Let's Do The Time Warp Again
Eighties nostalgia is big business, but you've never seen a game that so perfectly captures that decade like Ubisoft's bizarre shooter spin-off Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. This digital download is a gaudy, foul-mouthed and over the top blast of pure arcade insanity, and it's sure to be one of the most hilariously entertaining releases of the year.
Despite the title, the game has nothing at all to do with Far Cry 3, beyond borrowing its gameplay mechanics. Where that game was an epic warrior's journey that followed stranded tourist Jason Brody on a disturbing journey into violence, Blood Dragon treats mayhem in the same way as a 1980s action movie. From the VHS-styled loading screens to the pixellated arcade cabinet cutscenes, this is a game that pulls the trigger hard and doesn't let go.
Part Man, Part Machine, Completely Awesome
You're playing as Rex "Power" Colt, a cyber commando with bionic enhancements. Voiced by Terminator and Aliens star Michael Biehn, Colt is the pinnacle of what video game heroes used to be like: super-powered and gloriously shallow.
Much like Far Cry 3, you're given free rein to explore an island as you pursue your nemesis. In this case, that nemesis is your former commander who has gone insane and plans to destroy the world. Thanks to the Far Cry 3 game engine, this means you're getting a pocket money downloadable game that both looks and plays like a top of the line blockbuster. The map isn't as sprawling as its full price inspiration, but the tight gunplay and multiple mission types make it feel much more substantial and slicker than most digital titles.
Subtlety Is For Wimps
This is a game driven by speed and destruction. There are seven story missions to blaze through, but that's just the spine of the game. The bulk of it comes from thirteen enemy garrisons that must be overthrown. As in Far Cry 3, you can opt for stealth and take out the inhabitants one by one without getting spotted, or you can steam in all guns blazing. There's also a third option - sneak in and lower each outpost's shield. This enables the Blood Dragons of the title - enormous neon lizards that shoot lasers from their eyes - to come storming in and do your job for you. Of course, then you have to deal with the creatures yourself afterwards.
That won't be easy to start with, but the game doesn't hold back when it comes to firepower. Unlike most modern shooters, you're not drip-fed with decent kit. Right from the start you have access to the expected basics - pistol, shotgun, machine gun, sniper rifle - but this is just the start. As you play through the story you'll also be granted a bullet-spitting minigun and flamethrower, but the real fun comes from upgrading your core weapons.
Upgrades are unlocked by undertaking bonus missions at each conquered outpost and finding collectibles. The map isn't as densely populated as Rook Island was, but since you have unlimited sprinting ability and can fall from any height without dying, getting from waypoint to waypoint is never an issue. Hunting quests, hostage rescues and hidden video tapes and TVs will all grant you cool additions to your guns, and before you know it that simple sniper rifle has become an insanely powerful weapon of mass destruction, capable of shooting exploding rounds that will detonate vehicles with a single hit.
Biehn There, Done That?
Rex Colt himself keeps getting tougher as well, thanks to a stripped back XP system that grants one new ability or extra health bar at each level up. The result is a game that reaches an insane crescendo of violence where the final level will have action fans punching the air in excitement, but it's not one you'll return to for the challenge. This is a game that wants you to win, and to feel awesome doing it.
Tying all this mayhem together is Blood Dragon's wonderfully goofy sense of humour. Biehn gives his all in a throaty performance that harks back to Duke Nukem's glory days, and the in-jokes come thick and fast. Connoisseurs of 80s action will easily spot the references to lots of action movie classics - many of which Biehn starred in - while the politically incorrect tone suits the throwback tale that's being told. It's not clever, but it is shamelessly funny.
It all adds up to a game that offers far more than its low price suggests. Completing all the story missions, enemy outposts, side quests and collectibles will easily outlast many full price games, while the borrowed Far Cry 3 engine and template means the game looks and plays far better than any low-priced digital download should. If you pine for the days when shooters were big, brash and full of carefree adolescent wish fulfilment, this may well be your favourite game of 2013.
- All the mayhem of Far Cry 3 in a compact digital form
- Hilariously over the top violent gameplay
- Lots to do but the game never feels padded.
- Some multiplayer modes would have been fun.
- More of a re-skinned Far Cry 3 than a true spin-off.
- The heavy-handed humour can grate.