Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is stupid. It has a terrible story, one-dimensional characters, and there's no emotional value in playing it whatsoever. I can't even criticise it for all those things, because that's everything Ubisoft wants the game to be. They think they've found a loophole in any criticism by deliberately aiming low. Hah! The joke's on them! Blood Dragon is pretty good.
It's everything fun about the '80s. It is desert chrome and crappy cut-scenes, RoboCop's sequels and Terminator's music, silly names and apocalypses happening to apocalypses. And for some bizarre reason, they've made it into a Far Cry 3 game that has nothing to do with any of the previous Far Crys.
It is the future, the year 2007. After Vietnam II and multiple apocalypses, the world is all purple and glowy, like a corrupted VHS tape. You are Sergeant Rex Power Colt, a Mark IV Cyber Commando sent to a distant island to solve world peace by killing cyborgs. At this point you should know that at no point in its development was this ever a normal Far Cry 3 game. It always existed as a love letter to the '80s.
Like the good bit of Predator, it begins in a helicopter with Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally" blaring. We land, via a crash. Following a tutorial where the game freezes me in position and the character rails that he just wants to kill things (voiced with all the world weariness that Michael Biehn can muster), I am let loose on this retro futuristic world that's decades away from Far Cry 3. The mercs are now electro-voiced robots. I giggled when I heard one shout "holy crap" through a grime of electronic distortion as my ninja star spiked him. I expected a more robotic expression. Who programmed a robot to do that? Probably the same person that programmed my robo-hand to toss up a metallic single digit whenever I mashed the stab button.
It's incredibly stylised. The robots blast back with neon bullets, heads pop and glowing goo leaks out, the soundtrack is a thumping synth dirge that fits *perfectly*. Take too much damage and the screen will warp like a paused VHS. Cut-scenes play like they're on an 8-bit console. The only bum note is the swearing in the animated sections. My inner child doesn't remember any game with such rude language.
I meet up with another Mark IV and we head down to missile silo to disarm a nuke. It is sadly an escort mission through a heavily-armed area. It's the opening mission, so it has the benefit of the doubt, but like all escort missions it comes with a sense of futility. I play Far Cry 3 to be free, and this is not that much fun. Not even when my partner died and I was forced to stop the nuke from exploding by punching it. That was cool, but it was also a cut-scene.
But it got better. After the nuke punching, I was captured and deposited into a plot of land filled with the game's titular Blood Dragons. They're real, and their vision is so poor it's possible to sneak by them by crouch-walking. They also fire lasers from their eyes, because being a dragon isn't enough. Handily, they'll also attack anything covered in blood, so it's possible to aggro them over to your cause by ripping the heart from the robo-mercs and tossing it like a grenade. This helps in the next section, an assault on an overground base that has giant shield protecting it. The first section is easy enough: I toss the robo-hearts through a megashield and the Blood Dragons start burning everything with their laser eyes. As you do.
The second section feels a little more Far Cryish: I finally have a bow, and can shoot down into the main area of the base below. The game's HUD starts going over all the possibilities available to me, mockingly telling me of the stealth route, the assault route, how to cut the alarms, pissing off the one-note action hero I'm inhabiting. It's fun when a game can make fun of its own conventions. I cracked up when I'd taken too much damage and instigated one of Far Cry's grim 'self-surgery' animations: Rex brought out a welder and fired it over his damaged robo-hand.
This area feels like a bigger base than I'm used to from FC3, but it's really just taller than the previous game's spaces. I zipline down into the area and take cover, using the leftover hearts to draw the dragons in, and the bow and arrow to take the robots out. It's wide, and I have plenty of room to move. I try and direct the laser beams to the majority of people I'm fighting, and only need to pick off a few stragglers with the bow. But just as I was getting exciting and interesting, the demo ends. I'm not allowed to venture out beyond this base.
This is not just a reskin of Far Cry 3, but it's definitely cut from the same cloth. I wasn't allowed to wander, but I'm told the world shares the same systems of the previous game. There's an ecosystem of animals still out there, though they are roboticised variants of the beasts we once knew. There's no need for crafting, but there's a simplified character tree and you can upgrade weapons. The wingsuit is gone, but the hang-gliders remain and Rex doesn't take fall damage. The mission structure remains in place as well: the central story will drag you across the island, but there are bases to liberate, marked on the game screen by laser-beacons firing into the purple sky, and missions pop up at each when you take them over.
I was a little bit miffed and surprised that I wasn't allowed to adventure out from the first two missions. I don't know anyone who sits down to tell you all about their adventures in Far Cry 3 and actually talks about the story missions, but that's all that Ubisoft allowed me to play. I do trust them, though: it's the same team working on this, and they've put a whole lot of love into it. I just can't say for sure that the open-world is as exciting and as varied as the main game. I hope so, and think the left-of-field aesthetic has magicked up something so unexpectedly delightful that it might even make the original game seem a little bit flat.
All-in, they expect you to be fighting for about eight hours. It's out May 1st.