Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is an interesting beast. It’s a downloadable title only connected to Far Cry 3 by engine, structure, and gameplay. It’s also, remarkably for a downloadable title, a fairly robust open-world game. In many ways, it has no reason to even be a downloadable title, yet it is. And I love it. I love its concept, its execution, its style, it looks good, it plays great, and it’s a literal and figurative blast. The final story mission is worth the price of admission and a gift from the gaming gods
To describe FC3: Blood Dragon another way, I want to say it’s Far Cry 3 filtered through Dolph Lundgrend’s kidneys. It goes out of its way to exude the eighties and early nineties, both from a technological standpoint, and a story standpoint. Blood Dragon’s title-screen and cut-scenes are straight out of an 8-bit fever dream, and the music recalls cheesy direct-to-home video or cable action movies that hit their high point in the early nineties. Even Blood Dragon’s protagonist exudes cheesy eighties and nineties era direct-to-home video/cable-ness. His name is Rex Powers Colt, and he is a cyborg. Seriously.
More specifically Rex Powers Colt is an allegedly outdated Mark IV cyber-soldier. He’s the kind of cyber-soldier that you might see on the cover of the newest hair metal LP in 1989. He’s got a robot arm, a cybernetic eye, and a voice, thanks to great work from era-appropriate action star Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss), that sounds like a chainsaw lubricated with burning grain alcohol. Rex Colt’s job is to infiltrate the island stronghold of Colonel Sloan. You see, he’s gone rogue because that’s what Colonels do in fiction - it’s the one part of the story the cheesy eighties and nineties can’t claim inspiration for. His plot involves genetic engineering, I think. Honestly, the game’s plot is the least interesting part of the game. On strictly story grounds, it’s not even substantial enough to be considered bad or good. It’s cheesy on purpose and that’s about as much as you need to think about it. There are only seven story missions anyway - though they do tend to fall on the long side, and, like I said, the last one’s a doosey.
Who cares about the story, though? You’ll spend far more time hunting and being hunted by Blood Dragon’s ridiculous array of mutant and cybernetic versions of Far Cry 3 wildlife. There aren’t quite as many in Blood Dragon, but you’ll forgive the lack of tapirs and komodo dragons after you encounter your first cyber panther or mutated cassowary. You’ll also fight the titular blood dragons, which are dinosaur-sized and breathe something a little more advanced than fire. Killing them is a challenge; luckily, they don’t see well and love cyber-hearts (you pull cyber-hearts out of the dead bodies of cyber-soldiers, obviously). You’ll have to play the game yourself to figure out what that means.
Besides emergent hunting and Path of the Predator side quests (the target is not always an animal, by the way), you can also spend time touring the always darkened, apocalyptic countryside in one of five vehicles, rescuing hostages with the hook that the guards will kill the hostage if you’re detected, and finding TVs, VHS cassettes, and pages from the personal diary of Dr. Carlyle. These side jobs are how you unlock attachments for the game’s various weapons, all of which offer a pleasant sci-fi take on the standard arsenal of weapons you find in first person shooters. My favorite is the assault rifle that can eventually be upgraded to a laser rifle. If that’s not your bag, then how ’bout a quad-barrel incendiary shotgun or a semi-auto sniper rifle that fires explosive rounds? You can eventually shoot that stuff also. Side missions are also a good way to earn the money you’ll need to keep your ammo topped up, buy body armor and health stims, and purchase attachments once they’re unlocked.
To Blood Dragon’s great benefit, the crafting system from Far Cry 3 is gone, replaced by these unlockable weapon attachments. Furthermore, you’ll start with the ability to carry enough guns, ammo, and health stims to get by, and won’t have to worry about wallet or inventory space at all. These are all tremendous improvements. Of course, syringe crafting is also gone, so there aren’t those stim buffs, but it also means there aren’t plants every five feet to distract you. On the downside, you can’t craft fire or explosive arrows (don’t worry, you still get a bow), but you don’t need them and won’t miss them.
Far Cry 3’s leveling system also makes a return, albeit slightly tweaked. Each time you gain one of the game’s 30 levels, Rex automatically unlocks one upgrade that’s either a new section to his health bar or a skill to make him more versatile in combat via Far Cry 3’s list of takedowns and other ability improvements. In fact, all the takedowns return. You even get to start with advanced moves like Death from Above, Death from Below, Chained Takedown, and the Shuriken Takedown, which replaces Far Cry 3’s Knife Takedown. For my money, Blood Dragon handles this better than Far Cry 3. By removing choice, it removes the illusion that the choices you made when leveling up in Far Cry 3 were important or changed the game significantly. By the time you hit level 20, you’ll be powerful enough to start bossing enemy encounters and once you get to that point, Blood Dragon goes from really good to great. In Far Cry 3, Jason Brody never gave me the feeling of being the unstoppable killing machine Rex Colt does.
