It’s difficult to make an argument against Far Cry 3 being one of this generation’s greatest games. A gorgeous open world shooter with massive amounts to do, it went down a storm with gamers for it’s engaging storyline, clever missions and huge amounts of extra stuff to do. DLC was always bound to follow, but with Blood Dragon Ubisoft have taken a slightly different approach, instead releasing this as a stand-alone title that doesn’t even need to original Far Cry 3 to play. Looking at it, you can see why – Blood Dragon moves away from the green modern day setting and introduces something quite unusual – a futuristic 2007. Yes, really.
Based on a stereotypical 80s idea of the near future, everything about Blood Dragon sends you back an era of VHS tapes and dreams of automatic doors in every building. Whether it’s the neon title screen, the videotape-style loading screens that are constantly tracking to get a better picture, the still-motion cut scenes or the laser weapons (which must exist by 2007, surely…) it initially seems laughably inaccurate until it dawns on you that, if you’re over the age of 30 at least, you probably thought the early 21st century would be like this as well. The environment has taken a turn for the worse, the sky glows an ever-ominous red colour, dragons roam the island blasting super-powerful lasers at anyone who gets too close and pretty much all of your foes are cyberdudes whose hearts can be torn out to provide bait for the dragons. As a result of all these darker features the beauty of the Far Cry engine is lost somewhat, but you probably won’t notice for all the fun you’ll be having.
As an entirely single player campaign you’d be hoping for enough to keep you going for a while, and that’s exactly what you get. With a main story which will last you 4 or 5 hours it initially, on paper at least, sounds a bit lightweight. But as with Far Cry 3, ploughing through the story and ignoring the world around you is a massive waste of some of the better parts of the game. Following the previous idea of liberating outposts, you’ll be finding several garrisons dotted around – strongholds with shielded perimeters that prevent dragons from roaming in and causing chaos. Capturing these garrisons is a great distraction by itself, and provide you with even more side-missions that reward you with various goodies. The way you go about killing everyone inside is up to you – whether you sneak in and silently take down the bad guys one by one, run in all guns blazing or take down the shields and let a dragon loose (a bit like luring a tiger into an outpost in Far Cry itself) the end result is the same, somewhere to take stock, buy your ammo and other bits and bobs as well as pick up the extra side-missions.
These missions take one of two forms, either rescuing a scientist or hunting a certain animal. These missions unlock new attachments for your weapons which can be bought back at a garrison provided you’ve got enough cash. The attachments make your standard weapons (sniper rifle, machine gun, shotgun and all that) into some serious badass killing machines. Want to give your sniper rifle a bit of bite? Of course you do, so you check the upgrades list and see that you can earn explosive bullets by completing a specific objective. Marvellous. Similarly your trusty machine gun which initially fires in bursts can be upgraded to a fully automatic laser-shooting head popper, and your shotgun can be turned into a quad-barrel (oh yes) beast which also sets things on fire when you shoot them. It stands to reason then that before you enter the final area (which gives you a fair warning that you’re waving goodbye to the open world until you’ve finished the main story) you’ll want to sort out a few more garrisons, hunt a few more animals, save a few more scientists and get your weapons in top-top condition with all the bells and whistles. You’ll also need to hunt down a series of scientist notes, old TVs and VHS tapes too, both of which will provide their own weapon-based rewards.
There’s a levelling system to keep an eye on, but as with other parts of Blood Dragon it’s toned down from the main Far Cry 3 game. As you complete missions and generally tit around you’ll earn XP which, as you’d expect, increases your level every now and then. There’s no choice of what extra abilities you get – these are set in stone from minute 1 – but it’s still nice to have that little something extra to aim for, and all the more reason to muck about with incidental activites before you get all the way through the main missions. There are so many reasons to take your time with this, you’ll actually comfortably get 7 or 8 hours out of this even without looking for all of the extras. Spend time exploring the island and tracking down the various animals, vehicles and other bits and bobs and you can extend that by a few more hours. It’s much like Far Cry 3 funnily enough – stick to the storyline and you’ll be missing the whole point of the game and shortening it considerably (not to mention missing out on all the cool gear).
The great thing about Far Cry: Blood Dragon is that it takes a lot of the things that were so enjoyable in Far Cry 3 – clearing out strongholds, using the animals and environments to your advantage and spending hour arsing around – and squashes them into a game that despite being very similar, is also massively different. The future-in-the-past setting will bring a smile to the more experienced gamers among you, and the intentionally cheesy dialogue which bounces from the overly-intrusive tutorial (which your character starts getting pissed off with quite quickly) through to a string of one-liners that you growl to yourself in a Duke Nukem style manner appear to have been very carefully considered to keep them just about the funny side of annoying. The missions start to get quite challenging without ever making you want to throw your controller at the cat, and there’s so much to do that the £11.99 price tag starts to feel like quite a bargain. Games have been released at full price with less content and substance than this, and despite the weird Far Cry checkpoint non-save confusion still being present it’s hard to do anything but recommend it. It’s big, loud, over the top and totally brilliant.
Reviewed on PS3