On the surface, Blood Dragon should have been an impossible game reserved for the fevered minds of dedicated modders. It’s ludicrous, brash, unrelenting and unapologetic in its approach to crafting a standalone adventure that pays tribute to the B-grade films of yesteryear. It’s also the most fun that I’ve had all month.
It is the far off future of 2007. The world is in ruins, Australia is a superpower and the apocalypse just banged Ragnarok to create an ever bigger dystopian future. Enter Sergeant Rex “Power” Colt, a Mark IV cyber-commando motherf$%#r that is quick on the trigger and even quicker on the well-timed one-liner.
There’s shenanigans afoot of the world-ending variety, as the mysterious Omega Force army is amassing for some devious purpose under the leadership of a bloodthirsty Colonel Sloane who wants an apocalypse, now. It’s up to Colt and his partner, who has a wife and family and so much to live for to get to the bottom of things.
And of course, said mission goes FUBAR pretty damn quickly.
While Far Cry 3 was a serious game with some serious talent behind it, it wasn’t perfect. It had issues, from horrific driving controls, a main character who was annoyingly too much of a jock stereotype, to a mission from hell that violated the Geneva convention by looping Skrillex music constantly.
Blood Dragon addresses some of those problems though, with an action hero that is impossible not to like, a world that is so over the top that it would sooner flip you the finger than give a damn. And right from the start, it wears its 30 lives on its sleeve.
Five minutes in from an old school video game intro that leads into a scripted turret sequence, and players are already experiencing the biggest dick move in history as Colt is forced to relive his tutorial nightmare that includes prompts to press A to activate Z-Axis movement, to a never-ending barrage of adverts to enhance the gameplay experience with purchasable cyber-points.
Blood Dragon isn’t just tongue in cheek, its pierced through that wall of mouth-flesh and left that muscle to stick out entirely. What appears to be a linear mission structure soon gives way to a sequel of game ideas, from an open world that is impressively sizeable, to objectives dim-mukked straight from the torso of Far Cry 3.
But all of that is done with a love for 80-90s sci-fi, VHS tapes and extreme stereotypes. If the idea of taking on legions of cyborg soldiers in a broken world while hurling insults at every corner doesn’t appeal to you, then stop reading right now. This game wasn’t meant for you, and I pity you. Go away.
But for everyone else, this is a standalone that truly does stand alone against all the odds. On the surface, its undeniably Far Cry 3. Outposts can be invaded, conquered and turned into friendly bastions, while the landscape itself has been Australianised into a lethal outback that tries to murder you at every turn.
Including death at the hands of those damned Blood Dragons. Blood Dragons are rage incarnate; unstoppable killing machines that feed on your fear and can kill you with a glance, thanks to their nuclear fusion eye-lasers. They can take more punishment than an action film at the Oscars, but they’ll bounce back with the strength of a cult hit direct-to-DVD sale.
And early on in the game, they’ll be the bane of your life. But the interesting thing is, is that they can become weapons that can help you win a battle. And winning a battle is winning half the battle. Omega Force soldiers may be harder than Bolo Yeung English lessons, but that’s when they play the numbers game. Take one down, and yes, you can loot his corpse – but for more than just ammo. You can rip the heart out of the cyber-chest cavity, and use that fresh organ to lure a Blood Dragon in for the kill, or redirect it towards some enemies, while you take cover. Remember, Blood Dragons sense movement, because they’re clever girls.
As for Colt’s adventures, it’s pretty challenging early in the game, much like it was for Jason Brodie in Far Cry 3. You’re still going to earn some experience, or cyber-points, that will help you level up. But that experience is now far more streamlined. You don’t get to choose the skills to acquire, you get rewarded with them upon sequelling your levels.
And does it make a difference? Absolutely. You go from down on his luck Rocky 1 who does everything he can just to survive a scrap, to full on Rocky 4 power where a single punch can destroy the very concept of communism. Takedowns become easier, more fluid and the chance to throw a ninja star into the face of an Omega Force soldier is gleefully exhilarating every time.
As for more conventional forms of warfare? There’s plenty of weapons on offer here; from the standard bow and arrow setup that has been given the Tron treatment (Tronment, patent pending), to a handy pistol salvaged from a Detroit police office who fell in the line of duty and came back more robotic than ever, each gun has an influence here.
For a price, the majority of them are also upgradeable, a feature that significantly boosts their usefulness. Dropping some cash makes all the difference, when you compare a regular sniper rifle to a semi-automatic weapon of mass destruction that shoots explosives. State of the art! Bang bang!
On the surface though, Blood Dragon is pretty much a reskinned Far Cry 3. There’s no denying that. The DNA of that game is still firmly in place here, but it’s the attention to the smaller things here that makes this standalone more than just a direct to DVD clone.
It’s seeing a crate labelled with a sticker that tells you that winners don’t need drugs, or opening a cave that immediately challenges you to test your might. What Ubisoft Montreal has done in essence, is to craft a love letter to a forgotten era of action movies and heroes.
It’s thick with stereotypes and ideas, but they’re all played for laughs – and it just works beautifully. Far Cry 3 was the kind of game that rewarded players who kept the action in the shadows, but with Blood Dragon, you don’t want to do that.
You want to chuck some C400 explosives at enemies and explode their faces off. You want to run in guns first and common sense last. And when you’ve levelled up enough, everything flows perfectly. Blood Dragon is the very essence of a plan that has come together, and without Michael Biehn voicing Rex Colt, it would have all fallen apart.
His dry retorts, one-liners and insults make the game worthwhile, and a hell of a lot more entertaining. Add to that a world that is a pretty massive chunk of land to cover, explosions at a regular interval and never-ending action, and you’ve got a standalone title that lives up the hype.
It’s an 80s montage of training, kickass and fun that doesn’t give a damn if you disagree with the approach taken. And that’s what makes the game so special. It’ll take you around 6-8 hours to beat the game entirely, including finding collectibles, doing side missions and hunting anything that has a pulse.
But it’s also one of the most satisfying experiences on the digital shelves today.