Level Up: Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
When you consider the ginormous production costs of modern video games, it’s amazing that something like Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon isn’t a regular occurrence. Developers toil over the technology for a big-budget FPS for years. When the game finally comes out, they hope for the best and move on to the next project. Ubisoft Montreal asked, “Why not take the existing technology and do something ridiculous with it?” And ridiculous Blood Dragon is. It’s essentially Far Cry 3 wrapped in an 80s sci-fi/action-movie skin. Mechanically it’s still Far Cry 3, but the presentation and story are pure parody. Blood Dragon delights in references to Schwarzenegger flicks and hilariously over-the-top action. This kind of re-skinning of an existing game is far from a new idea. Crafty PC gamers have been making mods with varying degrees of craziness since the Doom days. But this isn’t something that only the glorious PC gaming master race is going to check out. It’s a readily available (even for dirty console gaming peasants) and actually has a fair amount of press surrounding it. This mod-gone-mainstream doesn’t even require Far Cry 3 to play it, it’s available as completely stand-alone product.
If you’re familiar with Far Cry there won’t be many surprises in the gameplay. It’s an open-world FPS that has you capturing garrison points, hunting wild life and saving “nerds” while carrying on a main plot that mainly involves killing a bunch of cyborg baddies. The game’s design supports a range of gameplay styles. The player can choose to be stealthy or go in guns-blazing with equal success. The biggest addition to the gameplay of Blood Dragon is — can you guess? — the blood dragons. While in Far Cry 3 you could lure large predators into fighting the enemy for you, Blood Dragon takes it to a new level, putting you in the wild with fluorescent-striped T. Rexes. As if this wasn’t enough like a 80s cartoon designed to sell action figures, the end of the game actually has you riding a talking, laser-mounted, cyber dinosaur.
The overt 80s kitschiness does not end there. Loading screens display a VHS-tracking meter, and the entire game is viewed through a filter of CRT-TV style scan-lines. Set in ‘the future’ of 2007 you play as a Rex Power Colt, a Mark IV Cyber Commando (i.e., good guy terminator). When I first heard the voice of Rex, I thought, “That’s awesome they’ve got a guy doing an impersonation of Kyle Reese from The Terminator.” Nope! They got the real deal, Michael Biehn, doing a parody of his own former roles as gruff-hero in The Terminator and Aliens. The music is the heavy synth epicness of the period, again mostly playing off the themes of The Terminator. Cut-scenes are done in a decidedly 16-bit style, and often carry the most blatant movie references. The game’s plot goes forward in a predictable fashion, ramping up the insanity until it’s inevitable, explosive finale. We even get an up-beat retro-pop song, “Friends (Forever)” as the credits role.
Needless to say, the game’s real merit hinges on nostalgia and well-done parody of 80’s action-movie tropes. If you’re old enough to be in on the jokes, it’s worth your fifteen bucks. Yet if you removed the humorous, referential nature of Blood Dragon, it really wouldn’t be much different in tone than most FPS’s released in the past year. As much as Blood Dragon parodies the conventions of 80s blockbusters, it reveals that their basic structures remain prevalent in games of today. How different is Master Chief or Marcus Phoenix from Rex Power Colt, Cyber Commando? Not much. While we’re allowed to snicker at the campiness of the “old days,” we shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking we’re past those adolescent fantasies. Most of what we buy is the same old story with a new coat of paint. The determining factor is whether or not you take these fantasies seriously, and Blood Dragon separates itself from the pack by laughing in its face.