NEON VIOLENCE

If you ever thought that those classic 80s action movies were terrible awesome, then you were right. In its own way, Ubisoft pays homage to one of the most corny and memorable action eras of an entire generation. Before Schwarzenegger was a governor, and Stallone was some old guy still trying to make action movies, they were among the elite badasses that everyone wanted to be. Finally, now you can be, too… sort of… with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.

A first-person shooter much like the game that shares its namesake, it is a smaller standalone title that offers many an opportunity to reminisce over their younger days, or discover what it is their older siblings or parents were on about. A lot of the game is based on Far Cry 3 – overtaking enemy garrisons, emphasis on stealth, upgrades, collecting, and open world roaming. In fact, once you hit the open world roaming aspect, you’ll find that much of your surroundings are more or less the same as Far Cry 3’s island, except that the place has been painted neon and someone decided that ultraviolet lights were the best kind of lighting source. Even the animals are the same, save for their obvious mutations. Oh, and there’s glowing dinosaur-like creatures called Blood Dragons.

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The blood dragons form the basis of the story that will see Rex Colt, a cyborg soldier, chasing down his former commander who has gone rogue after injecting himself with the blood from the neon dinosaurs, and now has plans for world domination using that same blood… or something like that. You’re the only one that can stop him, and that means killing pretty much everything that stands in between – and if it bleeds, we can kill it.

What’s refreshing about Blood Dragon is that the game is not serious. Not even in the slightest. While I enjoy some good dialogue about the deeper meaning in video games that writers and developers are trying to open up these days, it’s nice to be able to actually let off some steam with a first-person shooter without having to think about the repercussions of such a game on the industry and games as an art form. The theme of this game is “who cares! Let’s go shoot stuff!” A sentiment echoed throughout the hilariously patronizing and annoying opening tutorial which freezes Colt in place as you follow on-screen directions such as “press [Enter] to demonstrate your ability to read” and “[C] crouch activates your quadriceps and challenges your sense of balance.” All the while, Colt moans in frustration as the synthesized female voice prevents him from going ahead and shooting the bad guys.

Once you’re actually playing the game, the fun doesn’t stop there. Your enemies are the Omega Force – cyber soldiers with computerised voices and sometimes nonsensical AI to match. I’ve hardly found that they pose much of a risk, as for some reason they had a tendency to take cover out in the open, and were often keen to walk around with heads clearly visible for a few ammo rounds. Once down, you’re able to recover ammo as well as cyber-hearts, which are used to lure Blood Dragons around for some easy kills or escapes without getting your hands dirty.

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Once you do get yourself past the opening story-line missions, you’ll find that the open-world fun is mostly an exaggerated version of Far Cry 3. Garrisons that you need to free are filled with enemies and conveniently placed exploding barrels if you’re in it for the quick kill. However, the garrisons also have force fields intended to keep the Blood Dragons out. If you’re keen to watch a small spectacle, taking out the shields can be an interesting diversion. If it all goes awry, or you just don’t have the patience, Blood Dragon’s AI is very forgiving, and I’ve captured many a garrison by simply running in gung-ho and guns blazing, which still seems very effective. Otherwise, stealthy kills to avoid setting off alarms should be a familiar MO for Far Cry 3 veterans.

Those stealthy kills, as well as headshots and other more skillful tactics also earn you points, which level you up instead of the tattoo system in Far Cry 3. It’s simple, and often rewards you with extra points to your health bar. Skills that you normally have to learn, such as stealth takedowns, are already attributed to you, leaving you open to creative tactics from the get go. If guns are more your style, you can still unlock purchasable weapon mods from side-missions.

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Hunting and crafting has also been done away with, which makes the game far less laborious than it could’ve been. Don’t get me wrong – I liked the crafting system in Far Cry 3. However, my short attention span meant I’d often spend entire sessions hunting down animals to make gear I didn’t need. Killing mutated beasts in Blood Dragon only gives you some spare change to buy weapon, armour and medical syringes or cyber-hearts, making them less of a distraction.

If you’re still going to poke around the neon landscape, you’ll likely find various collectibles in the forms of medical notes, old TV sets and VHS tapes (kids: if you don’t know what a VHS tape is, Google it! Also, you’re probably too young to play this game). It is handy to find some of these items too, as they also provide weapon unlocks. The landscape is also still littered with random caves, ruins and small outposts, so despite the lack of animal distraction, exploration can still lead you astray, though it still doesn’t lead you away from all the great stylized 80s action. Random roadside fights and sudden blood dragon experiences still keep you on edge while you poke around the rest of the glowing island.

Everything about the game seems tied together by what you hear. I actually feel like the oddly-coloured visuals make more sense with the strange electro music flowing in the background, created by Melbourne artists Power Glove. Additionally, the one liners and witty quips that Colt makes throughout the game are a mix between hilariously corny, (“I made a promise to a special lady… Lady Liberty. Because winners don’t do drugs”), tongue-in-cheek remarks, (“guns make you safe, so bigger guns make you safer.”) and gaming truisms (“I collect shit, to unlock shit, to get shit. Got it.”). It all adds to the feel and overall appeal of the game, and regularly gave me a good laugh, something I rarely get from games lately.

 

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While it’s a shorter and smaller game compared to its parentage, as a standalone title Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is well worth its cost. As a game that parodies itself and other action games, including Ubisoft’s own titles, Blood Dragon’s attitude is refreshing and enjoyable. It manages to be pure fun tied together with repeatable quotes and a good amount of both guns-blazing and stealthy action, and in all honesty I found it more enjoyable than its parent title… or perhaps it suited my shorter attention span a little bit more. Funnily enough, for all it’s non-seriousness, Blood Dragon helped me reach an epiphany – that there will be future generations who will only know Aliens and Predators as those horrible “vs” mashup movies, who won’t understand Schwarzenegger’s “Governator” title, and won’t know that Stallone was actually cool way back. Then again, those people are probably too young to be playing Blood Dragon.

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal/Shanghai
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: May 1st 2013 (PC – Reviewed, XBLA & PSN)