By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
When April 1st comes around and Ubisoft use the date to announced a standalone expansion to FC3 (Far Cry 3) set in a 1980’s vision of 2007 it’s somewhat difficult to know how seriously to take it. In this case it turns out it should be taken pretty seriously, the news that is, the game should not be taken seriously at all.
First of all it’s worth pointing out that this is most certainly an offshoot of the original FC3, it shares the same engine, combat and great deal of base assets. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the combat in FC3 was between great and fantastic depending on your play style. The story of Blood Dragon actually addresses the problems with the FC3 story, which was apparently written with an underlying layer of irony which unfortunately is a little too underlying in that it wasn’t entirely engaging. Blood Dragon on the other hand has a plot that is entirely unapologetic as to its own absurdity. Attempt at underlying irony has been replaced with a homage to a variety of 80’s movies, Jason Brody has been replaced with Cyber-commando Sergeant Rex Power Colt and the antagonist is no longer a shady businessman in illegal goods but instead rogue elite Colonel Ike Sloan heading Omega Force in a plan to to destroy the world (even more).
Lets focus a little on Sergeant Rex Power Colt; first off he’s voiced by Michael Biehn which is a massive deal. This is Sergeant Kyle Reese of Terminator, Corporal Dwain Hicks of Aliens, Lieutenant Hiram Coffey of The Abyss… what more could you possibly want from a voice actor playing Sergeant Rex Power Colt in a 1980’s vision of the distant future of 2007?! The character himself has a cyborg arm and eye closely resembling the exposed robotics of the T-800 in the Terminator series and a character built to be the cheesiest action hero possible, complete with frankly astounding one-liners. In FC3 there was always a very distinct chasm between Jason Brody as a story character and the actions of the player as Jason Brody, the body count, weapons proficiency and general bad-assery were always brought crashing down by the whiny Jason in the story sections. This may have been an intentional divide but in effect all it did was break immersion by tearing away the role-playing aspect as soon as one of the awful story missions came up. This is where I bring Blood Dragon and Sergeant Rex Power Colt into the equation, because the good Sergeant is actually a bona fide, genuine, one-hundred percent bad-ass. What happens when you’re playing like a boss, silently-yet-violently tearing through a base takeover using nothing but (neon) knife and (neon) bow and Sergeant Rex Power Colt decides to speak up… he throws in a perfectly timed and situationally appropriate one-liner. The advantage of having the player play like a bad-ass whilst playing as a bad-ass protagonist is that they complement each other perfectly. This is the protagonist that the Far Cry 3 combat engine was yearning for and it is so very very well done.
Of course one-liners and the good Sergeant are not the only elements of 80’s homage present, in fact they are everywhere you look. The island has been given a dark dystopian look, littered with neon tips-of-the-hat to Tron. Whilst much of the island actually remains reused from the original FC3 there has been an effort to mix it up with a different and appropriate set of collectibles (VHS tapes anyone) and reskinned animals that have also been given alternate lore to boot. The bases are no longer camps comprising of shacks but instead are proper science fiction future fortresses, the cyber-commando enemies wear suits and helmets that look like repurposed motorcycle kit and your weapons have been given a make-over too. There are unfortunately only four standard weapons with a few other non-standard, however they are all worth it in terms of their upgrades but also their origin. The A.J.M pistol is pretty much the Auto 9 from Robocop, the Kobracon sniper rifle is also a reference to Robocop and has some quite brilliant upgrades. The Galleria 1991 shotgun is a reference to the 1887 shotgun used in Terminator, all the way down to the flip-cocking animation and this also has some fantastic upgrades. The Fazertron assault rifle in the game is also a Terminator reference, according to the wiki at least it is a reference to the Westinghouse M95A1 Phased Plasma Rifle used by future Terminators and referred to in Terminator 2. In addition to these four standard and upgradeable weapons are the bow which has been reskinned to a neon blue and acts in much the same manner as in FC3 if not slightly nerfed, a flamethrower also unchanged from FC3, a minigun called the Terror 4000 with massive clip and no cooldown and the various explosives from FC3. In all the weapon selection isn’t as great as in the original game however each is unique, comes with a selection of upgrades and functions well in the specific weapon roles.
Play styles are much the same as in FC3 with a choice between stealth and run’n’gun however this is mixed up a bit by the cyber-commando upgrades afforded to your character. The infinite sprint means moving easily and quickly across the battlefield and the powerful jump means that ‘death from above’ takedowns can be initiated just by jumping on an enemy. This is really where the combat can shine through, as takedowns can be strung together and possibly ended with a replacement for the pistol takedown from FC3, the shuriken takedown. My personal play style revolved around the use of silent takedown chains and the bow, doing so didn’t yield significant gains within the game however the satisfaction from wiping out an entire base without firing a gun was certainly worth it. In all if you enjoyed the combat in FC3 then you will most likely lap up Blood Dragon as it is more of the same, with a little touch of extra garnish.
The game being a standalone expansion will not yield full AAA length gameplay, my complete playthrough with the full story and all collectables and achievements on hardest difficulty lasted around 10 hours. This is with a well practised and relatively efficient set of FC3 tactics, without which the game may have lasted longer so perhaps the 10 hour mark is at the low end for completion. The story and characters were entertaining, the sheer amount of references to fantastic 80’s films was amazing to see and combined perfectly with the aesthetic, sound and music. If I must draw a conclusion it would be that Blood Dragon is an astounding amount of fun, it is not a serious gaming experience, not deep and not all that provocative but damn is it a whole heap of fun. It may not even be to everyone’s taste, I can imagine that even someone only a few years younger than I would miss a majority of the references and someone perhaps a few years older would find them too crass. It probably won’t appeal to that twelve year-old that screams down his headset whilst playing CoD, and it probably won’t appeal to mister “MLG” MOBA (that’s right I called it a MOBA, get over it) player who misses the point in gaming for fun, but to anyone else this is probably going to be a brilliant and fun homage to numerous childhood favourites on top of a very sound combat engine.
The game is available on PC from Steam, Gamersgate and GMG for just £12.00 (approx $18.70) and also for those under-powered locked-down PCs that people like to plug in to their TVs for a similar price. This is not a lot of money and being a standalone means that the original FC3 is not needed to play at all. Basically this thing is great fun, if in doubt find then some youtube videos of it.