As I was saying, the best DLC for Far Cry 3 would be one with barely any plot, but a dozen or so new outposts and hunts. That’s what makes Blood Dragon the ideal DLC for me, but I know there’s going to be quite a few people out there irritated by its adherence to its D-movie theme. It’s over-the-top neon-infused violence. It’s any action movie from the 80s. It’s every action movie from the 80s.
Unfortunately, there are attendant flaws that come with trying to match an outdated genre to the letter. Take, for example, the deep red apocalyptic sky. It fits with the canon, set out in the animated intro, of a world ravaged by nuclear war. Dark crimson clouds are lit up only by the neon buildings and flashes of lightning. It’s moody, it’s foreboding, it’s really bloody difficult to see in. It’s also a little bit dull. One of Far Cry 3‘s main attractions was the beautifully lit and sumptuous greenery and crystal seas and it’s a shame to see the engine wasted on producing tiresome skies of bloody red. When Far Cry 3 did force the player into darkness, it did so deliberately and temporarily, making the player appreciate their tropical surroundings more when they emerged. Blood Dragon doesn’t have anywhere to escape this darkness. It’s oppressive, yes, but in a way that damages the atmosphere instead of serving the story.
The story itself is perhaps trying a little too hard to be a parody of bad writing that it falls into the same traps. I thought, as many others might too, that the game appears to be trying to avoid criticism of its writing by being deliberately schlocky and awful. I’m largely amiable to this approach, but there comes a point where the writing can only drag a half-hearted smile after we hear the hundredth variation on the theme of “badass cyborg”. When the writing fails to entertain, it can no longer claim that it’s trying to be awful to raise a laugh or to satirise its genre: it just becomes bad. However, I’d just about be able to give it a pass had it gone for the balls-to-the-wall insanity that the promotional materials suggested it would. Live-action cutscenes would have been incredibly apt for the feel of the game and would have allowed actors to ham (and cheese) their way through the dialogue. Instead, the game offers mostly static images with the dialogue on top, which disappoint and sometimes bore. Not even a cyborg can keep my interest through that type of budget cutscene.
The game itself though, shorn of the bad writing and the questionable aesthetic choices, is fantastic. Where Far Cry 3 declared itself a deconstruction of the power fantasy of modern gaming, Blood Dragon grasps that fantasy with two robotic hands and throws it into the sun. Fall damage no longer exists, with the jumping height and sprinting speed of your character Rex Power Colt increased from the original. It’s an absolute joy to leap wildly around, so much so that I never used a vehicle that I wasn’t forced to by the plot. Partly, of course, because the vehicles are the same as those available in Far Cry 3. There’s never been a game this perfect in tone as to allow the bikes from Tron to seamlessly slide into the gameplay, but Blood Dragon misses this rare opportunity.
The guns, too, are not hugely divergent from those you’ll have seen in the original game. Sure, the rifle can fire lasers and there’s incendiary rounds available for the shotgun, but these are changes that don’t really feel out there enough for the game. I’d like to see the theme more fully indulged, with kill-sats and mini-nukes and beam cannons that fire lasers wider than most jeeps. Having a reskinned tracer round doesn’t quite make up for it. It’s a little bit galling too how the bow, my favoured weapon from the original, receives no extra functions or visual effects beyond neon strip-lighting. The bow is merely a bow. Which is a little disappointing, given the scope for exploding arrow-heads or laser arrows or the like. It’s emblematic of the way in which Blood Dragon wants to be seen as original and daring in its deviation from Far Cry 3, but doesn’t quite go far enough.
Blood Dragon is, however, named that way for a reason. New to the selections of animals to slaughter (the animals themselves receiving robotic upgrades; cyber-sharks, anyone?) are dragons. Huge, laser-spewing dragons. When you first encounter one, it’s a terrifying beast, capable of slaughtering you and dozens of Daft Punk looking enemy soldiers in seconds. Ripping cyber-hearts straight from the chests of fallen foes allows you to use their bloody organ as a distraction method, allowing you to either slip past. The hearts also work well when thrown at enemy NPCs, leading blood dragons directly to them, ensuring massive laser-based destruction. As the game continues though, blood dragons become little more than bullet sponges and lose their appeal. In fact, it’s not terribly difficult (through smart play and prodigious use of the sniper rifle) to kill them half an hour into the game.
That’s the game all over though. It’s lacking in any real challenge. It’s fun, don’t get me wrong. It’s perhaps even more fun than the chaos afforded by the original, with the trappings of cyberpunk weapons and robotic soldiers. It’s a power fantasy, for sure, but without the possibility of failure, it remains a little bit hollow. Ubisoft have released it for a lowered price point, around £10 or so, which is exactly what I’d recommend paying for it. If you can stomach the neon visuals and slightly lame attempts to send up 80s action movies, then there’s a lot of fun to be had storming around this island. Just don’t expect a challenge.