Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon review: radically similar

If we're honest with ourselves, we can admit that most games are silly. Even the ones that purport to take themselves very seriously are often rife with ludonarrative dissonance, when interaction doesn't match the gravity of the plot. Far Cry 3 was one recent example, but its offshoot, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, doesn't shackle itself anywhere near that level of seriousness. Instead, it strips away the artifice and revels in utter absurdity, all the while retaining the harmonious gameplay systems that helped Far Cry 3 stand out in an overcrowded shooter market.

Blood Dragon is very much Far Cry 3 with a layer of ridiculous slathered generously over every edge and pore. Its central conceit, that the game is meant to resemble the campy science fiction and action flicks in the late 80s and early 90s, means we get to see each of the elements of Far Cry 3 replaced with some reverent acknowledgement from the era. Absolutely every piece of the game, from its neon-drenched visuals to the willfully bad voice performances, reinforce the setting.


The solid underpinnings of Far Cry 3 are still present, but have each been altered slightly. Many of the changes are for the better, and the sci-fi tropes mean the creators are given license to invent whatever is necessary to serve the gameplay. Thanks to his cybernetics, Sergeant Rex "Power" Colt can run and swim so fast that the frustrating vehicles become completely unnecessary. He can hold his breath underwater indefinitely. Weapon upgrades can feel more substantial without ties to real world weaponry. In-engine story sequences are replaced with sprite-based, NES-style cutscenes. Hostage missions, which require stealth lest the cybernetic Omega Force execute a scientist (i.e. "nerd"), are laid out like thoughtful combat puzzles that grant a break to the standard over-the-top action.

Most significantly, standard animal hunts have been downplayed. These still exist, but are mostly replaced by bigger game, and the source of the title. Blood dragons are among the toughest enemies on the island, but they're not purely relegated to threats. Each garrison can be beaten by brute strength, stealth, or by lowering the defensive shields and allowing a blood dragon to wreak havoc. This is essentially the same as loosing a tiger on an enemy base in Far Cry 3, but seeing a three-story lizard fire laser blasts at hapless guards is much more satisfying. You can even tempt them towards the base by tossing out cyber-hearts, gained from downed enemies -- with a painfully slow required animation, unfortunately.

Like Far Cry 3, the optional missions compose a large chunk of the game time. I took roughly six hours to complete it with nearly everything, and three of those were easily spent chasing down garrisons, optional quests, and collectibles like VHS tapes. These are worthwhile for the experience points and humorous references, but that still means the critical path is a short one.

BOOM video 15203

There's only so much I can say about the sheer bombastic nature, because a large part of the humor is gawking at those turns. If I have one critique for its self-awareness, though, it's simply that it might be a little too referential. It's wholly composed of winks and nods at 80s pop culture and old action movie cliches. The gags don't tend to stand on their own, and instead require us to recognize the self-consciously stilted dialogue and nonsensical plot points for what they are. It knows exactly what it is, and it's constantly elbowing us with a sly grin, asking if we know too. It made me laugh, but I can't imagine it would work for anyone under the age of 25.

Similarly off-putting to newcomers may be the tutorial. It overloads with information to play for laughs, and doesn't even make a token attempt to ease the player in. This, paired with unhelpful (but consistently funny) loading screen tips, could make the learning curve steeper for new players. As someone who poured hours into the original game, picking this one up was like riding a bike.

At its core, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a digest version of the original game, cut to its core components, tweaked and in many ways strengthened, and given a wacky new finish. I enjoyed my time, but by the end of the adventure I was starting to see through the varnish and notice that it was essentially the same game I had played only a few months ago. I spent so much time with Far Cry 3, and so recently, that playing Blood Dragon felt familiar and comfortable. Like a night spent drinking with an old friend, I remembered the good times, enjoyed the moments, but after the spinning stopped I woke up and had my fill. [7]

Until next time he comes to town, at least.

This Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game provided by the publisher. The game is also available for PlayStation 3 and PC.