Every inch of Blood Dragon’s island is bathed in a crimson glow. It’s part of lurid colour scheme that – along with the neon pink wireframes and chrome fonts of its title screen, not to mention the synths and guitar riffs that kick in the moment everything else kicks off – practically drench the entirety of this standalone expansion in a kitschy ’80s milieu. But it’s also deep red disguise, one that does a surprisingly good job of hiding the fact that you’ve visited this island before.
Not quite literally: Blood Dragon offers a fresh map filled with familiar tasks. You still capture Outposts (only now they’re called Garrisons) by killing everyone inside. You still hunt animals for upgrades (only now they’re cybernetic freaks with glowing green eyes). You still speed along on jetskis (and occasionally wrestle sharks). But Ubisoft has stripped Far Cry 3 to its skeleton and redressed it so outrageously that it’s hard not to get dragged along for the wise-cracking, ass-kicking ride.
Sergeant Rex Power Colt might claim that he’s “no hero, just your everyday US Military Mark IV Cybercommando,” but don’t let such modesty fool you. Cybercommandos come with the takedown moves that Jason Brody must unlock handily preinstalled, along with a superpowered sprint and a natural immunity to fall damage. But Colt’s personality extends far beyond these tweaks. The man can barely reload a gun without twirling the magazine like Tom Cruise mixing drinks in Cocktail; hold down the trigger on his minigun, meanwhile, and he’ll (without fail) unleash a vengeful, agonised scream. Try a melee attack when there’s nothing around to stab and he’ll stick up his middle finger. Press the button again and he’ll do the same with his other hand. He’s a brazen ’80s hero to the core, a character built to wade into the centre of a fray rather than skulk at its edges. He’s well served by Blood Dragon’s terrifically silly pastiche of a script, not to mention Colt’s voice actor, Michael Biehn, who turns in a performance that flows so effortlessly between straight-faced, grizzled seriousness and self-aware parody that we’ve cautiously forgiven him for turning up in Aliens Colonial Marines.
Tone isn’t the only departure from Far Cry 3. Colt’s short campaign looks superficially similar, but Brody’s has markedly different form: a preoccupation with interiors and set-piece battles that fits the high-concept nature of Blood Dragon like a tightly knotted bandana, but shuns Far Cry 3’s core strength of player-instigated, emergent battles in open environments. With this in mind, the high walls of Blood Dragon’s Garrisons are a mistake – they’re fun to jump from, admittedly, but they bottle up the ensuing combat. This, however, is understandable given what waits outside those walls.
The eponymous Blood Dragons are an (un)natural extension of Far Cry 3’s amusingly hostile wildlife: ridiculous neon dinosaurs that prowl over the island, and can be lured into doing Colt’s bidding by chucking cybernetic hearts torn from defeated foes. Surprisingly difficult to kill and equipped with a powerful laser attack, they’re just the sort of slightly-too-wild card that’s fun to play with here but which would have overwhelmed the original game.
Blood Dragon gets away with this and other indulgences (its sci-fi guns can feel a bit sludgy in comparison to Brody’s conventional weapons) because of the exuberant, nostalgic fun that runs through the entirety of the game. This isn’t Far Cry 3 at its best mechanically, but it’s definitely the game at its most charismatic. Because as a bunch of well-worn VHS tapes at Ubisoft Montreal undoubtedly prove, the ’80s knew how to do personality.