Thursday, May 16, 2013

Game Review - Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (XBLA, 2013)

Disclaimer: I have never played any of the proper Far Cry games, so I cannot comment on any exciting improvements or disappointing failures in Blood Dragon when compared to the rest of the Far Cry franchise.

It’s rare that a good parody comes along these days.  Cheap laughs and overplayed jokes are commonly used to pad otherwise promising parody, and in the gaming industry, most parodies are conspicuously lacking in good gameplay.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon manages to beat both of those stereotypes, providing a gaming experience that is both funny and fun, albeit for only a few short hours.

Blood Dragon makes its intentions known in the opening sequence, where the audience is introduced to the player character through a series of heavily pixelated cutscenes.  Clearly channeling the storytelling techniques of NES games of the late 80’s (Ninja Gaiden comes to mind), the introductory scene sets the stage for a loving look back at many gamers’ roots.  That nostalgia influences just about everything in the game, from the over-the-top action to the soundtrack and even the collectible VHS tapes you can find scattered around.

Set in 2007, Blood Dragon is an alternate history tale following a cyborg commando created in the wake of a nuclear holocaust.  This commando, Rex, finds himself on an isolated island on a mission of revenge with world-altering consequences.  Also giant glow-in-the-dark lizards that shoot lasers from their eyes, but mostly saving the world.

Although the narrative is quite short (I was able to finish the game, including all optional objectives, in under six-and-a-half hours), it is fantastically written.  Most games that emphasize humor front-load their material, making the beginning funny and the later stages downright cringeworthy, but Blood Dragon distributed the laughs pretty evenly.  It was never overwhelmingly hilarious, but it consistently drew some chuckles from me throughout.  Put that story in a well-designed graphical package coupled with a powerful soundtrack, and you get a great overall presentation.

Supporting the entertaining script is a rather impressive first-person shooter.  As is standard these days, Blood Dragon has the usual FPS weaponry (pistol, shotgun, rifle, etc.) and several upgrades for each.  There are, however, a couple of unique features that set it apart from most FPS titles:

First, set in an open-world environment, the game has the general feel of a role-playing game.  You earn “Commando Points” (CP), which are essentially experience points, that will gradually give access to more abilities (sadly, however, you don’t have any choice in what order Rex obtains his skills – they automatically unlock at certain points), and there are a number of side quests you can pursue.  Granted, the side quests are awfully repetitive (they are all “go here, kill stuff, get rewarded”), but it does mix the gameplay up a bit.  You can also assault enemy-held garrisons and, once you’ve cleared all the opposition, use it as a base.  Again, there’s not a whole lot of depth here, and the garrisons weren’t integrated into the story at all, but it’s still nice to have secondary objectives with in-game rewards.

Second, Blood Dragon has a heavy emphasis on stealth (which I love).  Sneaking up on an enemy combatant and killing him silently gives advantages, both in terms of CP bonuses and by allowing you to quickly murder several nearby enemies in succession.  There’s also the obvious benefit of not alerting all baddies in the area to your presence, so there are plusses all around.  To make it even sweeter, Rex has the ability to track enemy soldiers, allowing him to slip through areas more easily.

Of course, it’s not all good.  The game thrusts an annoying escort mission on you in the introductory area (seriously?), but fortunately you don’t have to deal with anything like that again.  It’s also painfully short, begging for a longer story to flaunt its fabulous writing, and there’s nothing to do once you’ve completed all the quests.

All-in-all, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is pretty entertaining while it lasts, but the repetitiveness of side quests and relative lack of content make its 1200 MSP price tag a bit of a tough sell.  Still, as a cleverly written homage to the 80’s with solid gameplay, it makes good use of the time it has.  Fun and funny, Blood Dragon is a good romp through a retro-futuristic wasteland.

My Rating: 7/10 – good.

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