What You’ll Like:
- Phenomenally executed 80s sci-fi atmosphere
- Hysterical dialogue and old school pop culture references
- Fast pacing and ultra responsive gameplay
- Smooth and motivating skill upgrade system
- Killer weapons
What You May Not:
- Initial learning curve is a bit jarring
- Some mild technical quirks can deter in some parts
- However you slice it, it’s too short!
What You’ll Remember:
- Absolutely fantastic and completely badass final act, holy sh**!
In perhaps the most epically created and spot-on homage to all those movie and pop culture buffs of early gen-Y’ers (that is, mostly those born in the late 70s and early 80s) and then some, Ubisoft surprised the gaming world with the completely unexpected DLC “expansion” to last year’s first-person shooter hit, Far Cry 3, with the proudly titled Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Not requiring any sort of familiarity with it’s big brother game, Blood Dragon can easily stand on its own, merely taking the base engine and some gameplay aspects of last year’s game to officially grant it the Far Cry name. At only $14.99, the game has already sparked a gigantic following due to not only its stellar gameplay and riveting action, but also that extra charming and fully satisfying icing on the cake that comes in the form of its inspiration – being that of 1980s sci-fi film and pop culture. A time of VHS tapes, cheesy but awesomely memorable one-liners, musical montages, and ambitious creators of games and film that could completely get away with writing a hokey corny mess of cliches and yet still have it be appreciated by adoring millions, the 1980s were truly a incredible time. Those creations are something that Blood Dragon not only derives almost everything it’s about, but delivers it in arguably the most absolutely brilliant way possible that has ever been done by any entertainment medium. Not being a stand alone release in retail stores, Blood Dragon can only be purchased through the Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, or by PC download. This review is based on the Playstation 3 version.
In a post-apocalyptic world, taking place in the 1980s viewpoint of the year 2007, a cybernetic super-soldier named Rex Colt is sent to an island with fellow cyber-militant Spider in order to investigate one Colonel Sloan, another elite agent who has gone rogue. Upon arrival, it is discovered that Sloan is a military traitor and planning on obtaining world domination by taking the world back to a prehistoric state through the use of the remote island’s killer and genetically enhanced dragons, named blood dragons. It is now up to Rex alone to infiltrate the island’s base headquarters in order to take down Sloan, yet having all kinds of menaces to contend with. Since Sloan has created his own army of robotic soldiers, who bleed blue blood (note: not a gorefest in the least despite the M rating), Rex must not only battle these soldiers of various types all over the island, but also hordes of wild animals who are there to be of potential harm as well. On the island, Rex is aided through radio by a mysterious but beautiful scientist and agent named Dr. Darling, who was also betrayed by Sloan and likewise seeks revenge. While there are miscellaneous other details regarding the story of Sloan’s past and motivations, after a while of playing they become fairly null as Blood Dragon becomes such immersive fun that the player’s attention is left solely to completing every objective on the island, much thanks to the smartly created and motivating upgrade system.
Gameplay Mechanics/ Elements/ Dynamics:
At heart, Blood Dragon is a first-person shooter set on a vast open land where free roaming is allowed and encouraged throughout the experience; yet it is not just another FPS that most are accustomed to. as the overall tone and atmosphere are so uniquely crafted as to make Blood Dragon have a personality greatly apart from your Call of Duty’s, Killzones and MAGs. As Rex, you are given a surprising array of fairly powerful firearms at your disposal from the get go – handgun, automatic rifle, sniper gun, and shotgun, as well as your share of a few types of explosives. Anyone already familiar with the basic controls of FPS games would not be too far off on how exactly to get Rex all over the island safely, although the game does make it a point to put you through one of the funniest tutorials this side of shooters, thanks mostly to your auto voice guide as well as your partner in crime, Dr. Darling. Weapon switching is done on the fly and works more akin to the Mass Effect style of holding a button and using the analog stick to rotate through a circular menu, unlike the more primitive use of constantly tapping a button to get your desired gun a la Doom.
