There are few things I love more than when established franchises go all elseworlds with their business and make something wonderful and new. I loved it when this let me shoot bigfoots and zombie bears as John Marston. I loved it when this let me drain the blood of drunken revelers as electric vampire Cole McGrath. And now I love how this has let me kill metallic laser panthers with a neon blue bow wielded by a cybernetic Michael Biehn. At its heart Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is just more Far Cry 3 but so much has been changed and reskinned outside of those central mechanics that you get a whole new (and in a lot of ways more entertaining) experience.
So as I said, when cut all the way down to the bone, this is just more Far Cry 3 but there is some specific differences to even that core gameplay formula that really make it shine. This comes primarily with game’s use of the titular Blood Dragons and the way it lets you be completely fucking loud and completely fucking awesome compared to main game’s greater focus on stealth. While you can certainly still slink around and silently rain neon death upon your foes with the bow, it no longer feels like the only option. The game has made going in guns blazing with a reckless abandon for life and limb not only viable but super god damn fun. Fully automatic laser rifles, giant over-compensatory mini-guns, sniper rifles that fire what are essentially rockets, and the best end game weapon of all time allow you to utterly devastate a base. While you still have to keep on edge and watch your health, experimentation with the game’s louder and more interesting options is encouraged and if you know what you’re doing the environment joins in on the fun with you.
The wildlife is just as violent as ever in Blood Dragon but now it’s chromed up and mutated out, every single creature in the game looks like it should be airbrushed onto the side of a van. The king of this new neon jungle though is without question the Blood Dragon. Blood Dragons are massive lizards about the size of two rhinos taped together that eat cyborgs and shit lasers out their eyes. Being a cyborg yourself you need to be a little wary of these things but thankfully they find your cyborg opponents equally as appetizing. Knowing this, your character has a nasty little penchant for literally cutting out the hearts of his enemies and throwing them around as bait; cyber-hearts are just another item that you have a cache of in this game. This means not only can you use said hearts to escape a sticky situation when you get cornered by the terrifying laser lizards but you can also use them to lure those monsters to an enemy base and have them do your work for you; little better than a measly tiger in a cage don’t you think?
Audacity is not just intrinsic to the gameplay though, the presentation and the writing also scream overdone in all the best ways. Starting with the presentation everything is just coated in neon but even the designs underneath all that flash are insanely ’80s and overt and low rent looking in the greatest way possible. The enemies are all wearing full motorcycle gear with different color patterns and just calling it armor and the first gun you get is the hand cannon from Robocop (it’s even called the A.J.M. after Robocop’s human name). This is a game that wears its references on its sleeve with subtlety taking a big old flying leap which is honestly just fine by me. I will say that the look is a little severe at times with the red smoky skies being overbearing and the rainbow coronas of laser fire and explosions being excessive to the point of eye strain but it fits the atmosphere and seems necessary for the vibe they’re after. Oh and there’s also the cut scenes, rather than be in engine they instead cut to a small window showing what’s happening in full 16-bit glory. It looks absolutely terrible yet I loved it because they try to evoke every single emotion with a sledgehammer touch that comes across as even more ridiculous when it’s shown in super grainy pixels.
The sound design is also just ripe with ’80s flavour. The music is all prog-rock with lots of that heavy lasery drumming that’s just indicative of era and is a mix of quiet and loud that puts one in mind of Stan Bush’s best work. All the enemies speak with bad ’80s robot voices (think the robot from Rocky 4 mixed with Sinistar) and the all scientists you rescue speak like casting rejects from Revenge of the Nerds. Of course the king of it all is Michael Biehn who raspily whispers out all his lines as the main character Rex Power Colt, it’s like someone is pouring warm whiskey directly into your ear whenever he speaks. Combine all this with the constant sound of lasers and animal roars and you get a very special form of nerdtastic auditory nirvana.
It’s the writing that truly got me laughing though because it’s basically just Michael Biehn making puns for a good four or five hours, that and lines so cheesy they could only come straight from the heart. I wasn’t exaggerating with that pun thing by the way, Rex literally has a pun for every kill he makes and will not hesitate to throw them around as much as he can. Thankfully though there is enough variety in both your kills and the puns for them to still be good even near the end of the game and of course certain classics never lose their shine, such blowing a guy’s head off and saying “he had a splitting headache”. All the best lines though are in the cut scenes with the last couple missions in particular having some just fantastically bad one-liners. Not to spoil anything but my favourite line by far has to be “Blind me with your cyber love”, which is fantastic both in and out of context.
I guess I haven’t touched upon the actual story yet; the premise is that Rex and his buddy Spider are Mark IV cyborg commandos in the futuristic world of 2007 and have been sent to the island base of the just defected Omega Force. They must take down their old commander, Sloan, who has gone off the reservation and taken the Omega force with him. Upon finding him they learn that he has been injecting himself with Dragon Blood which makes him super strong but also unstable and he now plans to launch missiles filled with the stuff at the remaining countries of the world to prolong the still going war between the US and “The Reds”. From there it’s a race against the clock to stop him with a number of awesomely archetypal plot twists taking place to keep things interesting and to keep the references flowing…and yes of course there’s a montage.
In the end this is still just more Far Cry 3, pirate bases have been swapped for Omega Force strongholds and idols have been swapped for VHS tapes and CRT TVs, but it’s all basically the same. Your enjoyment of this game is going to come almost entirely from how much nostalgia you have for the 1980’s era of pop culture and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Fact of the matter is that it’s an era with a lot of fans and dumb shit to enjoy and it’s not like the core gameplay of Far Cry 3 stopped being fun in the four so months since it came out. This is an insane and supremely enjoyable adventure and the fact that it was greenlit and released at all by a major publisher boggles the mind, it’s worth picking up if only to support them making more of this kind of thing. So for a trip back in time to an age when VHS seemed futuristic and we all thought chrome was the look of the future rather than white plastic, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon gets a 5 out of 5 stars.