It's the future. 2007 to be specific. Rex Power Colt, a cyber-commando with a glowing red eye and a penchant for kicking ass, is on a mission to save humanity. A rogue colonel has his finger on the button, and in a world already ravaged by nuclear war, it's crunch time.
Far Cry 3 and Blood Dragon don't have as much in common as you might first imagine. They share very similar mechanics, both are set on tropical islands decorated with ancient ruins, both are incredibly violent. That's about it. Where FC3 had a modern day setting, a gritty story with tongue-in-cheek elements, and beautiful sun-drenched landscapes; Blood Dragon is dark, 80s-centric science fiction parody.
Far Cry 3 was all about insanity. Blood Dragon is insanity.
Things start off very well. The gravelly tones of Rex Colt (played by Michael Biehn) set the scene. We learn the basic mechanics, but they're delivered in such a hilarious way that we're left in no doubt as to what to expect from the downloadable campaign. We're explicitly told how to walk, look, run. An exasperated Colt tells the voice of the HUD to take a walk (in 18-rated terms), he knows what he's doing, and so do we, but that doesn't stop the tutorial from very deliberately spelling it out exactly what we need to know. It's an obtuse trend that continues through to the end of the campaign, as the team behind Blood Dragon takes great pleasure in breaking down the fourth wall and gently mocking their own systems and mechanics.
One of the few criticisms we had of the original Far Cry 3 was the game's more mechanical aspects. Collect this many skins; use this specific gun to kill these bad guys; collect these pointless artifacts. The list went on. Ubisoft uses Blood Dragon as a means to take the piss out of the very same gameplay elements. It's a tour de force of video game parody, and quite possibly the most amusing title we've ever played.
It's not just the running gag of mocking their own gameplay mechanics that tickled our funny bone. The story itself is genuinely hilarious, from the tongue-in-cheek dialogue to the ridiculous pixelated cut-scenes, it oozes funny from every pour. The asides and one-liners, muttered by Colt as he ransacks the island, are also very amusing. The only problem with these is there aren't enough of them, and these snappy catchphrases - many of them clear-as-day homage to quotes from classic films of the 80s - are recycled too frequently, lessening their impact somewhat. In this respect, less would have definitely been more.
The island itself, while bearing many of the hallmarks of the one that featured in FC3, feels very different. Most obviously because of the lighting - it's very dark and gloomy. Almost every manmade object is framed with a neon glow, again in homage to 80's vision of the future, but it's not enough to give Blood Dragon the same sparkle as its predecessor. It just doesn't look as nice, despite the stylised aesthetic.
The title - Blood Dragon - refers specifically to giant lizards that inhabit the island. As you'd expect from something that's already proved itself batshit crazy, these huge creatures have a neon glow that reflects their mood (green for calm, amber for alert, red for coming to eat you), and shoot lasers out of their eyes. They've suitably humungous health bars, and are tricky to take down, but they can be used as a tool in battle. Throwing cybernetic hearts ripped from downed enemies sends them running in that general direction, away from you and towards your opponents. They're big, but they're not clever.
Like Far Cry 3 there are bases to tackle, and they're dotted around the map. Clearing a compound of soldiers makes it a safe zone that can then be fast-travelled to from then on. Once a base has been captured it fills up with armed scientists (there's an ongoing war raging between them and the troops of the island, much like the natives and the slavers in FC3) and it yields up side-quests. Most of these are simple enough; rescuing a hostage using stealth, killing enemies with a certain weapon, hunting the local wildlife. Nothing too original there.
Capturing a base simply isn't as fun in Blood Dragon as it is in Far Cry 3. In the original these emergent scenarios were hardly the centre piece of the game, but it made for a fun distraction as your wandered the map. You had opportunity to plan your attack from afar and then execute it in style. Here the thrill of pulling off a daring assault is lessened by high walls that reduce your ability to survey the surroundings, and bottleneck entrances that force you to enter from specific points. You still have options; you can disable shields, attract Blood Dragons to the fight, and stealth into the combat.
These bases (and the resultant side-quests you get from them) make up half of the game. There are around a dozen, and it'll take you a three of four hours to clear them all. Maybe more, they're quite far apart, perhaps too much so as getting to them can start to feel like a chore, especially as the pay-off isn't all that. The side-quests start to feel run-of-the-mill after the first couple have been completed.
The missions attached to the main storyline are much better though, and nearly all your endearing memories will come from this. The script is fantastic, outrageously funny and overflowing with homage. There's so many highlights that I don't want to spoil, but for someone who appreciates both sarcasm and shooters, it's essential stuff. Some of the set-pieces towards the end are epic. There's a crazy wave-based challenge crowbarred in for no apparent reason, and some genuine laugh-out-loud moments to enjoy. It's the story and the script that make the game, though a shout-out needs to go to the fantastic 80's inspired soundtrack by Power Glove, the synth riffs really set the mood and add to the atmosphere.
In the grand scheme of things Blood Dragon is a decent slice of DLC. It's very funny, and worth picking up for the story and its deeply silly sense of humour. It takes much of what made the original so entertaining and elaborates on it, but it goes so far left-field that it wanders away from the mainstream and becomes a more niche offering as a result. The impact of the combat and the surrounding environment is lessened by design choices made along the way, however there's still plenty to enjoy, and whilst it's not the longest campaign, if you're a child of the 80s and like a good tongue-in-cheek killfest, it's well worth the download.
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