“Blood Dragon really is the game Duke Nukem Forever should have been. Whereas that meddlesome abortion half-assed it by showing up to ‘80’s Night in a Joy Division t-shirt freshly picked off a Hot Topic shelf, Blood Dragon crashes through the doors in a DeLorean, speakers ear-bleedingly capped at 11, cranking out 'Bark at the Moon.’”
Man. What can I say about Blood Dragon that hasn’t already been said after dropping half a sheet of LSD and strapping in for an all-day, all '80’s flick marathon?
For those racking their brains to understand how Blood Dragon is it all connected to Far Cry 3, let’s just make things easier. It isn’t. It runs off of the same engine, sure, and the core, open world FPS gameplay is lifted from the main title, but similarities come to a crashing halt right there. Blood Dragon isn’t about one twentysomething’s violent quest to evolve from hipster to tatted guerrilla. Instead, we’re treated to a neon-soaked, synthesizer blaring, one-liner firing ode to both uber-over-the-top action movies of the 1980’s as well as a stupidly enjoyable homage to the days of gaming where cyborgs ran rampant and only one titanium jawed badass could save the world. If the words “awesome,” “rad,” “bodacious,” or “tubular” come to mind, this game is tailor made for you.
Borrowing from the action games it lampoons/tributes, Blood Dragon does have a story, just not one that matters. Not for lack of a weak lead, either. Sergeant Rex Power Colt, our indestructible hero, is gruffly brought to life by Michael Biehn (he’s literally in every James Cameron film; even the ones he’s not in). Rex is benefited by a personality that’s sorta like if Roadhouse-era Patrick Swayze fused with a drunk Kurt Russell, and his spirit animal is “kickboxing." Rex speaks in cornball one-liners, is 75% cyborg, and loves the hell out of America. In short, he’s far more awesome than some of the real '80’s action stars he’s meant to parody.
As Rex, your hunting ground is a remote island populated by rogue cyborgs, mutated animals, and gigantic laser breathing dinosaur-things called blood dragons. The story pulls you from one part of the island to the next – across jungle, into underground labs, and sometimes beneath the cyber-shark infested waters. For the most part, you’ll be tasked with saving scientists and murdering the crap out of hundreds of cyborg commandos in your way. There’s plenty in the way of collectible items – fetch quests that Rex will often complain about out loud – but they end up as the only real distraction from mowing down cyber dudes. Which, prepare yourself, you will do a lot of.
Several ideas from Far Cry 3 spill over into the combat, and for the most part, this game doesn’t deviate or introduce very many new conceits, instead it reskins them to fit with this standalone’s vibrant style. You can still shoot up, burn down, or impale enemies, switching between all out firefights or more tactical, and quiet, stealth takedowns. There’s no pass/fail objectives here – killing’s what you’ll be doing for majority of this ride; it’s just a matter of doing so silently or loudly.
Just don’t expect any fights not involving a blood dragon to be hard. The game does a good job of reminding you that you’re an unstoppable half-cyborg that can sprint forever, breath underwater, and lug around a chain-gun like it were a paperweight. And that’s just at baseline, when you first pick up the controller. Scoring kills and completing missions levels Rex up, except unlike in FC3, your skills develop linearly, unlocking perks as soon as you hit a certain rank. It’s a wise design choice given the moderate length of the game (about six hours with a healthy portion of the collectibles found).
Looking back, it’s not how Blood Dragon plays (which simply a compressed version of Far Cry 3) but it’s really the ridiculousness it puts you through that’ll stick with players. Planting neon arrows into the Daft Punk-esque cyber commandos, hunting mutated beasts roaming the hillsides, ripping your enemies’ hearts out and using those same organs to lure hulking dragons into hostile garrisons…It’s mindless, quality fun. And it just so happens to riff so well on the '80’s theme – from the spot-on soundtrack (thank you, Power Glove) to the 8-bit cutscenes to the joyously nerdy references it beats over your head – that playing the game feels like tearing open a time capsule buried by a cult of brilliant, legwarmer-wearing lunatics.
I’ve heard this coined elsewhere so don’t credit me for originality (why would you ever?), but Blood Dragon really is the game Duke Nukem Forever should have been. Whereas that meddlesome abortion half-assed it by showing up to '80’s Night in a Joy Division shirt freshly picked off a Hot Topic shelf, Blood Dragon crashes through the doors in a DeLorean, speakers capped at 11, cranking out "Bark at the Moon." It’s a solid shooter, an impressively detailed visual overload, and remarkably fun. Believe what you hear: this one’s a gem.
Platforms: PC/PSN [Reviewed]/XBLA
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Shanghai
Genre: First-Person Shooter/Action-Adventure