Humour is a sadly dying thing in games: whereas in the mid-nineties, we had the likes of Parodius, Harmful Park and Conker’s Bad Fur Day to satirise and parody tropes of the time, there’s been a move towards the incredibly po-faced in the early 2000s as games have struggled and struggled to finally have their watershed, much as this is a cliché within games now, Citizen Kane moment that legitimises them as a viable form of art in the public eye and shifts perceptions of games from being garish children’s toys to being simply the ultimate form of entertainment. Of course, people who have held onto the ideas that maturity of the form will be demonstrated by the likes of Spec Ops: the Line’s and Ubisoft Montreal’s previous effort Far Cry 2′s unerring focus on grit and “dark” themes have missed out on the fact that the medium has been legitimised by virtue of the fact that tropes that can be parodied and satirised in the way that Parodius and Conker have done in their genres have emerged.
It’s encouraging, then, to see developers whose games have previously focussed on a characters descent into madness step away from the severe and concentrate their collective effort into something ridiculous in Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. The standalone supplement to Far Cry 3 is a perverse homage to the brainless action films of the 1980s: one should not expect to find a great story here, few fleshed out characters, a female “companion” whose role is so wonderfully telegraphed as a sexual interest for the character early in the game, replete with a cutscene culmination of the tension that is somewhat simultaneously touching and cringeworthy beyond all belief. Nothing about the plot is unique or innovative in any way: this is a work heavily derivative of Commando and Cyber Tracker, with plentiful visual cues to the fact that this is where inspiration has come from. The paper-thin narrative combined with the eighties neon dystopian aesthetic serve to create a world that is oddly familiar to anyone who has seen a movie of the genre produced in that decade, but does enough with it to ensure a visual and narrative identity all of its own: the game is keen to mock itself, with the loading screen hints providing little more than platitudes in terms of advice to the player and the American ideas of freedom that permeated the actions films of the 1980s are ridden roughshod over in an attempt to further root this virtual world within our concrete reality with a view to shedding a little light on our own lives and experience – that wonderful marker of potentially astute satire.
Gameplay wise, not much is divorced from the main mechanics of Far Cry 3: there’s a series of story missions; there’s liberation of enemy camps in order to unlock further missions that unlock add-ons for weapons and provide cash for use in the game’s vending machines; there’s levelling up to unlock new abilities and improve extant ones. A key point of departure here from the original title is that there is no player choice in which abilities are unlocked and in which order: this does serve to cheapen the experience somewhat and turns the RPG-lite mechanics previously found in the games into a mere experience in waiting for the “best”, later level abilities. The key additions in this title are the titular Blood Dragons: large, reptilian creatures who roam the island and have the ability to fire lasers from their mouths. Though much of a player’s experience with the dragons will be in moving slowly around them to avoid them, the game also provides the player with a number of ways to turn the power of the creatures to their own advantage. Hearts of the cyborg enemies can be collected and used to direct the dragons in the desired direction, whether this be away from oneself or towards enemies. If one destroys the generator found in each of the enemy camps, this will remove the force shield that repels the dragons and allow for the dragons to perform the rest of the work in clearing the area. Though initially terrifying, the bonuses in terms of abilities unlocked by levelling up and the sorts of addons that can be unlocked for the weapons mean that the Blood Dragons lose much of their terror by the mid-game point. Whether this is a good thing in light of the action hero tropes being actively used to characterise the player character (leading to the inevitable feeling of invulnerability and lack of peril that being an action hero seems to bring with it) or whether it is a negative in neutering the “one big threat” of the game is ultimately up to the player to decide.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is refreshing not only in the fact that it is a first-person shooter that does not take itself too seriously and has a palette that does not consist solely of browns and greys, but also in the fact that it is the result of developers being let loose on a project independent of publisher discretion. For the five hours of sheer ridiculousness that it offers, it is definitely worth experiencing.