Review: Far Cry 3 – Blood Dragon (** stars)

Since the game’s rated Mature and the rather constant language/vulgarity will definitely come up, the Intended Audience for the game consists of adults familiar with the 1980s and also willing to laugh at offensive things while shooting lasers. Fair warning! Also, sex scene! Just for demonstration purposes (NSFW language ahead):

Spider: Wakie wakie, motherfucker. Ops says there’s a delay in the feed, they need to recalibrate your ass.

Rex: Me?

Spider: Well it ain’t me ’cause I’m goddamn near perfect. Men want to be me—

Rex: And you want to be with men, yeah, I got it.

Hoo boy. I’m feeling it.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon wants you to like it. Really, really like it. With a 1980s aesthetic to die for, and nearly every action movie cliche from that era thrown into one game, it targets a certain audience pining for nostalgia. Often, though, Blood Dragon comes off as mean spirited (see above) and, dare I say, unoriginal in its approach. Furthermore, you’d imagine they would spend a little more time implementing mechanics that actually accompanied the whole “open world shooter” idea. Alas, like much of Ubisoft’s recent output, it plays like a first persons shooter version of Assassin’s Creed (and as you may know, I played a lot of those).

Now, this would not necessarily create a boring game if, in fact, they adjusted the various elements to work for shooting, strafing, and stealth. You still get an overworld map, and you still liberate garrisons when you find yourself bored with the main storyline (or, hey, you want weapon upgrades; who doesn’t want these?). A vast array of weapons provides you with suitable creativity in invading these fortresses, as well as side missions with hostages being not that annoying. There’s plenty of things to collect, but at least they don’t look like feathers!

Assassins-Creed-Brotherhood-Feather-Location-1

Look at the feathers!

If this sounds uncannily similar to Assassin’s Creed, then you aren’t alone. I didn’t play Far Cry 2 or its sequel, so this came as a total surprise to me. Why homogenize such a promising franchise? All Ubisoft did in this respect just derives from the visuals style and not the actual play.

So what do you do? You shoot. You strafe. You run fast. You pilot vehicles. Michael Biehn says vulgar and funny things (see above) as you finish missions/kill people in a script too self-aware and witty for its own good. You give enemies the middle finger. All well and good, I suppose, but not exactly revolutionary stuff by any stretch. Once you realize that the world map represents a giant checklist of things to do, rather than genuinely challenging/enjoyable task, I find the “open world’ genre of recent years immediately becomes boring.

To demonstrate: I played the entire game on Hard mode, which I half-expected to challenge me in some way. The promise of difficult garrison missions excited me, but by the tenth or so one (for my completionist brain, of course), the same two strategies applied: either stealth my way into the place with melee attacks, or use a Blood Dragon (of titular fame) to obliterate a base while I picked off people. There’s no real reason, other than for variety, to perform a different strategy. Melee attacks, for example, remain highly effective without any upgrades available at all throughout the game. Hit any normal soldier twice, and they’ll fall immediately. Just kill five, run away from them and use a health injection, then just pop back out and do it again. You’ve got an unlimited ability to heal yourself (if not to full life), so why not? Keep getting those experience points (ugh, in an FPS, please kill me) to fill out that huge life bar!

Did I mention the lack of enemy variety? Other than the standard soldier with a standard gun (well, for a game with neon and lasers, anyway), there’s a heavy gunner best attacked from behind with the occasional explosive device…or just more melee attacks in close. Blood Dragons sorta count as enemies, and you attack them when they stand on their hind legs at the obvious, neon-colored weak spot on their belly. Their inconsistent response to cyborg hearts (which you use to lure/attract them) makes this process more difficult than it should be, especially as you see the AI trying to respond in the right way but failing (jagging and moving in weird ways; trust me, it’ll make sense if you watch a video of it).

Blood-Dragon-Jeep

I will not provide this video because I am lazy.

