than the console builds. You do get the advantage of precision aiming with the mouse on PC, but you also have less replay incentive after completing the game, as there are no Achievements to earn in the PC download. You also need a UPlay account to play the game at all, even when downloading Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon off of Steam, though you could feasibly cut out the middle man by just downloading the game from the UPlay Store. Yes, that nasty Ubisoft DRM still refuses to go away! Regardless, if you’re a die-hard PC gamer, then you shouldn’t have any complaints with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon’s PC edition, but everyone else won’t find any real incentive to download the PC version over the console versions.

On to the console builds, while Far Cry 3’s PS3 edition had several exclusive incentives to boost it over its Xbox 360 sibling, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon does usually feel better optimized to the hardware on Xbox Live Arcade than it does off of the PlayStation Store, at least in terms of how it runs. The PS3 version has longer load times, and will always force players to sit through a lengthy initial loading screen every time they start the game, which isn’t nearly as long on Xbox 360. The framerate also stutters at rare intervals on PS3, but generally seems to run silky smooth on Xbox 360. There’s also an annoying delay with Trophy prompts in the PS3 edition, which especially suggests that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is better optimized for Xbox 360. With that said however, the PS3 edition is noticeably better-looking, which makes sense, since it’s on the more powerful of the two consoles, when developers can work with it properly anyway. The colour contrast, draw distance and lighting effects are all noticeably superior on Sony’s console than on Microsoft’s. The Xbox 360 visuals look a bit fuzzier and not quite as well-defined, even if the game does seem to run noticeably better on Xbox 360 than on PS3, with less pop-in for Xbox gamers, even if it means slightly inferior graphics too. Bottom line, the difference is kind of a wash between the two console builds. If you own both consoles and care more about the experience being smooth and satisfying, particularly with the Xbox 360 controller being innately more at home with shooters than the PS3 controller, download the Xbox Live Arcade edition, whereas if you care about the environments and neon-drenched visual splendour holding up at all times, download the PlayStation Store edition. Graphics enthusiasts will likely agree that the lengthier loads on PS3 are worth sitting through when it means they can enjoy the game’s unique visual style with added sharpness.

Far Cry 3- Blood Dragon - Gameplay 5

It’s a shame that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is over so quickly, because it’s a real riot while it lasts! Once you’ve beaten the game and rounded up every Achievement/Trophy (or filled out every completion screen if you’re a PC player that won’t have that option), you’re completely done with it, since the lesser co-op and multiplayer modes of Far Cry 3 are completely absent in the single-player-only Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Still, this is a game that will entertain and delight you throughout its entire duration. It will be especially laugh-out-loud funny to both passionate gamers and enthusiasts of the 80’s too! Michael Biehn’s perfectly-executed rasp makes every horrible one-liner from Rex Power Colt a winner, and the goofy 16-bit cutscenes, intentionally dopey writing, and over-the-top American patriotism (which is all the more ironic and hysterical when you consider that this game was a joint product by Canadians and Chinese) all come together to prove that sometimes, it’s better when shooters don’t take themselves so damn seriously.

In fact, that’s the truly winning element to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon; It’s a shooter that doesn’t feel the need to be dark, dreary and overly-gritty. In fact, it seems to actively mock the modern gaming industry’s dependence on so many games being dark, dreary and overly-gritty these days! We have way too many of those games already from this hardware generation, and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon knows it, which is yet another reason why it’s a spoof-flavoured shooter that effectively works. Happily, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a game that shirks the overdone modern trend of gloomy, brooding shooter offerings that take themselves far too seriously, and is instead proud to be a colourful and delightfully absurd alternative, and you know what, more power to it! We need more games like this, especially as shooters, because they serve as a reminder that video games are supposed to be, you know, FUN!

Perhaps this is why Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon exists. Ubisoft made waves with the stellar sales and reception of Far Cry 3, a game they sold partially on subscribing to the dark, twisted and violent nature of many modern ‘hardcore’ video games. Granted, Far Cry 3 is truly a dark, violent shooter done right, since it still managed to stand apart from a gameplay standpoint, while actually doing something with its violence and darkness as a narrative device. Even then, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon only bolsters the genius of its original inspiration. With Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Ubisoft is essentially acknowledging that they produced a winning gameplay formula by subscribing to the trend of making a game dark and violent, but are contending that it would still be a good game, even if it wasn’t a dark and savage game that took itself so seriously. Oh yes, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is still violent, but the violence is cartoony and played for laughs with no real depth or consequence, particularly since every physical character in the game, and, hell, even the animals, are all synthetic life forms (Dr. Darling is fully human, but she is only seen in cutscenes). Were it not for the strong cursing and a somewhat odd scene of 16-bit sex and nudity (be ready for that scene nobody asked for, folks!), Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon would have no reason to be M-rated.

Through Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Ubisoft is making a statement that a good game is still a good game, regardless of how you dress it up. Games don’t necessarily need violence, gore and twisted drama to be worth playing. Shooters don’t need to take themselves stark seriously all the time. Real winning, enduring and beloved gameplay formulas come from the bold desire to challenge trends, be creative, and be true to one’s vision. To that end, Ubisoft, we salute you! We salute you for your ingenious allegory of the issues with our modern gaming industry through this game, and your bold desire to rise above it, delivering something new and noteworthy, creative in so many ways that too few developers would dare to attempt! Just like the defining ideal of the 80’s, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon challenges us to be more than the people that we are as gamers, to accept a vision so ludicrous and unexpected that we can’t help but respect its insane genius, and in turn be reminded why we fell in love with video games in the first place…

… or, if you’re not a deep thinker that doesn’t want to ponder it that hard, and, let’s face it, you’ll be right at home with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon in that case, then it’s just a damn good game that you need to play. Enough said!