Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Repeating well-worn clichés isn’t an inherently novel idea. The cliché-ridden ‘80s throwback has become a cliché in itself and is so overdone that it takes something special to stand out. Mostly the videogame homages are in the form of the decade’s games and done by small teams. They are love letters to 8-bit design, all the good memories of a simpler time made current through a humble development process. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon‘s instead follows filmic influences and is made by a larger team under a major publisher, a rare breed of throwback that paves the way for experimental budget releases in the downloadable space. When it works, Blood Dragon makes even the most clichéd concept feel new.
It’s in the presentation that Blood Dragon excels and becomes something more special than vanilla Far Cry’s pedestrian plea for a broad audience. The world of Blood Dragon is a dark, neon-infused dystopia, filled with cyborg commandos and dragons that fire lasers from their eyes. As the sky cracks with lightning and rages in pink, diffused hues, the soundtrack pulsates good and evocative era music to match, heavy on synth and quality enough to enjoy outside of the game. Cuts are provided by Power Glove, who fully commit to capturing the essence of that sound, following the precedent of last year’s Hotline Miami. Both owe a lot to Drive for bringing the zeitgeist of the ‘80s soundtrack back into the collective consciousness of the entertainment industry.
The dialogue is as good. Michael Biehn of ‘80s action film fame is so well cast that it feels the part can only belong to him, providing pithy and satirical off-the-cuff remarks in line with the best of Duke Nukem. His character, cybernetic Vietnam War II vet Rex Colt is such a hammy ‘80s archetype, consistently likable and fulfilling some adolescent male power fantasy. Everything that Far Cry 3’s soulless representation of white privilege was not.
Beyond the strong aesthetic appeal, the skeletal structure of Far Cry 3 remains. Only it’s been compacted into a sufficiently brief outing. The parts that have changed are for the better. Pacing has been reassessed fully with light RPG aspects and tedious progression trees tossed out in favor of a more flowing, action-oriented experience. If there’s any fault it’s that the pacing now scales too fast. By the beginning of the game you’re already allotted most of the abilities that it would take the entirety of Far Cry 3 to allocate. Rex Colt also feels more powerful, with no fall damage to impair him, all the movement speed of a frenetic ‘90s shooter to move him, and loaded with hyperkinetic weaponry.
The location is only a fraction of the size, about that of a single Far Cry 3 island, but it’s exactly as much as it needs to be. This unique location’s shortcoming is that with all the dark neon skies and protruding scanlines, it’s harder to fully appreciate the context, especially next to Far Cry’s stunning tropics. There are just enough thematic collectibles scattered that they add value and the self-deprecating lines make it all the better. “I hope I don’t have to collect any fucking feathers,” Biehn’s character quips The feeling is mutual. It’s only too bad the VHS tapes, TVs, and Dr. Notes mostly provide context and upgrades – as nobody’s playing this for exposition – and we’re already so overpowered. They might as well be feathers. Blood Dragon’s television-worshiping anarchistic setting is more than sufficient and provides a strong argument in favor of tightening open worlds, proving they have some utility in the download space.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon’s a well-executed ode to the ‘80s. It delivers more Far Cry and something entirely unique at once, making it worthwhile both as an expansion of the retail package and a potentially exciting off-shoot IP. There is certainly more to be done, with a whole decade of decadent pop culture to transpose into an interactive format. The feeling is that Blood Dragon is a straight-to-VHS sequel that occasionally manages to top its blockbuster equivalent due in large part to a sharp wit and an enthusiastic execution on a popular nostalgia.