For many gamers, the notion of downloadable content is double-edged. It’s not hard to imagine why hardcore fans would enjoy an expanded version of their favorite game; yet, the cash-grabbing world of extendable content is often rife with controversy. From on-disc DLC to BioWare’s Mass Effect blunders, digital add-ons are often spearheaded by more corporate-minded individuals, which means they don’t come about as a result of studio-centric creative output. That’s not to say that every title on the PSN is a soulless exploitation, far from it. However, there’s a reason that every Forza and Battlefield game seems to accumulate a trove of digital content more expensive than the retail game itself.
If you’re sick of seeing the Xbox Live Marketplace clogged with overpriced story missions and aesthetic micro-purchases, Ubisoft Montreal has your solution. The studio’s latest title, the Far Cry 3 expansion Blood Dragon, is one of the most groundbreaking game add-ons to reach the modern industry. The studio has crafted a product that transcends standards for digital add-ons, and they’ve done it by remixing and repurposing their original game. When deciding how to expand the acclaimed Far Cry universe, the creators had a novel idea: Instead of providing more of the same, they could rehash the engine to support what is, in essence, an entirely new, standalone title. If you never purchased Far Cry 3, don’t worry. This is an utterly sequestered experience—a new world with its own mechanics, locales, statements, and characters. It may not be the most brilliant game to grace the Internet, but it stands tall among a sea of avatar props and reskinned shotguns.
If you’ve seen the review, you’ll know that Blood Dragon is plagued by plenty of issues. In terms of gameplay, it’s a skeletal shooter with shallow depth. Yet, what the title lacks in complexity, it quite possibly equivocates in market innovation. Strangely enough, what studios and publishers alike have failed to notice (thus far) is that a completed retail title is just one potential narrative exploration of any given mechanic. With a completed engine, the developers are presented with the unique opportunity to tell a new story. They now have the tools to go in practically any direction they imagine. Even better, their only boundaries are those enforced by the limitations of the established engine. Blood Dragon, despite shortcomings, is a clever interpretation of the gameplay mechanics presented in Far Cry 3. You’d be better off buying the original, but not everyone can drop $60 on a new shrink-wrapped package.
Historically, some may remember that, way back in the day, Rockstar tried something similar when expanding their Grand Theft Auto IV universe. It was still 2008, and GTA IV’s spectacular add-ons (The Lost and the Damned, The Ballad of Gay Tony) seemed primed to set the commercial industry ablaze. Unfortunately, my calendar app seems to think it’s 2013, and despite episodic successes like Telltale’s The Walking Dead, the digital marketplace is largely unchanged. Going forward, it’s likely that publishers will continue to vomit subpar, superfluous, aesthetic, and overpriced content for their biggest franchises. The difference, now, is that there’s another option for even the most revenue-minded businessmen. Blood Dragon is selling well, and there’s even talk that this could be the start of a new IP. If we see this standalone title take off, it’s more than possible that these types of divergent stories will become the standard, rather than the exception.
So here’s the thing. DLC may have a short history behind it, but it’s now undeniably cemented as a standard business practice. Publishers and studios alike have an opportunity here, and it’s only a matter of time before we see what they do with it. It may not be the revolution some players were longing for, but here’s hoping we see a few new worlds breach the industry in the coming years.
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/