I can’t really remember the last time Michael Biehn was such a hot topic, but then again, I wasn’t alive for his Terminator and Aliens runs as Kyle Reese and Dwayne Hicks respectively, nor was I conscious enough of the outside world to keep up with the industry surrounding movies when he was unrelenting in his 90s movie production.
It turns out, though, that he’s never gone away; his movie credits only grow more and more impressive as time goes on. But he seems to have taken a step towards the realm of video games as of late. Earlier this year, he reprised his role of Corporal Hicks in Aliens: Colonial Marines and now he’s Sergeant Rex Power Colt in Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, a standalone expansion to last year’s Far Cry 3. It’s a surprising, hyper 80s twist to the rather superb original release, and Biehn, quite frankly, excels as a cyber supersoldier. His commitment is stellar. The problem is that Blood Dragon itself seems to falter.
At its most fundamental level, Blood Dragon is pretty much Far Cry 3 proper in that you play from a first-person perspective, clear outposts, and occasionally hunt things. The framework is still there in that you sneak around bases and can distract guards and hold a button to heal yourself, but now it’s drenched in the neon glow of the 1980s. Think back to when you would go to Blockbuster and browse the action section, looking for the most ostentatious cover you could find. The more gaudy, the better! Skip over The Running Man and Cyber Tracker, though, because you’ll just keep picking Blood Dragon from now until the end of time.
The year is 2007, the unknown future, and the aforementioned cyber supersoldier Rex Power Colt (an absurd and amazing name) must head to an island to stop his former commander from doing, um, something. It’s nefarious and involves blood dragons and missiles and is about as relevant to the game as the actual story of The Delta Force is to The Delta Force. It’s simply a means to an end, and while the means can be pretty fun, the end is what really matters here.
And to that point, it succeeds, if not completely. If Blood Dragon‘s goal was simply to finish the race, then congratulations, but it does stumble quite a bit along the way. The aesthetic, for example, is oozing with style. It has convinced me wholeheartedly that more games need to be made in this exact milieu, complete with ambient rainbow glows and scratchy scanlines. The entire game, though, comes across as too dark, to the point where you feel like you’re struggling to see things further than 10 feet away from you.
The tutorial could have been the strongest part of the game, but it lacks the commitment that makes B-movies ironically great. Some of the stuff is genuinely funny such as when it describes what jumping and crouching do, but when it calls you a nerd for throwing a d20 (a twenty-sided die usually used for tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons), it doesn’t make a lot of sense. You just spent so much time committing to this one gag on an overly controlling and self-serious tutorial. Why ruin it by basically breaking down the fourth wall and asking the player, “Hey, this is pretty funny, right? Throwing dice? Eh? EEHH?!”
Perhaps more emblematic is that fact that you throw a d20 at all. What was wrong with just throwing a rock? Just call it a cyber rock and you have a more fitting and funnier joke. Actually, it would have been better even if the entire game was d20-type of goofs because then it would have been at least consistent, which is perhaps the most important thing when it comes to B-movie pleasure. The fact that the game doesn’t harp on your ninja star stealth kill chain move is what makes it work, but having loading screens full of snark really becomes self-defeating. It also doesn’t help that the very first thing you do is engage in a turret sequence, though the song kind of makes it worth it.
The whole cloth infusing that takes place in Blood Dragon is, however, mostly good. Everything you remember outside of the core mechanics have been affected by the cyber bug of the expansion. Outposts no longer serve you up animals in cages that do the work for you. Now, instead, you’ll have to lower the shields surrounding them and lure in the giant, ornery blood dragons with cyber hearts that you collect from corpses. And while you’ll still collect experience points and unlock skills, there is no longer a skill tree; you simply unlock a predetermined set of skills—most of which are taken straight from the main Far Cry 3—with each level you gain.
Now, in addition to hunting side quests, you can also go on hostage rescues. There will be a scientist you’ll have to liberate from a patrolled area, and if you alert anyone, enemies in the vicinity will immediately head back to your charge and start lighting him up like a god damn Christmas tree. And in completing these side quests, you’ll unlock weapon attachments like silencers and explosive rounds.
And, of course, there’s the soundtrack, which is utterly sublime. If I could just stare at the main splash screen and listen to the soundtrack on loop, I would be content for at least three to four hours. Wait, did I say hours? I meant days. No, make that weeks. Whatever, just get out of my room and let me listen to this retro-future cyber punk rock electro house surf metal.
Blood Dragon is, undoubtedly, a good game. It doesn’t hurt that it’s built on top of an already fantastic game in its own right in Far Cry 3, but Blood Dragon definitely comes in and adds its own spin to the proceedings. It’s audio and visual flair are what bring the heat and turn a patently absurd and risky maneuver into a resounding success.
Now if only they could figure out what to do with it. The humor comes from two disparate places, as if there were two different writers unknowingly contributing to the same game. As they say, shit or get off the pot, and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is trying to do both. Instead of creating a cohesive, fantastically retro while amazingly modern throwback package (that could make a compelling argument for more standalone expansions on its own), you have a visually stunning, mechanically sound game steeped in the cyber-fascination of the 80s that doesn’t know what it wants to do with itself. If Biehn can commit, why can’t you?
+ The entire audio and visual treatment is mind-blowingly awesome
+ Built on the strong fundamentals of Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon succeeds at just feeling like a good game to play
+ Dialogue and jokes, when they hit, work disgustingly well at being simultaneously stupid and appropriate
+ The non-syringe healing animations are pretty great, as is the entire ending
– At times, the game seems too self-aware and fights against itself and how its genre (80s action) works
Final Score: 8 out of 10