Once Rex is awoken onto the mysterious red hell the game does a somewhat good job of introducing you to all aspects of gameplay, but are really exclusively left to how Rex controls and kills, as he is almost immediately left to his own devices with the first garrison to clear of enemies. Though the introduction makes it seem as if this will be a level-by-level affair with cut-scenes in between, after clearing your first garrison you are brought to the game’s real world design – the free roaming island where the player can for the most part take his/her time completing every optional objective. Now, the island harbors about 13 different garrisons, these being enemy bunkers that are usually walled off surrounded by a green forcefield protecting said soldiers from the game’s title enemies, the blood dragons. Dragons have the liberty of free roaming the island and are suggested to Rex to stealthily avoid at first. Moreover, stealth itself plays a rampant part of Blood Dragon, mostly at the start where Rex can sneak up on enemies to stab or slit their throats. One unique aspect is being able to take down 2 or 3 enemies down at once through a couple of control prompts, including using shuriken ninja stars. Such stealth is for the most part vitally necessary at first, since all your weapons are still at a pretty weak point as well as the player not yet being accustomed to the enemy overall difficulty. Elements such as healing through steroid injection, weapon swapping, inventory aspects, and even basic maneuvering around enemies are a bit jarring at first, considering that even though the game does give you one of the most entertaining tutorials ever, it fails to leave out a lot of the smaller details. Initially gamers will perhaps not be knocked off their feet, but once your objectives become more clear, and the player becomes accustomed to how exactly to explore the island and its intricacies does Blood Dragon truly begin to shine.
So what to do on a remote island besides infiltrate garrisons to destroy enemies? Blood Dragon keeps the more completionist types engaged through collectibles being spread throughout the island, such as confidential folders from the enemy, old school style TV sets, and VHS tapes. After defeating each garrison Rex is granted a number of optional side missions in the form of hostage rescues (where you must save one scientist hostage from a group of henchmen in a given area), and a ‘Predator Path,’ being that of defeating certain animals in specific ways throughout the island, also in a predetermined area. Upgrades and credits are then rewarded appropriately. There are plenty of those 80s movie references with not only these collectibles and side missions but also the dialogue and various subtle Easter eggs spread throughout. What kind of references? Well, being as how the charm factor is an enormous part of what makes Blood Dragon so entertaining, there will not be any spoilers as to how these references are made. The only bad news here is that the game never forces the player to take on any of these extra objectives, causing any non-completionist types to just take the easiest way out and perhaps completing Blood Dragon in about 3 or 4 hours, maybe less. Yet anyone doing so would be doing themselves a huge disservice and not getting anywhere near their money’s worth, as Blood Dragon is so chock full of nostalgic charm that despite the stellar gameplay it is a bit unfortunate that the game’s main focus may have a tendency to narrow its audience. Yet more on this in a bit.
Getting back to the gameplay, Rex controls more smoothly than any other FPS action hero in recent memory. The reason for this is due to the fact that Rex Colt is a half-robot cybernetic machine, thus the player can dash at any time by holding down L3 while moving and have no problems getting to any part of the island in given time; therefore, even though various vehicles are spread throughout, utilizing them is never a necessity, nor are some of the hand gliders or ziplines you’ll come across. Many of these little extras can add to the action factor but are really a matter of personal killing preferences. Anyway, just as fast as Rex can run, he can also swim, thankfully without the requirement of an annoying air meter. And jumping? Well, Rex can drop from huge cliffs of 50 meters or more without taking any damage. Such gaming liberation only goes to show that Blood Dragon was not only meant for a bit of challenge but also flat-out epic shooting excitement. The challenge here being mainly the first half of the game, where enemies tend to be somewhat annoyingly accurate in their gunfire, as well as having the ears of bats in trying to sneak up on some of them. This may toss a few gamers for a whirl, but once your weapons are significantly beefed up, as well as your own advancement of experience points and levels, Blood Dragon, at least on normal difficulty, may become a bit too easy, forgoing any real need for stealth whereas just running in guns blazing is enough to clear later garrisons. Even the more epic battles with the blood dragons themselves becomes somewhat easier, although their energy bars takes a substantial greater bullet count than your regular henchmen. Yet despite this, the player has the option of upping the difficulty to Hard mode at any time, even though doing so will not gain any better ending or reward. This in turn can make Blood Dragon a bit thin in the replay value department. Still, with such an enthralling upgrade system, which gives Rex new battling and health abilities, players are only all the more motivated to not just finish the basic game, but go all out and snag every collectible as well as upgrade every weapon. There is nothing cooler than seeing how explosive these firearms can get, but doing so will cost some money you’ll collect throughout the island, scattered as well as through creative daring kills, as well as those side missions earlier mentioned. Hence, with all objectives complete the game can last up to about 11 to 12 hours for your experienced player.
