"Blood Dragon" in a lot of ways is a perfect way to experience vanilla "Far Cry 3" without getting too invested. For 15 bucks (1200 MS Points), Ubisoft smartly detaches the main game and narrative threads of an island hopping, male power fantasy featuring a douchey 20 something for... a male power fantasy featuring a retro throwback of douchey action stars. A mouthy look at some of the best (and worst) of what 80's and 90's action movies had to offer -- it's that mid-afternoon cable movie that you've just woken up to after passing out drunk on the couch, bathed in the dim glow of your TV set. Shirtless and confused, you stumble for the remote to turn it off but something compels you to persevere through your stupor because you just saw the most kick-ass and ridiculous action sequence of any action movie worth its salt.
"It's so bad it's good" seems to be Ubisoft's MO for "Blood Dragon" and it mostly works -- mostly.
"Blood Dragon" has a pretty fantastic production all around with cutscenes presented as lightly animated, pixelated, and letterboxed vignettes à la the NES "Ninja Gaiden" games. There are about 6 or 7 -- one for each story mission -- espousing all the main beats and they're made pretty well. The writers tend to keep them in an ultra serious tone which works given the action movie quality of the game. It could have only be better if they had been live action with terrible SFX.
I won't spoil the story reveals but it's goofy and over the top and general "unintentionally" funny as you would expect. However it falls short when it begins to become a little too self-aware about being a video game. Your mileage may vary in this regards but it should keep you interested enough to keep playing.
While the jokes are thick with puns, you'll quickly get tired of hearing Michael Biehn channeling his bestest, gruffiest Michael Rooker impression quipping out one-liners after nearly every kill. At first it's charming but wears thin after a few hours of it. Additionally, for better or worse, those snarky item descriptions are back and well worth the quick chuckle if you liked the ones in "Far Cry 3" or "Assassin's Creed 3."
The graphics conjure up images of your best middle-school boy's imagination of badassery of neon cyber-animals roaring as two robotic factions blast lasers under a burning sky. You can even see the remnants of humanity blasted away with nukes in the distance. Still, the apocalypse seems menacing but would possibly have been better with a wreck city as a backdrop instead of the lush jungle island and the gloomy atmosphere can be a bit too dark at times.
The music is arguably the best part of the package. Power Glove (because of course) reaches deep into the pool of nostalgia synth beats from many of the best action franchises -- namely The Terminator -- with powerfully driven tunes to keep the blood pumping and the bullets flying. The low hum and imposing tracks filter perfectly with the post-post apocalypse as you sprint from one fight to the next. Power Glove does such a great job that I feel like they jumped right into James Cameron brain as he's humming out an sequence from "Rambo" or "Aliens."
The actual gameplay still remains solid and Ubisoft makes intelligent cuts to produce a quicker paced, less lollygagging game "Far Cry 3" could be. The skill tree is replaced with a linear leveling system based on EXP earned from kills, collectibles, and side missions. Crafting is gone entirely -- instead you earn weapon upgrades through Predator's Path, Assassination, and Scientist Rescue missions. You'll probably hit the cap just before the final mission.
Weapons all feel deeply satisfying with headshot gibbing beautifully. My personal favorite would have to be the fully upgraded Frazertron -- belting out laser bolts making each encounter like a fight with G.I. Joe figures. Firepower is doled out regularly with the range of weapons that should fit everyone's playstyle.
The main change is the added Blood Dragon enemy type -- a kind of mutated dinosaur that is extraordinarily aggressive, soaks up damage, and can fire lasers from its eyes. These dragons wonder can be fond wondering around and for the ill-prepared, can be a death sentence. In one way, they are the true bosses of the game, easily wiping out an enemy garrison should you lure it to one.
Mission variety pretty much consists of kill everything, which fits the tone as you are the super elite cyber-soldier. If you're looking for a deeper meaning to the human condition, you won't find it here. Instead, you've signed up for an adrenaline fueled roller coaster of violence and "Blood Dragon" scratches that itch. The typical mission will have you sprinting to a missile-silo, tech-lab, [insert other military term] and blow up everything in sight with the two final missions culminating throwing at you as many shooter game tropes as possible -- including a battle arena and turret segment to round out the checklist of what needs to go in a game. The fight leading up to the final bout is intense and there are plenty of thrills to be had in the side missions. At the very least, you'll have plenty of neon clad cyborgs to mow down when you're bored.
At the end of the day "Blood Dragon" is an incredibly fun shooter drowned in macho bravado wrapped around an incredible dumb 80's b-movie narrative. It pulls in many of the best elements of "Far Cry 3" while trimming a lot of the fat. At around about 8 to 9 hours for total completion (collectibles, attachments, etc. unlocked), it doesn't overstay its welcome. It may seem weird to recommend, but if you were teetering on the edge of checking out "Far Cry 3", then the stand alone "Blood Dragon" has its cyber-heart in the right place and might be right up your alley.
"Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon" is available now on PS3 and PC for $14.99 and on Xbox for 1200 MS Points.