Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon Review
It takes roughly 30 seconds, maybe a minute, until Blood Dragon delivers its first fierce punch to your nostalgia gland. You open the game in a chopper buzzing around an enemy base while Long Tall Sally by Little Richard plays. “Predator!” you’ll whine through tears of joy, as you crumple to the floor from your winded nostalgia gland.
If you understand the Predator reference, you’ll understand Blood Dragon is a game that feels like it was made specifically for you. This is a love letter to 80s action movies, sprinkling references to Predator, Terminator, Aliens and Commando throughout. As an added touch, Michael Biehn has been brought in to voice the main character, the Terminator and Aliens star growling one-liners like “yeah, I picked his brain” after landing a headshot.
Some games try too hard with their humour but Blood Dragon manages to consistently hit the mark, poking fun at genre conventions and at itself, to the point where the humour allows Ubisoft to smuggle in loathsome tutorials (“just let me kill people!”), scripted set-pieces (“Why is the lift so slow?” “Presumably to create tension”) and even make the loading screens entertaining.
In many ways, this is the game Duke Nukem Forever should have been. Blood Dragon is refreshingly honest about its love for 80s action flicks and it’s hard to resist that enthusiasm.
But it’s not just the references that make Blood Dragon tick. It also has the right look and feel. Its dark vibe with bright streaks of neon punching through looks incredible but there are smaller touches thrown in that really add to the look, such as the VHS static and distortion after nearby explosions. The soundtrack is a glorious throwback to action movies of that era, meshing synth keyboards with squealing metal guitars. Given it refuses to take itself seriously, it’s surprising how atmospheric Blood Dragon feels.
Blood Dragon – Is It Different To Far Cry 3?
It’s also strange that a game revelling in its humour and references is backed up by such grounded, considered gameplay but that’s why the Far Cry 3 moniker is there – Blood Dragon is essentially a reskinned, slimmer version of Ubisoft’s sprawling island shooter.
The rhythm is mostly the same too. While there’s a main story that’s host to the more interesting set-pieces, it’s all too easy to ignore that thanks to the wealth of distractions on offer. There are garrisons to be liberated, animals to be hunted and side-missions to be found. Both games do a great job of scratching that OCD side of you that needs to find and do everything.
The main difference between the games is the addition of the titular Blood Dragons, the alpha predators in this game’s ecosystem. Dragons have poor eye-sight and you can sneak around them without incurring their wrath without too much difficulty but the fun part is you can pilfer cyberhearts from fallen soldiers, which work as bait for the Blood Dragons. Throw it just outside a garrison and while a shield will prevent them from entering, they can still blast the soldiers inside. While Dragons never dominate the gameplay, they do factor in enough to make this feel different.
Other key difference is how Blood Dragon has stripped back elements. There are no skill trees to navigate as you level up automatically and there’s no crafting to be done, with weapon upgrades earned through completed side-quests. Oh, and unless you’re up, close and personal with something, melee has been replaced with the middle finger.
Another difference – although it’s perhaps more to do with having gotten used to the gameplay following 30 hours of Far Cry 3 – is that Blood Dragon isn’t particularly challenging, especially if you load up on side-mission upgrades before tackling the story in earnest. The only time you’ll feel your gameplay abilities being tested is during Hostage side-missions, where you have to be stealthy – one of the rare occasions where you can’t bludgeon your way to victory with your superior firepower. After all, Blood Dragon is a game where you unlock explosive rounds for your sniper rifle.
Blood Dragon Ain’t Got Time To Bleed
Blood Dragon is brilliant. Admittedly, this is coming from a 30-year-old with an unhealthy love for Commando and Predator and therefore exactly the sort of person Ubisoft is targeting with this release, but it’s still backed up by the same gameplay that powered Far Cry 3 to a 9.0 score last year.
Some players may actually prefer Blood Dragon to Far Cry 3, simply because its status as a stand-alone title has refined the Far Cry 3 sprawl into razor-sharp focus. There isn’t a single inch of wasted territory here, the story revels in its own ridiculousness rather than alluding to something deep and meaningful and the gameplay has been stripped back to the core mechanics, meaning there’s no bloat. It’s just a shame the challenge isn’t tighter.
Having Blood Dragon as a standalone release is the right decision so it will find success outside of those who own a copy of Far Cry 3 but we almost wish this was DLC, just so it would serve as a reference point for studios who churn out identikit slices of whatever game it’s for and call it a day.
Well done to both Ubisoft for signing off on a creative spin-off like this and to the devs for pulling off Blood Dragon in a way that’s imaginative, refreshingly honest and brilliant fun.
Version Tested: XBLA