Mark IV Style, Mr. Falcon.
Through my scope, I watch a neon-lit dinosaur shoot laser beams from its face in a fierce battle with evil robots. When it’s done roasting our mutual enemies, I blow the beast up with sniper-rockets. Suddenly, there’s a 16-bit style sex montage. Nobody in their right mind would create something as wonderfully absurd as Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon – so I’m glad someone in charge at Ubisoft is at least a little nuts.
Don’t go in expecting a traditional Far Cry game. Blood Dragon is philosophically, tonally, and mechanically the fundamental opposite of its straight-faced predecessors. It’s like entering the imagination of a nine-year-old boy. Or my mind at age 25, honestly: These are action figures and super-powers come to life for an action-packed six-hours of open-world first-person shooting.
The hero, cyborg commando Rex Power Colt, has no limits. He doesn’t get tired from running at inhuman speeds, he doesn’t need air to breathe, he can survive any fall, and he rattles off more one-liners than a Paul Verhoeven anthology – all to the tune of a groovy synth soundtrack. Knowingly awful writing, rich with eye-rolling puns and delightfully inappropriate profanity, is a reminder that the dopey dialogue of ‘80s action movies is still a special sort of hilarious. These silly mission objectives, which reference everything from Die Hard and D20s to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Aliens, are a rare delight in first-person shooters.
It isn’t able to keep the A-material jokes coming the whole time, though. Certain gags get reused more often than would be ideal, which can stall the comedic momentum. But what occasionally brings Blood Dragon’s pace to a halt most is its cutscenes – the 16-bit story scenes have a habit of overstaying their welcome.
…Die Hard, D20s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Aliens.
Of course, things get back on track the moment the action begins again, because this overpowered badass is so entertaining to play. Rex starts out so strong, in fact, that his upgrade tree (a linear, simplified version of Far Cry 3′s) isn’t terribly rewarding. Earned XP unlocks different melee takedowns, but you’re very well equipped from the start. Instead of meaningful progression, Rex’s guns and their upgrades define his style. An exaggerated sense of empowerment comes with carrying more grenades than is reasonable, laser machine-guns, quad-barrel shotguns with flaming shells, and some seriously devastating, hysterical tools you couldn’t pay me to spoil.
It’s the blood dragons themselves, however, that create the most memorable and comical moments. The laser-breathing reptiles are easily baited into attacking enemy outposts. On the default difficulty, letting a dragon do your dirty work for you makes combat far too easy for experienced players. When the difficulty gets cranked up to hard, it’s an essential and rewarding tool.
What’s missing from Blood Dragon is something for Far Cry 3′s stealthier players. The trademark bow returns, so you can still kill without sounding the alarm, but nothing has been added to change or improve the silent gameplay in the same way the guns-blazing approach has been supercharged.
That exaggerated absurdity of the action is what Blood Dragon is all about, though, and is more than entertaining enough to make it a great experience. Players without an established love for Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Carpenter, arcades, CRTs, and VHS tapes might miss the point of what Blood Dragon’s going for, but even they can appreciate the wacky sandbox world just waiting for mayhem. Although there’s less room for freeform play styles in the linear missions, the open world has plenty to discover, and presents plenty of exciting enemy encounters — even if you’ve already mastered Far Cry 3’s enemy behavior.
Blood Dragon’s playful focus on humor, nostalgia, and self-aware absurdity allows it to delve into a subject far more important than African arms races or tropical sociopaths: Video games are really, really fun. This comical, explosive shooter takes everything that makes Far Cry 3′s gunplay great and dresses it in the kind of wit and over-the-top fun that Duke Nukem Forever is so desperately missing. Blood Dragon is a different beast – and it’s something you shouldn’t miss.
By Mitch Dyer