Comedy is a brave art, parody is a great risk. Both require a self-confidence and craftsmanship that are beyond the skills of most. Where parody often goes wrong, is when a writer, designer, or director is not sure if their jokes will land with the respective audience, so they get heavy handed, beating jokes into the ground until they’re no longer funny. This is one of the problems with Far Cry 3’s new stand-alone DLC, Blood Dragon. Too often does Ubisoft Montreal feel the need to abandon any and all subtlety, beating their audience over the head with the jokes so hard it feels like we’re part of an Looney Tunes cartoon. While the idea of the game is still fun and uniquely intriguing, the designers continue to feel more comfortable laughing alongside the audience, than allowing the audience to laugh at them. It makes for a disjointed, awkwardly executed, albeit still fun romp through an 1980’s inspired techworld.
Blood Dragon boldly sets a new standard for DLC, delivering an entirely separate piece of content and avoiding the “tacked-on” quality so many of these offerings have. With a different theme and whole new characters, only the core gameplay mechanics of Far Cry 3 have been carried over. Boasting about 6-10 hours of content, Blood Dragon can not be accused of lacking substance. It truly feels like a stand-alone game, almost held back by having Far Cry 3 attached to its title.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon tells the story of Sergeant Rex ‘Power’ Colt, a Mark IV Cyber Commando who is sent to a futuristic island to investigate Colonel Sloan, a government agent who has gone rogue after taking control of the island. The year is 2007 and nuclear war has turned the world into a boiling pot of cybertronic conflict, something akin to what the movie Terminator fortells. While the island is infested with numerous “cyber-fied” animals from the original Far Cry 3, the DLC’s namesake is the most fearsome of the creatures and are the key to Sloan’s work on the island. Colt is guided by Elizabeth Darling who has been working with Sloan after fleeing Canada. Together, they must stop Sloan’s evil work and save the world.
Blood Dragon’s story feels intentionally bad. It has cheesy one-liners, a montage, unexplained plot twists, and poorly constructed character motivations. Ubisoft Montreal have almost given themselves a pass by clearly ripping ideas from the action/sci-fi 80’s film catalogue. There are nods to Star Wars, Karate Kid, Robocop, Terminator, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and everything in between. The problem is that the movies Blood Dragon is poking fun at, while sharing all of the same narrative problems, were still able to connect to their audiences, which Blood Dragon cannot do. Because the game is too busy trying to build skeleton-deep stereotypes of these characters, they forget to make any we actually care about.
After spending nearly 10 hours with the game, I’m still not sure whether Blood Dragon is parodying these 80’s action films, or paying homage to them. Part of it feels like the former, feeding its characters ridiculous lines and jamming in as many cliches as humanly (or cyborg-ly) possible; the other part feels genuine, with trophy names that reference iconic 80’s one-liners, and creative tweaks to the loading screen. But either way, both outstay their welcome.
Much like its forebear, Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon’s gameplay is its strongest facet. All of the guns have fantastic weight and feel natural. The Far Cry series has employed a creative system scouting system, that is a natural fit in this “future” world. Computer AI is well constructed, most often seeking cover and attempting to flank you. The stealth is still strong, with drop down attacks, chains, and a ranged takedowns that can be used to clear a room silently. Unfortunately, Far Cry 3’s flaws accompany its benefits. The gameplay still lacks variety–even more so than the original–dividing its missions up between the main storyline, garrison takeovers, hunting missions, and hostage rescues. The four different mission types should provide variety, but unfortunately, they all are simple cookie cutter molds of themselves. If you’ve done one hunting mission, you’ve done them all. Saving a hostage is the same routine every time. Another problem with Blood Dragon is the player’s unlimited life. When things get dicey players simply need to look for a quiet corner and heal themselves. The ability to do this drains the game of excitement as you get deeper. As if the healing mechanic didn’t make things easy enough, the game overpowers you with certain weapons in the last mission that make the climactic finale almost fool-proof. Colt mows down wave after wave of soldiers in a bloodbath that is barely a challenge.
The problems continue as, due to Blood Dragon’s stark contrast, certain mechanics in Far Cry 3 feel sloppily shoved into the DLC. The hunting mechanic particularly suffers, as there are no skins to collect/trade. There are hunting missions, but all the animals are pretty weak so there’s little challenge. Blood Dragon might have been better off just leaving the animals out of the game all together. One of the biggest omissions from Far Cry 3 to Blood Dragon is the radio towers, which tonally would have been a natural fit but are strangely absent.
Blood Dragon’s other triumph is its art style. While the NES-style cutscenes with decent voice-over can become cumbersome as a storytelling mechanic, they are a nice touch and used in their own creative way. It is the art of the gameplay in Blood Dragon that really stands out. Using a base of dark hues, each structure is accented with neon colors, creating such a distinctive look that is unique to the 80’s. This is a perfect example of paying homage–one could even argue parody–by staying true to form and allowing the audience draw their own conclusions. It is subtle, genuine, smart, and (in a way) beautiful, capturing the essence of what Blood Dragon is going for.
I would be remiss here to not mention Power Glove’s fantastic score. Electric bass warbles beneath high pitched tones, accented with mechanical rhythm. There are no themes that will stick to your brain, but it is a nice fit. It is part of a sound design as well balanced as Far Cry 3’s. The animals could use some distinction in their noises, but overall things come together clearly.
There are many reasons Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon ought to be commended. The game is an ambitious project, creating a whole new world, story, and tone in comparison to Far Cry 3. It is wonderfully unique and bold, going after a distinct vision that is rare amongst first person shooters. Using Far Cry 3’s solid mechanics, Blood Dragon successfully transplants much of what worked before, making a solid gameplay experience. The problem is that in Blood Dragon’s ambitions it fails to create solid and cohesive narrative in the vein of the 80’s films it is so eager to replicate. Cohesive issues are furthered by having missed opportunities on the gameplay side, as the mechanics of Far Cry 3 sometimes contradict Blood Dragon’s thematic and tonal elements. People looking to enjoy the 80’s smorgasbord will be pleased, so will people who just want more of what Far Cry 3 had to offer. But the two elements don’t blend as well as one would have hoped.