Developer: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Shanghai / Publisher: Ubisoft / Played on: PC / Price: $14.99 / ESRB: Mature [Violence, Blood, Sexual Content, Nudity, Strong Language]
Believe it or not, there was a time in the eighties when people genuinely enjoyed ridiculous male power fantasies. These “stories” typically revolved around an ex-military protagonist whose scant depth of personality was juxtaposed with his gigantic steroid-fueled muscles. Meaningful plot or dialogue was replaced with a skyrocketing body count as the invincible protagonist mowed through waves of faceless, meaningless thugs.
Can you believe that we no longer entertain such one-dimensional entertainment? Oh wait; it’s basically every shooter ever.
Rather than accept that implicit absurdity, Blood Dragon turns the volume up as loud as it can on all the precepts of the ‘80s that used to be such serious business. In that regard, the game’s opening hour is superlative. An introductory cutscene sets the stage with jagged, low-resolution spritework: the year is 2007 and “the apocalypse has had an apocalypse.” You are Rex Power Colt, a commando brought back from the brink of death with gaudy cybernetic implants. Now equipped with a laser eye and a chromed mechanical arm, you must stop the Omega Force from ruling the world with an armament of laser rifles, laser swords, laser shurikens, laser bows, and laser… dinosaurs (more on them later).
Once the tutorials are finished and the overpowered introductory guns are yanked away from you, the game plays like a palette-swapped Far Cry 3. You’re given a scaled-down island to freely roam that is populated with outposts to liberate, scientists to save, and story missions to accomplish. Instead of the verdant greens and blues of Far Cry 3’s island, Blood Dragon’s locales glow in neon orange and purple. It’s as though the entire game is played under a blacklight, and the visuals are so striking the game’s worth playing for that alone.
Blood Dragon’s combat retains the same Far Cry DNA, which is most appreciable when liberating outposts sprinkled across the island. Since these take place in outdoor environments, you’re given freedom to plan your approach, survey the enemy with your cyber-eye, and then infiltrate using a mix of stealth and direct combat. Or you could just sic a laser dinosaur on them.
OK so they’re actually called Blood Dragons but “laser dinosaur” is more apt. These glowing T-rexes prowl Blood Dragon’s island and attack anything they see indiscriminately. If you lure them into an enemy base by throwing a cyber-heart you’ve obtained from a fallen enemy, you can sit back and watch waves of bike helmet-wearing goons fruitlessly attack a neon dinosaur that shoots lasers out of his eyes.
In case you haven’t pieced it together yet, this game is pretty crazy.
The game’s story missions are less mechanically interesting, generally taking place in enclosed, underground compounds. There is some planning involved if you want to go the stealth route — kill this guy before that one, throw a rock (now a D20) over here to lure an enemy away… the experience is nearly identical to Far Cry 3.
The gameplay’s texture is slightly different thanks to Colt’s abilities that make you feel like an ‘80s badass. You come loaded with most of Far Cry 3’s advanced skills from the get-go, including chain kills and death from above. Quietly cleaning rooms of enemies isn’t difficult and there’s not much of a consequence if you’re seen, aside from another handful of guys to shoot in the face. Given that the side content is more mechanically interesting than the story missions, it’s bizarrely in Blood Dragon’s favor that the story is short. You can blast through the story in two or three hours, whereas four or five can be spent liberating outposts and completing side quests.
Unlike Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon is much more direct when it comes to progression and unlocks. Leveling up adds more life bars and new player abilities while completing specific side quests unlocks new gun attachments and upgrades. The heaps of collectible items from Far Cry 3 don’t return, which is just fine by me. The fourth time I filled my inventory with the wrong kind of hide was enough.
Mechanics aside, Blood Dragon succeeds most in its presentation. Influences from the eighties permeate at every level of the experience, whether you’re looking at the absurd plot that works in notes of Asian infatuation and communist terror or the crouch icon that mirrors the iconic hunched-forward Terminator post-time-warp pose. Powerglove’s score fits the game like a… well, you know. It’s equal parts schlocky ‘80s synthpop and retro video game throwbacks. The tracks mix iconic, reverb-laced drum machines with that farty, warbly bass that came from late ‘80s arcade cabinets and the Sega Megadrive.
More than any one reference or throwback, Blood Dragon is creativity unrestrained and uncompromised. It’s a product from a team that had a love for what they were making and didn’t have to justify or temper their creative ambition at any point in the development process. Even if the game isn’t mechanically bulletproof, it’s worth playing just to see an unfettered creative joy that’s becoming rare in a progressively homogenized industry.
And that’s the most poetic point Blood Dragon can make. Nobody made action parodies in the ‘80s because it was serious business at the time. Who would laugh at Arnold shirtless, holding a chaingun, shooting waves of thugs? This is what people want to see.
In the same way, now nobody mocks self-serious shooters because that’s where the money is. Blood Dragon is a reminder that a story about one man killing thousands is just silly. That’s fine though, because games don’t always need to be serious. Games should just be fun, and that’s exactly what Blood Dragon is.
+ Amazing creative vision
+ Entertaining, miniaturized Far Cry experience
- Flat, short story missions
8.5 / 10