Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a stand-alone expansion to Far Cry 3 in a first-person shooting slant on its sandbox, developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft Global. By popular request this is the one I'm looking at today, and indeed we seem to have found a theme here, or at least a common thread, because as with Saints Row: The Third, this is a game that knows exactly what it wants to be, the same kind of balls-to-the-walls ridiculous, but while Saints Row: The Third plays to the "bling" criminal culture glorified in gangsta rap and the like, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is simultaneously a love-letter and a roast of classic sci-fi action movies in the 80s. Indeed, it is billed on the Steam page thus:
"Far Cry® 3: Blood Dragon is THE Kick-Ass Cyber Shooter. Welcome to an 80’s vision of the future."
And my, if that isn't a case of truth in advertising.
Dedication to that 80s retro is steadfast and brilliant
Blood Dragon puts you in the ass-kicking boots of Rex Powercolt, a Mark-4 Cyber Commando being chauffeured by helicopter to a secret mission, the kind of secret where the entrance is made with a mini-gun and a triple-digit body count. And in that simple opening context you can see exactly where Blood Dragon's heart lies, as it starts as it means to go on, the entire game going on in the same vein, through a variety of different mechanics all well-themed in that style.
The aesthetic is just spot-on with it's evocation of those bygone days as well and that most certainly helps that aim tremendously, between cheesy western-animation-style sequences reminiscent of the old Heavy Metal films, or pixel art casting aspersions to the old NES days as if daring it to be more macho than it, there isn't a square femtometre of this game that isn't spent in service of that direction, steadfastly coherent and cohesive in that image, and indeed nothing feels out of place or shoehorned in as oft happens with games that have tried what Blood Dragon attempts and succeeds at here.
Solid character writing is the rock-solid foundation of the endeavour
Whereas Far Cry 3 was a game that thought it was well written and really probably wasn't, Blood Dragon is a game that rolls in the mud and finds a degree of excellence. While its hardly delivering Shakespeare, the writing falls in step with the flavour that Blood Dragon has chosen to run with and excels at it, from the tutorial sequence with a swearing and frustrated protagonist throughout to the various dry one-liners and some solid delivery as well.
Cutscenes are usually something many disdain in video games, but I found myself looking forward to Blood Dragon's, and after how much Battlefield 4 left with a distaste for them, that certainly was a refreshing element to me replaying Blood Dragon for review. The game tells much of the story through these short and punchy cut-scenes in either still-frame pixel art which easily could have been lifted out of the best of the SNES era, or in animated western-style animation that is quite evocative of the Heavy Metal shorts of old.
The delivery, more than any thing else, is what sells Blood Dragon though, and this is probably to my mind the most perfect casting for a voice actor protagonist I've seen. Michael Biehn's gravelly and stoic acting in his dialogue is absolutely on point here, with more cheesy and simultaneously awesome one-liners than the Duke in his prime. And indeed, if you were a fan of the Duke you'll eat up such classics as "If guns make me safe, bigger guns make me safer." It's irreverent and played entirely straight in the game, without any real fourth-wall-breaking nonsense (even in the ridiculous tutorial section) and it's all the more hilarious for it.
The length of the story is probably one let down for many
I am of two minds on that however: on one hand it very much could start wearing thin if they tried to drag out Blood Dragon too much, but on the other, I feel that it was just when I was having my most fun in the gun that the game slams the brakes to the floor and petters out in a cutscene (a pretty neat one but a cutscene nonetheless). In literary terms, the story lacks falling action prior to it's actual conclusion and as such is a bit abrupt in that end. As I've said in previous reviews however, whenever your bigger criticism is "I wish there were more of this" it's not a bad criticism at all.
Mechanics however are sound, if borrowed a little
Up to a certain point - the last story arc, essentially - you are free to tell the story to go bugger itself and roam causing wanton, random destruction across the island you're dropped into, and that's as much as anything where Blood Dragon shines. Blood Dragon is a very solid iteration on Far Cry 3 in terms of combat, and the flow is the thing here, you can easily go from shotgunning a trooper off a building, stabbing his buddy who bum-rushed you with your knife, and throwing a shuriken at his other buddy, all in the span of a few minutes. While balance is achieved in the more difficult boss fights, or in having to deal with the titular Blood Dragons who are just difficult enough to pose a meaty challenge without being invulnerable, the usual complaint I have with games - having to stop to deal with non-challenging mooks - is dealt with handily and in the best of ways - it's fucking fun.
The island is the typical Far Cry 3 affair in terms of design: a series of strongholds to conquer connected with roads and interspersed with occasional points of interest. That over-world feels "just right" in terms of it's own size, neither too crowded, nor too spread out, although if I had any complaint it's that the aesthetic makes it sometimes difficult to navigate, and the major landmarks that are distinctive are uncommon - a bit of a way in which the no-doubt lower budget of this stand-alone expansion shines through, but it never detracted from the gameplay nor did I have any significant navigation issues that weren't my own fault.
Those same visuals can be an somewhat of an impediment, however
This brings me to the inevitable elephant in the room - there's a reason those flashy cheap-CGI graphics disappeared and its that they can be hard on the eye. While Blood Dragon presents them in their most stylish and attractive, it's still a bit of a problem - and I can only imagine some people with colour deficiencies might have some issues with the game, though to it's credit, the high contrast no doubt helps it here.
Moreover, the visuals are often exaggerated to the point where they obscure, and while they are never as bad as was Dragon Age: Origins to me, since they are very brief, it is nonetheless a problem in the heat of the moment trying to have proper situational awareness, especially if you are trying to pull off one of the super cool combos that the game's design practically begs you to do. One could argue this increases the skill ceiling and I couldn't refute that, but it is a very artificial way to do so, not by presenting opponents of challenge per se, but making so even the most expendable mook can blind you in the moment.
The game being tied to the abysmal uPlay is definitely a strike against it
I could already hear some of you loudly vocalising the thought in your head that the real elephant in the room is uPlay - though I'd go so far as to say it's not really an elephant in the room so much as an elephant so large that the room is now located bodily within the elephant. uPlay has had a chequered history since its inception that it's never really shook, and it's not an undeserved one - indeed, in going back to play this game for review I had to uninstall and reinstall uPlay just to get Blood Dragon to run. Ubisoft needs to either get their act together with the service or ditch it, as it remains a consistent and painful thorn in the side of their games - many of which have gotten ire simply for having that DRM ball and chain clapped to its ankle.