Friday, April 11, 2014

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon review

    The relationship between boys (not men) and the 1980s action movie craze is something which is difficult to explain. It's really a meeting of circumstances more than anything else. You see, back when the PG-13 rating was either nonexistent or new (coming to pass because of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), the R-rating had some leeway from movie theaters. It had just the sort of forbidden allure that was intoxicating to boys aged twelve to fourteen.

    What did you want to do when you wanted to show how much more grown up you were than Star Wars (even though you weren't)? Well, you went to see one of the many R-rated movies out there in theaters or on VHS. The movie industry was completely complicit in this. Aliens, Robocop, Terminator, Predator, and Rambo (part II and III) had massive fanbases amongst those who were technically too young to see them. I won't lie to you, there were also other allures of R-rated movies that newly pubescent boys would hope to be in these sorts of films, especially the really bad ones. The internet has wiped out the allure of these latter ones completely.

The Blood Dragons are impressive monsters and easily one of the game's best features.
    What am I blathering on about? Well, what I'm trying to get at is that 1980s action movies were marketed as often as not at kids as well as adults. I could have said that upfront but I wanted to soliloquy about my childhood. Imagine G.I. Joe with more nudity (16-bit), swearing, and blue-colored gore. This will give you a pretty good idea of what Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is all about. It's a cartoon made for adult men in their thirties reminiscing about their childhood as adolescents wishing they were adult men in their thirties.

    It's pure nostalgia.

    The premise of Blood Dragon is you are Sergeant Rex Power Colt, whose name could only come from the fevered dreams of young boys wishing to be awesome. He is a slightly-out-of-date cyborg commando in the post-Apocalypse draconian United States (which has just survived Vietnam 2). In a hilariously unsentimental riff on Apocalypse Now, Rex is sent to terminate his former commanding officer, Colonel Ike Sloan, who has assembled an army of cybernetic soldiers to take over the world. They're called...OMEGA FORCE.

    Dun Dun Dun.

Nothing says fun like a minigun.
    In a way, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is the anti-Spec Ops: The Line. SO:TL  is a video game about the horrors of war and how there's something messed up about slaughtering thousands of digital people onscreen to feel like a hero. Blood Dragon explicitly calls out this attitude as nonsense, having a brief moment where an NPC talks about how video games are fun, improve reaction time, and have no proven link to violence despite numerous studies. SO:TL  is about making you feel guilty for wanting to be a hero, Blood Dragon is about being the most stereotypical over-the-top action hero since Duke Nukem but without the crudity or sexism.

    The gameplay is nearly identical to that of the main game, Far Cry 3, which shouldn’t come as any surprise. What the game does is streamline the experience system so you gain powers instead of tattoos. Rex Power Colt has a few fun new abilities as well, such as the fact he can run at 30 mph, doesn’t suffer falling damage, and can breathe underwater. These abilities change the way the game is played and help solidify the sense that Rex is a cyborg badass early on. Rex also has chain-kills unlocked at the beginning so he can slaughter three or four robot enemies at once from the very beginning.

    Perhaps remembering the funnest part of Far Cry were the outpost takeovers, Blood Dragon  expands on them. Omega Force's garrisons are larger, better armed, and have a number of alternate means of takeover. My favorite is turning off the energy shields and letting in Blood Dragons to slaughter the troops within. You can also lure them to attack your enemies or distract them with the cyborg hearts of your foes. They're great "boss" enemies and sufficiently hard to kill so that even cyborg badasses like Sergeant Rex Power Colt must use every resource to kill them.

The cutscenes are done in a deliberately retro-style, which is hilarious.
    The homages run hot and thick in Blood Dragon, starting with the fact Michael Biehn (Aliens, Terminator) is the voice of our hero. The game references Robocop, Predator, Commando, Cyborg 2, Rocky IV, and a dozen other sources with everything from databank entries to more obvious references. I'm particularly fond of Doctor Elizabeth Veronica Darling, voiced by the incomparable Grey Delisle, is a combination of a dozen 80s cliches. All of them, I point out, which make her character laugh out loud funny.

     At heart, Blood Dragon is a funny game and a good example of the action genre. Thus, it works as the best kind of parody. You aren't supposed to take Rex Power Colt's ridiculous jingoism ("I made a promise to Lady Liberty"), muted humility ("Paintings of sad clowns and dogs playing poker are amazing. This is just the job."), and cheesy one-liners (too many to count) seriously but you can. Underneath the joke-a-second storyline, there's a simple but entertaining story about good versus evil. Ike Sloan is an entertaining monster and Rex Colt is a likable hero.

Cyberbow and arrow versus cyborg T-Rex!
    If I have a complaint about Blood Dragon, it's that its less ambitious than it could have been. The entirety of the game takes place on a single island smaller than the final level of Far Cry 3. This game could have easily been expanded into a full-blown $60 side-entry into the franchise using Far Cry 3's engine. Likewise, the final level comes close to being perfect but fails to deliver a satisfying battle with the villain.


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