While on a technical level Blood Dragon doesn’t break any new ground in current gen graphics, due to sub-par water effects, predictably blocky textures, and standard gun effects (including fire that looks like the graphical love child between the N64 and Playstation 2), it is the sum of Blood Dragon’s parts that make this game one of the most unforgettable atmospheric experiences you’ll be treated to this year. The designers at Ubisoft must have been completely obsessed movie and pop culture buffs of 1980s sci-fi and action films, as the game’s very fantastically imagined world, complete with futuristic foes akin to midnight motor cyclists liking to the 1980 film The Exterminator, glowing weaponry and architecture this side of Tron, epic metal fortress garrisons, and genetically enhanced killer dragons, is all something that feels like the ultimate culmination of homages to the sci-fi realms of those classic films two decades past. Even Rex himself is donned with one robotic arm, and wears an electronic eye straight out of the original Terminator, yet looking dressed in a soldier getup mostly similar to 80s action star Michael Biehn’s portrayal of Kyle Reese from that movie; that is, the scenes during the future Skynet war. It’s all incredibly beautiful to say the least, and easily gets the player lost in a world so unique and engrossing you will soon forget this is actually an FPS shooter; Rex becomes deeply personal after a while, even on a caricature level, and is easily one of the coolest protagonists in recent games. Hopefully his personality can catch on to the likes of other house-hold names such as Dante, Lara, and Master Chief. Mario? Eh, maybe not Mario.
If there were any setbacks to the graphics besides some standard textures and average fire effects, it would be in what seems like glitchy AI for the blood dragons themselves. At times you may notice they tend to get “stuck” in certain motions, making killing them far too convenient. In terms of certain enemies, once Rex is upgraded enough, hunting them down becomes more of a teasing game than anything else. Enemies can easily be lured out of garrisons and taken out through cake easy headshots; and while it all comes to a certain level of comedic relief, it may be done purposefully to grant the player that fun factor this game really strives to be about. One can only imagine how far more epic Blood Dragon could have been had it been intended as its own fully price retail game.
The very first thing that must be said about the sound of Blood Dragon is the fact that the designers hired the amazing and grossly underrated 80s/90s action star Michael Biehn himself to voice Rex Colt (Terminator’s Kyle Reese, Aliens’ Corporal Hicks, and The Abyss’s Lt. Coffey). Given such an actor screams nostalgia to fans of those classic action fests, and only a small number of movie buffs will really come to appreciate how vital his presence is to a project such as Blood Dragon and what its intentions and epic vision are. Biehn voices Rex with an exaggerated gruffness that not only makes for some truly hysterical lines and dialogue moments with Dr. Darling, but also keeps the character extremely likeable throughout. Yet he is only the start of what makes the sound ideas in Blood Dragon shine so much.
The voices of all the “biker” henchmen speak with a very cool robotic tone, as they are machines themselves built by your enemy Sloan – a perfect fitting for how society in the 80s may have seen how some creations may speak in 2007. While their words can’t be too easily understood much of the time, being in close quarters makes it apparent as well as, again, comedic. Voices of randomly traveling scientists around the island are constantly making jokes and sound much like a multiplayer online battle of Halo, minus the incessant swearing.
Saving the best for last, the final aspect of what makes all things click here is the choice of music. The soundtrack to Blood Dragon is meant to sound like your thrilling cyber-synths of Terminator, as well as the slower more dramatic tracks that also backdropped many other more atmospheric 80s films. Again, more nostalgia that will certainly put a smile on player’s faces almost throughout the entire campaign. Keep in mind these tracks aren’t any sort of rip-off and are so beautifully arranged themselves you may wish to download or purchase the entire soundtrack after playing the game a while. Therefore, in terms of visuals and audio, Blood Dragon absolutely nails its atmospheric goals.
Granted that Blood Dragon only takes a few hours to complete if choosing to forgo any extra missions, and about 11 if all is completed, without much variance in difficulty levels the game won’t have you coming back much soon after all is said and done. Yet even with little to no replay value, Blood Dragon is truly a blast to play through due to all the reasons already detailed. No, this game won’t annoy with frustrating or restrictive controls and paces itself rather perfectly. Even though throughout the game you may find yourself eventually getting the gist of what will happen next, once that level is reached you may be nearing the end of the game, thus things change themselves up at just the right moments. For this, Blood Dragon is never a bore or chore to ever play. Even if the ultra smooth gameplay won’t have you coming back (although it will), the nostalgic factor, atmosphere, and charm value certainly will.
Being intended as a DLC expansion to the original Far Cry 3, it can only go so far, but takes its ideas and runs many more extra miles. Such ambition is truly appreciated and it is quite easy to see why the game become the sensation that it currently stands as. No, one does not necessarily need to be a child of the 80s in order to have a great time with Blood Dragon as the game is a stellar adventure regardless, but those who can “get” the point of the game, and what its awesomely bad but still awesome nostalgic references mean, will be fortunate enough to get that extra icing on the cake and experience the full designer vision of this amazing project. While as stated before that the game does not become as difficult during the second half, all players who finally reach the absolutely enthralling and marvelous final act will no doubt remember it for years to come. At only $14.99, the game is a definite steal and gets the full recommendation of a solid 4 out of 4 dragons. Chances are this game will receive significant recognition in many 2013 video game awards. Welcome to the party, pal!