A time and place in which violence was colourfully brutal and unapologetic, heroes were cynical killers, and the soundtrack pumped through synthesisers the size of a mountain.
Blood Dragon is both in-joke and love letter to that era. Your age and knowledge of that time period will impact how much you'll enjoy the concept built around the killing here. This is a single player, standalone digital release that uses Far Cry 3 as foundation for it's mechanics - and little else. This is more ode to the likes of Bionic Commando and John Carpenter's Escape from New York.
The idea of a FPS mod isn't a new one - its practically archaic on PC - but still a rarity on console. That Blood Dragon doesn't require Far Cry 3 to play, but is still weighing in with a chunky eight hours of open world gameplay, makes it much more enticing for a wider audience.
So we get all-new lead, world and weapons. Rex Power Colt, voiced by a Michael Biehn doing his best Snake Plissken impression, is a cybernetic warrior with an attitude problem and a love of a drug-free America. We're in a "futuristic" 2007, war-torn world, with the threat of missile strikes looming, planned by a disenfranchised army commander who Bolt just so happened to have once served under. We're carrying laser rifles, transforming sniper rifles, and a shotgun so old-school it should have cobwebs on it.
It's a real mash of styles, and it seems the studio are just having fun seeing how far they can run with the idea. The gameplay is modern first-person shooter, but you've eight weapons as opposed to the in-vogue two. Cutscenes are pixelated images, dialogue's tongue-in-cheek, while tutorials are self-knowing in just how pointless and annoying they are. There's even an offer of paid-for DLC that'll play the game for you. Conversation is peppered with the curse words and all the testosterone of a Schwarzenegger flick. It is ironically enough, what you imagined Duke Nukem Forever should have been.
As with any game with humour crammed in so heavily, it'll be interesting to see how long the laughs continue once we've settled into the action itself. A two hour movie is quotable marathon that doesn't wear out its welcome. You may run out of steam expanding that to eight hours of shooting. For the moment, we play a brief two mission section of the game, from a opening helicopter on-rails shoot-out - complete with rock song blasting over the tannoy - to taking out a facility of soldiers with arrows and the help of fire-breathing dinosaurs.
The dinos are the Blood Dragons of the title - huge T-Rex like beasts that roam the plains around shield-protected Omega Force facilities. The fire-breathers have poor eyesight but a good nose for cybernetic hearts, two facts you become acquainted with early on. You have to crawl past a feeding zone undetected, and then toss hearts, torn from downed soldiers, to direct stampedes either away from your position, or as a distraction by arcing your bloody handful in the direction of a nearby patrol.
The Dragons are key to the story as well, their blood being used both as bio-weapon in a nearby missile facility, and as as serum for super-strength to whoever injects it.
Disengaging a missile readying for launch is our first mission, and we leave a base's open area through a service entrance down into a underground bunker. The network of corridors, lined with pipes and bulky Connery-era Bond computers, is less interesting than the neon-infused outdoors, but it gets away with the linear design mostly due to the setting. That, and the combat is a lot of fun.
We find ourselves favouring the shear strength of the shotgun and a mixture of melee attacks - takedowns from behind and above are instant kills, and there's the ability not only to chain kills together, flowing between targets smoothly with a directional tug of the analog stick, but to chain in a shuriken throw at the end to nail enemies out of reach.
Despite the gung-ho nature of the story, there's still emphasis on stealth. A tap of the D-Pad will call up your cyborg eye vision to tag enemies, while another will - bizarrely - toss dice to distract patrols. Guards are able to call reinforcements if spotted, so nipping between cover is important, with a end of dash slide enabling you to feel like a badass when charging between cover points.
However the movement sensitivity feels more sluggish than what you'd expect from the character. There is a whole host of upgrades available though, so the ultimate killing machine could just be out of XP-reach. We take a glance down the unlockable skill list and are impressed by the options: larger health bars and quicker weapon reloads rub shoulders with cooler mechanics, such as letting you steal enemy pistols mid-fight, or pull enemy grenade pins and kick them and their owner into an advancing squad.
The joke may wear thin after eight hours, but the presentation won't. Backed by an incredible soundtrack that evokes the likes of Terminator without outright stealing the music, this is looking to be an enjoyable romp that uses the base mechanics of the source material in new and original ways. If anything, the game should be applauded for doing so different. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come from Ubisoft - rather than a one time gamble.