In retrospect, the 1980s were perhaps humanity’s most colourful decade. That is, at least in terms of modern time. Filled to the brim with colour, experimentation, cheesy movies and strange musical styles, those years will never be forgotten, and for good reason. However, as a race, we’ve experienced an incredible amount of progression since that time – so much so that it’s impossible to even list, or comprehend all of the advancements that have been made. Of course, a lot of that has to do with technology, which is always improving at an impressive, yet almost overwhelming pace. Gadgets and gizmos have become an integral and beneficial part of our everyday lives in today’s modern world, and it’s always interesting to look back on where we came from.
Whereas this modern day is ripe with high-definiton TVs displaying 1080p resolution, video game consoles spouting realistic-looking 3D graphics and computers capable of doing amazing things, those options are astronomically better than the technology that was made available to consumers in the 80s. In a decade filled with arcades and hair metal, standard definition televisions put out only decent quality video, video games offered only 8-bit visuals and home movies were made available thanks to the invention of black VHS tapes. It sounds crude in comparison, and honestly is, but that’s just the way that things are. Nothing stands still in our world, and a lot of industrious people have worked hard to create the tech that we have today. We’re spoiled in some ways, in fact, and I sometimes miss the more simplistic days of VCRs and cassette tapes. That’s not to say I don’t fully appreciate what’s available today, of course, but it’s human nature to miss yesteryear.
Why am I so transfixed on the 1980s? All of the blame goes to Ubisoft Montreal, but in a good and appreciable way. With their latest release, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, the studio’s talented members have done their best to take us to the future and the past at the same time. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but that’s exactly what the downloadable Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network and PC first-person shooter does in its own unique way.
An unexpected but great spin-off of one of last holiday season’s best games, Blood Dragon is set in the futuristic world of 2007. Yes, you read that correctly: It’s set in the future, but that future is six years in the past and exists within a world that has had to deal with nuclear catastrophe. It makes sense in context, because the developers made it seem as if their content was manufactured in the 1980s as opposed to 2012/2013. Simply put, it’s as if we’re provided with the opportunity to play through a VHS experience that offers a look at what the future was thought of being at that point in time. Needless to say, it’s a bit weird and full of neon colouring.
Throughout what is a 7 mission-long story arc, players take control of a cybernetic soldier named Rex Power Colt. Formerly human, he’s one of a number of soldiers who were revived through the use of robotic enhancements. As such, he could be considered as more of a machine than a man, though his soul remains intact.
Opening with a crude, 8-bit inspired animation sequence, this spin-off sees Rex and his ally taking an armed military helicopter to a mysterious island. Their goal is to take on an armed militia group known as Omega Force, while learning what has happened to a former compatriot. It’s a very traditional story, wherein one must attempt to kill the bad guy and save the pretty girl from danger, and the developers play out the cliche in grandiose fashion. Throughout, success is reliant upon using bullets, energy guns and explosives to take out anything that stands in one’s way.
Mixing the open world exploration that the Far Cry series has become synonymous with and the hunting opportunities that the franchise’s last venture presented, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon has a very familiar base. It’s action-packed, over-the-top and filled with enough cheesy one-liners to make Duke Nukem happy. Intermingled with all of that greatness is a series of secondary objectives, including taking over outposts, target hunting and hostage rescue escapades. The idea is that, in order to earn a new fast travel location, one must go into a red highlighted outpost and destroy every enemy within its grounds. After doing so, it will become friendly, offering a vending machine full of ammunition, weapon upgrades and medical assistance, alongside additional machines that house the aforementioned sub-missions. I played through everything that was on offer and had a blast doing so.
Now, you’re surely wondering why the title bears the words Blood Dragon. There is a reason, as gigantic, dinosaur-like creatures known as blood dragons inhabit the in-game island. Mysterious and powerful for more than one reason, they’re a painful foe to deal with. Taking one down is possible, though, and the game awards players handsomely for doing so, with experience points that lead to perks and weapon attachments. There are other uses for the reptiles, however, as Rex has the ability to lure them into human-occupied outposts by taking their shields offline and/or throwing enemies’ hearts near the location. As a result, players have options at hand.
Mechanically speaking, there’s nothing revolutionary here. At times, that can be considered a major downside. However, this is a spin-off of Far Cry 3, which happens to be one of the best games of this generation. Its mechanics were sound, its visuals were crisp, and all of that has been carried over here. The gunplay is sound, there’s a lot to do, and the offered content is an absolute blast. Does it reinvent the wheel? No, it doesn’t, but that wasn’t the focus this time around. The developers tried their best to create a neo-futuristic experience that was full of as much character as it was bullets, and they certainly succeeded. Throw in some 80s inspired collectibles, plus some weird variations on real-life animals, and you have something special.
In keeping with the retro-meets-futuristic vibe that inhabits this close to eight hour-long experience, Ubisoft Montreal has defined the game’s digitally-crafted island with an incredibly unique coat of scan-line featuring paint. Gone are the sunny beaches and crisp blue skies that we’re accustomed to. In their place, a red, purple and black tinted landscape exists, complete with neon accents and colourful effects. Think of it as a combination of Jurassic Park, Far Cry and a cheesy action movie from yesteryear, mixed in with futuristic elements. It’s not beautiful in the generally accepted sense, but it does look and sound very good, thanks to a powerful engine and a good attention to detail. Going further, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Michael Biehn (Aliens, The Terminator) stars as one Mr. Rex Power Colt, adding cult classic pipes to a badass game.
By now, you’re surely aware of the fact that I loved Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. As such, my recommendation won’t come as a surprise. That’s OK, though, because this is one of those releases that is a blast to play through and talk about. I want it to succeed, because there aren’t many games like it, and Ubisoft Montreal’s creativity and risk-taking both deserve commendation. Also, the fact that this is a wallet friendly downloadable title as opposed to a retail offering is worth noting, because it lacks an expensive price tag and is worth every penny of what it sells for.
This review is based on the Xbox LIVE Arcade version of the game, which we were provided with.