Saturday, May 4, 2013

Review: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon! (PS3)

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is what happens when you plan your first major piece of downloadable content while drunk at the office party. The original Far Cry 3 was an open-world romp in which a dude-bro called Jason sliced up mercenaries and murdered wildlife in order to save his hideously unlikable friends from an inhospitable island. This standalone expansion, Blood Dragon, ups the ante considerably, by completely throwing everything about Far Cry away, and turning the island into a neon, futuristic (by way of the eighties) wasteland, plagued by blue-blooded cyber soldiers and laser firing mutant dinosaurs. Oh, and now you play gruff and profane Rex Colt, a cyborg commando with a robot arm and red-white-and-blue blood, voiced by Terminator and Aliens' snarling Michael Biehn. And did I mention that it's fucking awesome? And it looks like this...

But can Blood Dragon possibly sustain this amount of awesome throughout its 4 - 6 hour running time? You'll find out exactly what I made of all this madness... after the jump!

If you have any affinity at all for pun-filled, sociopathic, ultra-violent eighties action then the premise for Blood Dragon is instantly irresistible. And incredibly ballsy. You have to admire the studio that allowed a group of insane developers to take a critically acclaimed game on the most technically advanced videogame console currently available, and turn it into a tongue-in-cheek retro throwback with Super NES style cutscenes and loading screens that resemble a struggling VHS. It's all very authentic, and could be simply "bad" were it not for the subversive, self-referential satire that underscores proceedings, toying with all the cliches of the genre and punching them in the face.

Even when the gameplay gets mired in played-out tropes the characters themselves amusingly draw attention to it. For example there are TVs and VHS tapes scattered around the island that you can hunt down and collect for the requisite trophy. Pick up one of these and cyborg Rex will grumble about it: "They spent ten million credits to rebuild me and I'm doing this shit?" Even from the very beginning when the tutorial computer voice over explains the controls, Rex fights back, bitching about how ridiculous the whole thing is, eager to get out there and kill shit. And rest assured you will kill a lot of shit. You can use your laser knife, a new array of guns, a glowing cyber bow, or even some well-placed shuriken. And it's not just soldiers and blood dragons either. Even the wild animals now have robotic skins and laser eyes. You'll indiscriminately blow them all away because, to paraphrase Rex, "You collect shit to unlock shit so you get shit". Word!

Remember throwing a rock to distract a guard? Now you get your nerd on and throw a D20. Press in the left thumbstick and you'll rebelliously flip the bird. Level up and you'll rock out while signing the devil horns. The random hints on the loading screen give you the hint that random hints might appear on the loading screen. Hopefully you're beginning to get the picture. If I say much more I'll spoil all the jokes.

At first glance it seems as far removed from Far Cry 3 as possible. As I said, this is a standalone release so you don't even need to own the original, and it does a great job - at least at first - at carving out its own unique identity. There are seven main story missions featuring memorable characters and cutscenes which all ramp up accordingly as you kill your way to the final battle. The main storyline provide the best content by far and is excellent at being all the crazy things that you'd expect Blood Dragon to be. You end up earning some amazingly devastating weapons (the best being the over-powered Killstar that reminded me of the glaive in Krull, although it has a different function entirely) and many of the cutscenes are laugh-out-loud hilarious, not the least of which include the inspiring appearance of Lady Liberty, and the increasingly uncomfortable cyborg sex scene. If this was released ten years ago it would be Game of the Year. The only catch is that if you plough straight through the story mode then not only will you not get a chance to unlock all the skills and upgrades, but you'll also have finished the game pretty fast. This stuff is great, but it all looks quite labour intensive so there's not an awful lot of it.

The good news is there's plenty of other things to do, however, they are all tasks that are very familiar to players of Far Cry 3. You'll liberate enemy outposts, gear up for hunting missions, and save gibbering nerdy hostages (a reverse of the familiar assassination missions). It's certainly fun, and I enjoyed exploring and completing everything, but without the overarching story and constantly interrupting cutscenes, this becomes the half of the game that really just feels like a re-skin of the original. Even though Rex still gruffly quips his way through it, at times I forgot I was even playing Blood Dragon, falling back into old Far Cry rhythms as I methodically checked the tasks off my list. For the best experience I would recommend alternating between these additional missions and the main story so at least you keep things varied and fresh. 

However, that said, if you've never played Far Cry 3 then this will all feel new and serves as a great condensed  (and very funny) Far Cry experience, especially when you consider its far cheaper price. Either way, I do recommend you grab it, simply because it's so audaciously unique and I think we should definitely encourage and reward companies for taking this kind of risk. Personally I would love too see a Blood Dragon 2 full release where all of these concepts could be taken to fruition with a much larger budget. I'm a fan, and I hope this is just the tip of the garishly neon iceberg. ROCK!

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