Back in the early nineties, two French musicians came together to create their own special brand of neon-clad electronic club music. The duo, calling themselves Daft Punk, quickly gained international fame, ultimately gracing the entire world with their signature dance anthems. On May 17th, as you might’ve heard, these two men are releasing their fourth studio album. The fans are insatiable. The industry hype is incendiary. People seem to want their nightlife glazed in day-glo nostalgia, and Daft Punk is ready to give it to them. Ubisoft Montreal, the studio behind the acclaimed 2012 shooter Far Cry 3, have decided to bring a little shred of that hype to the games industry.
As the latest blockbuster to grace the Internet, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon grabs a loving chunk of early nineties neon-culture and shapes it into a first-person shooter. On paper, it’s the perfect storm. Campy action film clichés are smashed into cyber-submission, welded to a game engine, and backed with new-age electronica. Your character collects VHS tapes, drops one-liners, and fights oversaturated, laser-spewing dino-dragons. For a child of the past decades, this is a mode of seemingly endless entertainment. For those less inclined to retro vibrancy, it’s at least notable. Unfortunately, this is a game that works better in concept than it does in execution.
Looking at the modern game industry, it’s easy to see most blockbuster titles as ramped-up, overproduced, adolescent male power fantasies. From this perspective, Blood Dragon is unabashedly the manliest, strongest, most immature fantasy of them all. Unlike a shooter in the vein of Call of Duty, however, a title of this nature is keen to flaunt its eccentricity. It’s a title that’s shameless of art style, of mechanics, and of message. As creative director Dean Evans so eloquently proclaimed, “The game is stupid.” Turns out, he’s right. The game presents classical shooter tropes in a way that’s blatantly thoughtless, an extreme form of parody that delicately straddles the line between retread and satire.
You might come into Blood Dragon expecting an ironic caricature of the sci-fi clichés and muscle-bound character tropes of past decades. It should be emphasized that Ubisoft Montreal has delivered whole-heartedly on this front, although this doesn’t appear to be the overarching focus of the work. The experience, on the whole, is near jam-packed with Easter eggs, media references, and cleverly written character dialogue. All the same, the title’s post-modern self-awareness brings it much closer to being a parody of the FPS genre than one of Schwarzenegger films. The game proudly flaunts its rainbow-hued SFX and off-brand one-liners, yet the mechanics underneath are as bare-boned as can be.
In every frame, the game appears to echo Evan’s aforementioned sentiment by reiterating as loudly as possible that the game is intentionally dumb. Every pixel seems to scream that it was placed there on purpose, as if part of a larger joke that the audience is already in on. As it was executed and presented, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a shooting game satire of the lowest caliber. It attempts to shine a light on the broken game mechanics that the industry has come to accept, but it does this by embracing them. Even worse, the studio attempts to cover the experience in a thick layer of flashy light and color, as if to distract from the mere fact that the mechanics they’re employing haven’t been innovative since the turn of the century. The game is unproductively ‘dumb,’ and not only in the escapist way that you might’ve imagined. Far from it, this a gameplay experience plagued by aging mechanics, repetitive sound design, terrible balance, and a ruefully short runtime.
Capable gamers will finish Blood Dragon in less than six hours, and at that point, the sprawling, neo-nightmarish, day-glo island they’ve been exploring becomes jarringly vacant. It’s not void in the artful, curiosity-piquing style of Dear Esther, but rather in the sense that there’s little of interest left to see or do. A handful of enemy-occupied garrisons litter the mountainous topography, and if you’re feeling really adventurous, there’s a cute sprinkling of collectables (notes, TVs, animals, captured scientists, and VHS tapes) to waste your time with.
If, for whatever reason, you decide to go for the platinum trophy and stumble around for another hour or two, your hysterically-named protagonist (Rex ‘Power’ Colt) will eventually utter the following line: “Whoever thought this was fun… I’m gonna collect your head… and put it on my wall!” This statement, while highly amusing, is also strongly emblematic of the title’s failings. Shrewd self-awareness is one of the game’s fortes, yet it can only take Blood Dragon so far. Eventually, you’ll come to realize that beyond the humor in the aforesaid joke, there’s a glimpse at reality. Collecting items isn’t fun at all. It’s filler, and pretty meaningless filler at that.
As is prone to overstatement, Ubisoft’s latest has plenty of blemishes, and it’s up to the audience to decide which are clever parodies and which are poor design choices. Some of the shortcomings you may encounter include, but are surely not limited to: overused environmental design (you’ll see the same ruins and one-room buildings), a small, repetitive library of combat dialogue, a slew of escort missions, a poorly implemented ‘pilfer’ mechanic (hold X while positioned in a very exact location), the various collectibles, and a linear level progression that doesn’t fit the open-world or playstyle-inclusive aspects of the game. While it seems that the insignificant collectibles have at least been included as some kind of embracive satire, it’s hard to believe that everything Blood Dragon does wrong can be attributed to self-aware design direction.
Judging by the promotional materials, Ubisoft Montreal has clearly chosen ‘flair’ as the game’s main selling point. Consumers, following this trend, are likely to be roped in by the title’s extravagant (and often multi-faceted) references to the cinematic, retro-tinted culture of the late eighties and early nineties. This aspect, alongside the game’s witty writing, elevates Blood Dragon beyond the level of throwaway DLC. If you take your shooters as featureless as they come, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t give the latest Far Cry extension the old college try. That being said, the more discerning gamer will find this download as a hollow, garish cash grab with little to offer players. Fifteen dollars may seem to be an enticing price point, but here’s the thing: Far Cry 3’s been out for half a year now, and it’s not that pricey anymore. And if you’re still craving to slather your nights in the oversaturated, club-vibe, Tron-aesthetic? Random Access Memories drops May 17.
- The game is cleverly written, and it’s not often you find great humor in games
- The art style is fresh and encompassing
- The soundtrack is exceptionally fitting
- The game embraces overtired shooter tropes, and not always satirically
- The game is exceptionally short and often feels padded out
- Outside of story missions, the world feels empty
- The main game mechanics are skeletal and under-developed
You can download the game from the Playstation Network, Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, or Amazon.
Boston-based writer, artist, designer, critic, loser & storyteller. Focused on the intersection of games, culture, narrative, and art. KillerStrokes on XBL, Steam, PSN. @Wherbit on Twitter. http://willpowerarts.com/