The moment I unlocked the silencer for my sniper rifle in Far Cry 3, it became a different game. Capturing outposts is where the best examples of its dynamic, improvisational combat emerge – if you make a mistake you adapt, juggling tactics as reinforcements pile in – but with the silencer, the need for guerrilla warfare was gone. I’d crouch in a bush a mile away and quietly pick off guards until the Rakyat flag was raised.
But silence isn’t in Rex Power Colt’s vocabulary. There’s no suppressor for Blood Dragon’s sniper rifle, the Kobracon, which forces cautious players to leave their comfort zone and attack enemy-controlled garrisons head-on. What would a Mark IV Cyber Commando need a silencer for anyway? It says everything about the game’s modus operandi that instead of making the Kobracon quieter, upgrading it rewards you with explosive rounds.
Without my usual sniping strategy to fall back on, I began thinking about capturing the island’s garrisons in a different way. Rex can soak up a lot more bullets than Jason Brody, allowing you to take greater risks. I’d often charge blindly into the middle of a garrison, heels licked by the lasers of the small army chasing me, pluck a Gatling gun from a bunker, spin around and mow my pursuers down – a plan that would get Far Cry 3’s frat boy hero killed. The combat in Blood Dragon is faster and more aggressive, but at the expense of difficulty. Rex perhaps feels a little too powerful.
Ubisoft Montréal’s love of vintage Hollywood action makes it a tremendously satisfying first-person shooter, with oversized weapons, a prodigious body count, and an endearingly dumb sense of humour. The stylish neon-drenched visuals and retrowave soundtrack fit the mood perfectly, and it makes Far Cry 3 look decidedly drab in comparison. But the side effect of its tongue being wedged so firmly in its cheek is that its comedy doesn’t always work.
It makes the same mistake as so many comedy games before it: mocking tired gaming tropes while actively making you take part in them. The Simpsons Game joked about tiresome mini-games as you slogged through a long, dull parade of them. InXile’s ill-fated reboot of The Bard’s Tale satirised fantasy RPGs where the first quest is always killing rats in a cellar, by making you kill rats in a cellar. Blood Dragon isn’t quite as bad, but it still operates under the assumption that if you joke about banal design, you can get away with it.
It derides disruptive tutorial pop-ups as you’re inundated by them. Rex picks up a side-mission – which quickly become repetitive, drawing from only a handful of mission types – and grunts “Blah, blah, blah, kill, blah, blah.” Sometimes the self-referential humour hits the mark, and there are some amusing pops at modern game design here, but a lot of the time it feels misjudged. It’s a funny game, especially the earnest, Saturday morning cartoon-style cut-scenes, but as I play through it again, it’s the game itself that shines brighter.
The island is much smaller than the main game’s, but this makes completing the garrisons feel more achievable. Seeing the spotlights on the horizon changing from red to green is a compelling visual reward for your successes. Using the titular blood dragons to clear groups of enemies without lifting a finger is a neat touch, and releasing a caged cyber-tiger and watching it tear them apart is endlessly entertaining. The story missions are enjoyable and boast some delightfully farcical set-pieces, but it’s the emergent, unpredictable moments that surface as you attack garrisons that define the experience.
In future Far Cry games, I’d like to see the outpost/garrison system integrated into the game in a more coherent way. In both Blood Dragon and the main game there’s a palpable disconnect between the scripted, set-piece-led story missions and their freeform, open structure. The game is at its best when you approach an enemy camp with a bag full of guns, plan your attack, and execute it.
With such a broad arsenal of sci-fi weapons, and a short six-hour running time, Blood Dragon is worth playing twice. Not for the story, but for experimenting with clearing out the garrisons. When you’re knee-deep in neon-helmeted corpses after a successful assault, you realise how much you’d be missing out on if you were cowering in a bush, peering through a rifle scope.