And…that is the long and the short of the game. Attack this, run here, shoot this. Overly reductive? Maybe. But, at times, one could easily see about 2-3 hours of solid content spread over ten or more hours. Running through the story, I felt like the game would just suddenly end. Honestly, the upgrades, as in most JRPGs sidequests, make the main game far too easy. The only challenging element in the whole game (which I will try not to spoil) constitutes an arena of gladiatorial combat with limited weapon choices, which finally does something with all the mechanics in the game for about ten minutes. After that, the game ceases challenging you on the game and more puts you on rails through a hilarious set of sequences that require only the most cursory involvement.

Which, I suppose, highlights the real effort of Blood Dragon: being a self-aware Predator/Tron/Terminator/Aliens hybrid that combines all your favorite 80’s action films together in one place. Unfortunately, it doesn’t intelligently use these tropes in its vulgar/smart hybrid. Think less South Park and more like every other vulgar and seemingly self-aware comedy show that, for whatever reason, never made it out of their pilot episode or first season. It constantly bashes you over the head with references, little pop culture dalliances, and jabs at video game design in general, but it never actually transcends its origins like a great parody.

The first time it hits you over the head with its banality, it feels rather refreshing, but the 999th time will just annoy you. One or two sequences (which, again, I care not to spoil) utterly floor you with their brilliance, but that’s just one or two jokes in a sea of bad ones. A comedian gets booed on stage for bad jokes, but a video game gets props for being the same – something’s wrong here! I gave some content little more than a shrug and a sigh. Oh look, an 80s sex scene parody, or oh look, an insane general, or cyborg nationalism, yay, I get it, too obvious. Attacking old properties isn’t hip or cool, it just (for lack of better vocabulary, and fitting in the theme of this review) makes you look like an ass.

Also, did Michael Biehn seem much more likable in Terminator and Aliens, or is that just nostalgia?

In the end, then, I would call Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon a mediocre first person shooter, one that lacks verve or excitement. It’s telling of Ubisoft and the medium as a whole that the most exciting parts of the game consist of non-interactive sequences with humor overlaid. The spoilers (again, which I will not reveal) remain the most important and enjoyable parts. So am I playing a game or watching a film? Disconcerting, to say the least! The rest constitutes special pleading for a unique style, and that doesn’t rectify the problems.

When I am writing a film review, rather than a game review, it concerns me a bit. Video games need to, at the very least, excite you with their interactivity, and not just with the purely visual elements. How do I interact with the space, and what obstacles do you set before me? Blood Dragon does not answer these questions well, almost as if it stole the answers for the test and would rather draw disgusting things on the margins – fun, but not exactly fulfilling. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon swears it’s a video game, but it truly wants to be a 1980s film. Be honest with me, don’t string me along, and I’ll enjoy it, but pick the proper venue for this sort of thing. Barring that, do it well, not in the heavy-handed, entirely too-obvious and self-aware jabs that this games provides. It’s not genuine or honest, it’s mean-spirited while trying to appear like a tribute, only it falls flat for genuine fans of 1980s fare (i.e., me).

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At least those movies represented a particular worldview, with a fundamentally entertaining, if black and white, view of morality. Like the best pulp fiction, it took equal parts easily definable character archetypes and exciting action sequences (along with some of the most hilarious and equally cringe inducing dialogue) to create a rather singular vibe. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon just makes fun of it, and not in the loving tribute sort of way. I find it underhanded, and that’s what makes me mad about it. Be clear about your intentions, and don’t string me along with the appearance of a tribute; actually be one.

33 “Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.

Matthew 5

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • Yeah. I understand your criticisms. And I think the oppositional tone was kinda intentional. But that’s kinda what I liked about it. It was enough to say “Yeah, the 80s were *#icking awful. Long Live the 80s!” But the redundancy of missions and general untuned nature of the button layout didn’t help. It’s pretty rockstar compared to the absolute hatred of life that Farcry 3 seems to have. Fantastic and fascinating piece of work. Just so gross and draining in the end. Glad it’s over.

    • Zachery Oliver

      Totally understood. But, there might be a better way of doing it. The new Rambo game might not be that great, but I think it might tap into the vein of “I love the 80s!” in a non-ironic way that’s true to the source material. So strange, but I like the sincerity.