We don’t know why this game exists. We don’t know HOW it could possibly exist. After we finished Blood Dragon, we stayed for the end credits – partially to submit ourselves to the terrible 80s synth rock in the background (Vince DiCola would be proud) and partially to see if Far Cry 3 writer Jeffrey Yohalem was involved. He was not. Thank Christ. But the credits went on FOREVER, and the sheer number of people at Ubisoft Corporate who could have said, “This is a terrible idea, what is wrong with you?” is almost as staggering as their need to list themselves in the credits, even if all they did was breathe on a member of the actual dev team at a luncheon. Even the synth rock didn’t stick around until the end.
But Blood Dragon did get made, and it teeters precariously on the edge of ‘so bad it’s good’, occasionally slipping too far into on-the-nose references, only to regain balance with more subtle digs at 80s and 90s action sci-fi schlock and Saturday morning cartoons. The soundtrack is perfect. The neon glow of cold grey structures contrasting the lightning-stricken nuclear winter sky is perfect. The player character is voiced by Michael Biehn, for crying out loud. He reloads shotguns like Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2; enemy scientists who get shot by him quote Blade Runner as they fall to their knees. What could go wrong?
Only Ubisoft’s attempts to remind players how clever it thinks it’s being. It’s usually fruitless to criticise the lack of subtlety in a game where the player character’s name is Sergeant Rex Power Colt, but in parody, subtlety is everything.
Such stumbles are few in number; for the most part, Blood Dragon hits its marks. The cutscenes, rendered in faux-16-bit 2D, are hilarious in their authenticity. The plot revels in its own absurdity, with a cyber-commando facing a rogue cyborg army headed by a cyborg villain who looks great in Bennett’s chainmail shirt from Commando.
THIS IS A TOTAL CONVERSION OF FAR CRY 3 – NEAR MECHANICALLY IDENTICAL, BUT WITH NEW ENVIRONMENTS, NEW WEAPONS AND NEW ENEMY SKINS
But there’s a slightly more depressing tale behind the neon glitz and cries of “Release the cyber sharks!” that concerns why the game is specifically Far Cry “3”: Blood Dragon, and not just Far Cry: Blood Dragon. This is a total conversion of Far Cry 3 – near mechanically identical, but with new environments, new weapons and new enemy skins. Enemy voice barks are even exactly the same, but have been run through a vocoder to give them a kind of cyborg auto-tune quality. The jaguars that stalked Jason Brody through the Rook Islands are “cyber jaguars” here only due to a new chrome shader. Just as you will have heard many of Sergeant Colt’s one-liners before, so too will you feel you’ve already played Blood Dragon.
It’s a little depressing because this is the kind of thing we used to see come about by virtue of PC gaming’s more open nature. The number of games made better after being released into the community’s hands is uncountable, and some of PC gaming’s best experiences are themselves total conversions. Though there are mods for Far Cry 3, they are jerry-rigged, clinging on for dear life at the few variables Ubisoft allows modders to tinker with.
That is not to discount the effort Ubisoft has put into creating Blood Dragon. But the joke occasionally wears thin; when it does, you’ll be left wondering why the game got made, but for different reasons than when you first heard it would involve wingless-dragons that shoot lasers out of their eyes (a fact Blood Dragon continually reminds you is obviously fucking cool, because it told you so).
It’s at that point that you’ll focus on more important elements of the experience than the one-liners and old-school cutscenes: Blood Dragon’s subtle mechanical tweaks. All weapons suffer ridiculous crosshair spread, which forces Sergeant Colt into authentic 80s action movie shootouts where nobody is hitting anything. Colt can run faster and jump higher than Jason Brody right from the get-go – to the point where aerial takedowns can be performed by simply leaping onto an enemy. There’s no fall damage, because Colt has cyborg legs. His superior abilities push combat even further into the absurd, and it perfectly suits the subject matter.
BLOOD DRAGON IS THE HIGH POINTS OF FAR CRY 3 DISTILLED
Toward the end of the seven hour game are a series of combat arenas that make no sense, but the first-person shooting is so reminiscent of Doom that you won’t care. And sure, Blood Dragon ends with a turret sequence, but it’s one of the most over-the-top turret sequences out there. Combined with a paring back of the open world nonsense – here, it’s a new landmass about a quarter the size of the Rook Islands, and there’s no gathering, crafting, or radio towers to bother with; just outposts to capture – and Blood Dragon is the high points of Far Cry 3 distilled.
That its narrative and gameplay suffer far less dissonance than Far Cry 3’s is less a compliment to Blood Dragon and more a realisation of how much Yohalem failed. Where he saw Mad Hatters, we only saw a mad hipster. And what is more defining of a hipster than the sheer amount of work Blood Dragon has put into dressing up Far Cry 3 ironically? If we were Yohalem, we’d be furious, because Sergeant Rex Power Colt has stolen Jason Brody’s thunder.