In critical pursuits one of the eternal pains is interacting with the person who created the project, and listening to them providing contextualising information about its formation, about its change and its transformation. You hear about a thing’s limitations, about the interruptions, about their concurrence at its weaknesses and every excuse you hear – directly or indirectly – makes it harder and harder to state honestly and wholly what you think of the thing.
What do you want, man?
It’s twenty bucks, right?
It’s a comedy, y’see?
It’s a parody of those crappy old movies, like?
Which is to say at some point you’re not engaging with the product but just stockpiling the excuses. You’re not looking at a thing, but rather at an arc of how the thing was made; you place an experience in a deeper context, such as to drown it and leave the body invisible in the depths.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon then?
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, which seems churlish to shorten into FC3:BD, is a game built using the Far Cry 3 game engine and almost all of its art assets, to create a short, ‘funny’ parody/homage to bad 1980s action movies. Not Predator, Terminator, Aliens and the like, because those are the only movies in the genre I can bring easily to mind by name, and I am reassured by people who have seen them that they are, in fact, good movies. No, it’s an homage to movies that featured Dolph Lungdren trying to act as stupid as Steven Seagal, movies that unironically cast martial artists as actors and tried to make Jean Claude Van Damme, a man with the emotional variety of a brussel sprout, doing the splits as a selling point. These are the gems of the VCR era – things that were to me, as I emerged blinking into the sun in the late 1990s as a sort of cultural archaeology.
This is a game that seeks to take up these relics from the past and imagine them anew in a familiar environment, sell it for twenty dollars, and cover all its bases by being funny. Oh yes. Funny. The more I play videogames, the more convinced I am that ‘funny’ is a sort of strange mental condition that I was born immune to. Oh, there are games I find funny, sure, there are fringe cases that penetrate my humourless, miserable shell of apathetic condition with some different sprue or, it seems, Tim Schafer’s writing, but whenever a person tries to sell me on a videogame by it being funny I start reaching for my notepad worriedly. I’ve finished a lot of videogames because of someone else’s expression of a subjective opinion, and ‘funny’ is a red button word.
Is Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon a funny game? If you don’t find those movies funny, if you don’t find laughing at them funny, is it, itself, funny…?
Well, I already used the jump-cut once, so I can’t use it twice. Yes, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a funny game. It uses its ironic distance well; characters take things very seriously, even though they are ridiculous. That’s pretty much ‘the’ joke of the whole genre we’re talking about, but then the game does lampshade a few of its more egregious ‘jokes’ – which jerks them back into being funny again. It’s funny! That’s a mark in its favour, as it could not be much more horrible to partake of a ‘funny’ experience that isn’t funny. It’s like watching someone convinced that making their friends laugh is the same as stand-up comedy, and they stagger around on stage, lolling from stony silence to stony silence, eroding their own life by centimeters. To strive to be a funny game and to succeed, to succeed in a way that doesn’t mandate a familiarity with the source material, that’s a high mark indeed!
Now that that’s out of the way, though, is Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon much good?
See, funny does not make a game. Psychonauts was funny, but it was funny and endearing and charming and interesting and thoughtful and clever all at once. There were characters to enjoy, there was an aesthetic to appreciate, and a plot that made sense and rewarded me for my time. If I took away all the humour from Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon I’d be left with a short game with decent but badly balanced mechanics, two cool-looking things no characters, and probably the most garish and unpleasant visual scheme from a game I’ve played in recent memory.
Oh, let me reiterate that last one: Considering its origin as part of Far Cry 3‘s existence, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a spectacularly ugly game. Everything comes in the shade of muted blue-black, or neon, and rarely consistantly. The visuals become cluttered quickly, too – exploding barrels are highlighted orange. Blood stains are bright blue and stand out. Your own gun is studded with flashing lights and god help you if you use the bow – a third of your screen real estate is bright blue fluorescent colour.
This isn’t to say that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a bad game, it’s not. I found the drop-kills combined with the high jump so effective that I goomba-stomped my way through the game, did no side objectives and simply killed everything with takedowns, all an enormously satisfying experience once. Now, Far Cry 3 may just be serving as a surrogate for my depression but I’ve already re-set all the outposts in that game once and then re-taken them all, after finishing it, but once I was done with my time playing Rex Power Colt, I deleted Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon straight away. There’s nothing to engage me, the experience doesn’t feel rewarding. It’s fun, sure, it’s fun but it’s fun like a rollercoaster, or fun like a pop song. You enjoy it, you experience it, and then you move on to other, different things, because the experience is shallow. It’s not even hard, as a false way to maintain attention.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a contrast to its more expansive older brother, Far Cry 3. In Far Cry 3 drop kills are rare and precious, the XP reward they give a huge incentive and therefore, they come with a certain specialness. I remembered watching a heavy shuffle slowly around a rooftop like I was waiting for fucking Santa Claus, trying to stifle my tee-hee-heeing and holding my breath in case the fat bastard looked up, all for one of those kills while I was cleaning out an outpost. In Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, I kid you not, I killed more people with drop-kills than I think I killed with anything else in the game. Hell, I think I killed more people with drop-kills than I killed with all the other methods of killing, combined. By giving me more of something I enjoyed, something that excited me, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon made its play experience less special. I didn’t need to plan my way through fights; I could just goomba-stomp garrison crews to death if anything went wrong. The only time things went out of hand were when two helicopters, or trained Blood Dragons, homed in on me – and in all of those situations, the tools to deal with them sat around because they were clearly put there in case you needed them.
In the end, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a game built to sell for twenty dollars and therefore, every single thing in it has a ready excuse to explain why it, as an individual element, is not very good. It’s mostly text because it’s meant to be like older video games. Most of the best moments are delivered by crap cut scenes because they’re meant to evoke those older video games. It’s black-on-neon because that’s what movies were like back in the 1980s.
None of it is working at crosspurpose with what it wants to be, and it does what it does very hard. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is what it is as hard as it can be and as excellently as it can be, and I didn’t like what it chose to be. There are moments of truly hilarious fun, like being introduced to the titular Blood Dragons watching them chow down on whole guards at once, or the whole base which seems to be dominated by a mad scientist and his own AI that’s passive-aggressively trying to get him killed, or the grand finale where you’re introduced to one of the best three-minute characters you’ll meet in an FPS. These elements don’t make up for the whole of the game, though – it’s good! It’s just not great.
Buy it if:
- The take-down elements of Far Cry 3 appealed to you, but not the stealth and survival elements.
- You liked the sound of Far Cry 3‘s experience, but don’t have the 40+ hours to sink into it.
- You have a deeply-seated crush on Kyle Reese and want to feel yourself inside his skin.
Avoid it if:
- 1980s Nostalgia does nothing for you.
- You’re a hardcore advocate of do-don’t-show.
- You’re allergic to neon.