There are other ways Blood Dragon bests Far Cry 3 as well. For example, clearing enemy strongholds won’t sterilize the island of enemy combatants. Enemy presence will go down, but in some places it barely goes down as measured by the areas on the map with the highest concentration of the color red. Even in areas with no red, there will be almost constant skirmishing between enemy cyber-soldiers and the scientists that constitute the island’s benign presence. Also, blood dragons can appear anywhere at any time (though they do seem to appear less frequently toward the end), and each one is a boss-level encounter. The rewards for killing one far exceed the penalty for dying so don’t be afraid to challenge them when you cross paths with one. Often you’ll get help from local scientist and cyber-soldiers. The blood dragons are indiscriminate killers like that.
The other thing that Blood Dragon does better than Far Cry 3 is mission structure. Many feature classic FPS corridor sections and underground base battles. It’s a nice change of pace to get back to the genre’s basics like that. Far Cry 3 maintained a generally corridor-free shooting experience, but that requires a different kind of approach that never changed. In Blood Dragon, you’ll go from open-world combat to underground sections and neither gets stale. You can make the case that it’s all part of Blood Dragon’s satirical old-school design, but I never got that sense.
Blood Dragon manages to look more interesting than Far Cry 3 as well. I said before that the cut-scenes look like an 8-bit fever dream; however, the rest of the game, from a tech standpoint is on par with Far Cry 3. Where Blood Dragon separates itself from Far Cry 3 is in its techno-nightmare flourishes. The first thing you’ll notice is the sky. When you start, everything is covered in a weird red fog that slowly dissipates as you move through the story and/or liberate enemy bases. The red fog is replaced by an eerie state of semi-twilight and both are punctuated by flashes of lightning. Meanwhile, far in the background, you can see cities burning complete with the occasional nuclear mushroom cloud. The enemy bases themselves often appear as impenetrable citadels that emerge straight out of the ground itself rather than the overgrown trash-camps of Far Cry 3. Many times, I got a very old-timey vibe where I felt like I was looking up at some Victorian-era mad scientist’s castle. What I’m saying is that Blood Dragon’s atmosphere really is excellent and the game’s visual style is completed by visible lines of resolution, as if you’re watching it on an old CRT monitor or something.
No doubt one of Blood Dragon’s most talked about qualities will be its humorous commentary on the silliness of many gaming tropes, with said tropes not limited to the eighties and nineties. It’s all very on the nose like when Rex gets upset at his onboard AI that can’t stop shoving tutorial messages in his face - even simple instructions on moving and looking - when all he really wants to do is kill people. In addition, when Rex levels up he does the rock-and-roll devil horns gesture and hitting the melee button with nothing in melee range results in Rex giving the finger to whatever he’s looking at. It’s all very base, and that includes Rex’s no doubt purposefully groan-worthy one-liners.
Humor in videogames in always a divisive subject among fans and Blood Dragon is not the game to try to skirt such things. The humor is dumb on purpose. I can appreciate what they’re going for even if I’m not laughing my head off at it. Others will no doubt simply write it off as stupid jokes meant for stupid people but I think that’s missing the point. Whether that point needs to be made is another matter altogether. We all know action movies from the eighties and early nineties seem really dumb and dated today. Most gamers old enough to appreciate Blood Dragon’s humor won’t be sufficiently shocked by that idea for the jokes to land like they’re intended, and younger gamers (who are still old enough to play an M-rated game) will simply see it as making fun of stuff just because it’s old. Blood Dragon’s humor just isn’t edgy enough to be something memorable. It’s too soft for one group, to esoteric for another, and too broad for anyone else. Certainly, it’s a missed opportunity on Ubisoft’s part.
So, ultimately, Blood Dragon isn’t perfect, but it’s about as good a downloadable title as you’re going to find anywhere, and priced at only 1200 Microsoft points ($14.99) one might call it a “steal.” There are full retail games on disc running the usual 60 bucks with less content than Blood Dragon. 8 to 12 hours is pretty close to an average playtime, but you could easily go even longer than 12 hours finding every collectible, doing every side quest, and exploring the island in its entirety. Sure, it’s nowhere near Far Cry 3’s 40+ hours of content, but for 15 bucks, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is easily one of the best gaming values you’ll find anywhere.