By John Walker on April 30th, 2013 at 5:00 pm.
Do you remember that there were decades previously to this one? Far Cry 3 seems to think it does, with the appearance of an expandalone spoof of the 1980s, Blood Dragon. How does this mini-adventure hold up? Here’s wot I think:
It’s hard not to wish whoever created that first, excellent Blood Dragon trailer hadn’t been in charge of writing the whole game. This most peculiar of spin-off games, a mini-campaign and new island of bases to take over, finds itself in a bizarre space between a bunch of fun, and a lot of irritation.
If you peel away its crêpe-paper-thin veneer of confused 80s pastiche, what you’ve got here is an psuedo-expansion pack for Far Cry 3 (although there’s no crossover, no sharing of characters, etc). A new island, twelve or so new garrisons to take over (each with their own hostage-rescue additional task), new animals to shoot, dozens of new collectables to run up to and press E on, and a smattering of plot missions to play through. However, it’s an oddly stripped down version of Far Cry 3, with the skill system reduced to automatically added new abilities as you trundle through, the variation of activities reduced to three, no crafting whatsoever, and the arsenal of weapons limited to five.
So, well, that’s pretty good still. A bunch more charging about the countryside, the spontaneous events, the slaughtering of armies to take their homes for yourself, and the deaths of more tigers. Except this time there are giant laser-firing dragons, and everything’s lit in purple.
The dragons are perhaps the only really significant change in how you actually play. When you kill enemies you can tear their cyborg hearts from their chests, and store them up. The Blood Dragons are attracted to these, so you can use them for making your escape, or better, directing them toward enemies. Sneaking into a base, turning off their dragon shields, and then luring one in is obviously a fun time. Fighting the dragons themselves seems at first to be too daunting a prospect, but then later you’ll start figuring some stuff out, and be equipped with a better chance against them.
The mission quests were perhaps where Far Cry 3 saw the most criticism (although unfairly I’d argue – their leaning toward an Uncharted territory offered even more variation to the game), I doubt anyone would level the same here. They are, in general, splendid runs of violence. Rather than deviating from the core mechanics too much this time, most are focused on infiltration and then mass murder, offering multi-stage missions building to daft climaxes. Bearing in mind the minimized tone to the much of the game, these are extremely well constructed and realised. The only issue here is how few there are – that part of the game will only take about three or four hours at the very most.
Here that sound, coming over the horizon, as the purple storm crackles against the purple clouds? It’s a “but”.
But, in a strange way this game also feels like a worst-of of Far Cry 3. Other than issues with the story, what were the primary complaints? That bloody mission pop-up message that can’t be switched off? That’s still present. Mission zoning, such that you fail if you cross some arbitrary boundary on your way? Here. Then forced reloading to an earlier point, losing any progress as a consequence? Yup. Keys not responding at crucial moments? Indeed. And this time they’ve added in a new bug where if you task switch out of the game, going back in will have switched it to “Borderless” mode rather than “Windowed”, and for some reason (that wasn’t the case with the original game for me) it barely runs in Borderless.
So while you’ve got the unquestionable fun of taking over a new island, and the pleasure of the (scant few) missions, you’re also being pissed off by things that should have been patched out of FC3, let alone left in for its spin-off. And then there’s the peculiarity of the tone.
It’s hard to get precisely what it is that Blood Dragon thinks it’s spoofing. It seems to set out to be something of every 80s Saturday morning action cartoon, but then in a flurry of swearing, violence and sex scenes, veers into mocking straight-to-video 80s action movies. But the disconnect between the two is weirdly jarring. Cutscenes are barely-animated cartoon sequences – which I started to suspect weren’t so crude for the sake of mocking anything but more to save money – while the dialogue is an attempt at lampooning action movies’ tendency toward ultra-cheese. And in neither does it do a good job. (It’s also worth noting that the lovely animation in the trailer has nothing in common with the lazy crap in the game.)
The writing is abysmal, and not because it’s trying to be. It ultimately feels like a dismal Peter Kay routine, with someone shrieking “DO YOU REMEMBER THE EIGHTIES?!?!!” at you as if saying that alone is the funniest thing imaginable. Yes, I remember them. And that’s rather the issue – I remember that what it contained, even at its worst, was a lot more entertaining than the drivel this game puts out as story. That classic rule of spoofing – that you must actually be better than the target of your mockery – is not followed at all. Instead they’ve opted for that so much easier route of just being bad, and saying, “Seeeeeeee?”
There’s all manner of meta-commentary in there, but again it weirdly misfires by directing this all at current gaming, rather than arch comments on a bygone decade. So the beginning drags you through this miserable pastiche of a tutorial, which succeeds only in being a really bloody frustrating tutorial, with a character in the game saying how frustrating it is. That’s not funny – that’s actively sneering at your audience. Being bad on purpose, and then pointing out how you’re being bad on purpose is… being bad. Deliberately making your game bad. Oh, and there’s an incredibly uncomfortable “sex scene”, seemingly entirely consensual, which finishes with the woman shouting, “NO NO NO!” It’s foul, and it’s hard to imagine what they thought they were achieving here.
The rest is expository voices ironically sighing lines about how convenient certain aspects of the game’s lazier moments are. Uh, great.
The result is odd. A good game, wallpapered with what should have been a festivity of fun, but instead is a dreary commentary no more witty than pub bores misremembering the existence of old adverts and then loudly laughing at themselves. And then explaining the jokes to each other in case they didn’t get it. (I finally lost all patience for the bothersome narrative when it underlined, highlighted and shone giant neon arrows at an incredibly weak and entirely misplaced “jump the shark” joke.)
For its budgety price of £12, the game inside here is well worth it. It’s just such a shame that the rich vein of an 80s send-up was so wildly missed.
Although there’s always Super Time Force to come, whose trailer seemed to have, uh, inspired Blood Dragon’s.
Blood Dragon is out tomorrow.