Blood Dragon! The Eighties! High Five!
I covered Far Cry 3 at the tail-end of last year, though you could be forgiven for not remembering, tucked away as it was in that year’s leftovers article. There was a lot to say about how that game managed to house nigh-perfect open world gameplay and then mar it with vaguely racist plot-points that would have felt more at home in a boy’s imperialist adventure story from a hundred and fifty years ago. And talk everyone did, which is why I didn’t really bother engaging in the discussion except to affirm that, yeah, it kind of felt racist.
So I’ll also be brief with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, a sort of do-over that fixes its race relations by omitting them. Does that fix the game? Find out below.
I’m going to say it right up front: the eighties, as in the ’80s, 1980s, eighteez, easy-eights, or however else you might pronounce it based on social strata or personal preference, are Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon‘s racism.
Which is good, for the most part. For one thing, the ’80s aren’t about to get offended at somebody’s caricaturing them. In fact, the ’80s love it when you do. They thrive on it. They’d be dead without it. They were engaged in self-parody long before it was cool. I mean, have you seen their hair?
But let’s come back to that in a minute. First, let’s turn this pony around and head back to the last, um, pony-station.
The first interesting detail about Blood Dragon is that it has absolutely nothing to do with Far Cry 3. Gone are the irritating socialites and the coming-of-age transformation of one of their number from spineless weenie to psychopathic mass murderer. Gone is the racism (and the very concept of race, unless you count cyborgs vs non-cyborgs as socially relevant). Gone even is the pretense of a real-world tropics setting.
Instead, we’ve got a story set in the distant future (so distant that the apocalypse has had an apocalypse) about a super-cyborg general gone rogue, and the team of super-cyborgs who are the only ones who can stop him.
The gameplay is indistinguishable from Far Cry 3’s, which is good, as that was some mighty smooth gameplay. You’ll still be stalking across an open world, hiding in the foliage with a bow or machinegun, highjacking trucks or evading helicopters, freeing bases so that a beleaguered resistance can occupy them in the place of evil
pirates cyborgs. It has the same control scheme, the same weapon types, the same climbing animation (except this time you have a cyborg claw where your left hand ostensibly once rested). If it feels similar, smells similar, and tastes similar, it’s probably the same cake.
And that part of the game is great! As with the game’s namesake, there’s plenty to do and collect, and although it’s shorter (thankfully, as FC3 began to overstay its welcome the instant I discovered the presence of an entire second island to invade). Even better, playing as a cyborg in a 1980s version of post-apocalyptic 2007 has its perks: for one, you can upgrade your machinegun to fire laser bursts instead of bullets, and I heartily recommend you do, as the cyborg heads of your enemies will then squelch with gusto as they spray neon goo across the landscape. You can also run as fast as a patrol rover and wrench the cyborg hearts of your enemies out of their chests to feed to the titular blood dragons.
Ah yes, there are dragons. And not the trad winged things you’d recognize from your Thursday evening “guys nights” either, but glorious laser-beam-eyed monstrosities that can’t see all that well but can sense movement real good, leading to plenty of tense creeping moments as you try to evade a pair’s notice. These and other apocalypse-ified wildlife add a dash of salt to an already-tasty dish.
So how are the eighties this game’s racism? I’m glad you asked.
In Far Cry 3, those pesky racist undertones gave the entire experience a bit of a sour aftertaste. After a couple hours of torching dudes with a flamethrower and then stealing their truck and expertly piloting it into a gulch, you’d finally forget that you were playing White Messiah, and BAM naked native chick thankin’ you for being rad and white and tatau powah and blood sacrifice and stuff.
Similarly, in Blood Dragon you’ll be happily chucking cyborg hearts to trick dragons into lasering an enemy base for you, and blasting robo-helicopters out of the sky with your flame-bomb shotgun, and BAM overwrought cutscene with sloooow narration telling “eighties” jokes and pausing in between each and every line as though waiting for you to erupt into bowel-rupturing laughter.
Unfortunately, few of its jokes are particularly funny, and those that are soon wear out their welcome.
Its very-serious take on the drama of ancient cartoons is chuckle-worthy, until you realize that every single cutscene is doing the exact same thing, and tossing in a lot of dissonant F-bombs that would have had your parents sprinting to shut off the TV and enact a house-wide ban on animated animals until you went off to college.
Text pop-ups that demean you and offer (fake) DLC to actually play the game might elicit a smirk for their uncanny honesty, until the twentieth time they appear to block the action, gradually becoming guilty of the exact transgression of game design they’re condemning.
A montage sequence defies the sacred purpose of montages by going on for a painfully long time, a 1980s action movie sex scene feels less liberated and more embarrassing than even the most enthusiastic cringes produced by that decade, and many a reference crosses the line from cheesy-funny to merely lame.
At best, it’s amusing. At worst, it infects the game, making each story encounter into another slog of references for references’ sake, uninspired one-liners, and some of the worst cutscenes I’ve seen this decade. And since Blood Dragon hasn’t mastered the art of recognizing when it’s time to shut up, you’ll be hearing “IN THE EIGHTIES…” jokes at a steady clip from the very first action set-piece to the end credits.
Which isn’t to say Blood Dragon is bad — rather, as with Far Cry 3, I liked it quite a bit; it’s just that my enjoyment was at times put off by the game’s insistence on being “funny.” It’s like having a good friend over for dinner, and it’s an excellent meal and mostly good conversation, except your pal can’t help himself but drop the same tired Anchorman quotes for three hours.
All in all, Blood Dragon is the joy of the original game compressed into five hours of gleeful insanity, minus a few painfully tedious cutscenes and a plot that thinks it’s cleverer than it really is. Which makes it sound a lot like most first-person shooters now that I’ve laid it out like that.
My final score is that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon goes in for the high-five, but it’s one of those awkward three-fingered slaps that leaves you both standing there for a moment, wondering if you should give it another try. Nah, you decide, it was fine.