Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon’s greatest narrative intention is apparent from the first: tell a quirky, eccentric tale, eliciting laughs and creating a more playful environment; here are no aspirations towards the grimy and gritty. A perfect balance is struck; despite the overbearing humor present within all facets of the narrative, the game never ventures towards the excessively obnoxious, a very tangible possibility. The successes here are largely attributable to the presentation, specifically the cutscenes on offer; while fairly sparse throughout, they are of a heavily stylized sort, with very limited animation and an arresting, nostalgic aesthetic, drawing on the ambiance of the 1980’s, which the game often uses as inspiration. Never long, these cutscenes remain compelling, while the quality of the voice acting is superb, particularly for the protagonist and player character – Rex Power Colt – who is suitably gruff though immensely likable. Secondary characters are presented in a similarly stylish fashion, with equally excellent voice acting – Spider, Rex’s greatest comrade, has an interesting character design, eccentric and endearing, while the design for the principal antagonist suggests his immensity of strength. These scenes are brief, but the game seeks to maintain this clever tone even outside of the cutscenes, the influence seeping into the very world design – Rex will utter some cheesy one-liner upon the violent destruction of an enemy, keeping the humor alive and thriving, while a friendly faction of scientists also make amusing utterances, even as their character models often repeat. But from the opening mission, a self-aware parody of tutorial systems, through towards the bombastic ending and concluding revelation, the game shows its focus of intention, and it is this calculated focus which imparts in the game its uniqueness and strengths.
If the cutscenes are well-scripted and well-animated, the narrative grounding them is of a mundane sort. Occurring in a “near future” 2007, there are mentions of a nuclear fallout, a war between America and the Russians, resulting in widespread devastation for all parties and lands involved. A race of highly skilled, robotic super soldiers is quickly crafted to assist in the fight; given their immensity of power, they are highly useful, desirable figures – Rex is such a character, being offspring of sorts from the antagonist Sloane, who acts as a blueprint of sorts for the entire class of cybernetic soldiers which are then crafted, his memories and DNA directly engrafted into Rex. Unsatisfied with his power, ever desirous of increasing it, the Blood Dragons are deliberately created, their blood injected into his system, all in a cliched search for strength. From here, there are many detours, the history of the titular Blood Dragons developed, the nature of their creation elaborated upon, while secondary characters like the female doctor and eventual lover Darling receives excellent treatment in the stylized cutscenes. Narratively, it is far from complex, though certainly my focus never flagged, boredom never arose, partially given the perpetual intensity of the gameplay.
Despite the compelling creativity present within the game’s cutscenes, the world proper fails both technically and creatively. All around is thick, impenetrable fog, greatly obscuring distant objects; draw distance is very low, while the only remarkable features in the landscape are the bright lies emanating upwards from the game’s many garrisons, which do serve a practical gameplay purpose – a green light travelling to the heavens represents a captured garrison, a red light indicating one which is still untamed. These lights do decrease the mundanity of the environment to an extent, and their crisp coloration is arresting, though again the fog overtakes all. Bizarre, foreign foliage abounds, assets taken directly from Far Cry 3, with tropical-like landscapes and trees, surprising considering the supposed devastation gripping the world. Thunder and lighting are constant, booming and flashing always overhead, illuminating the reddish skies, while interior environments fare somewhat better, being more detailed, and where color and vibrancy are more abundant, with neon present on most gleaming surfaces. Underwater settings are also detailed, dilapidated, drowned ruins existing at considerable depth, lost and forgotten to time. But these environments swift become repetitive, and the typically drab color palette – only offset in certain scenarios – destroys atmosphere and mood rather than amplifying and improving it.
After exploring this world for some time, it is fast apparent that it is mostly hollow and lifeless. A handful of fauna exists on the island, small in diversity though often interesting in design, some suffering from biological mutations, others benefitting from cybernetic enhancements, though they are all based off of traditional animals. With no crafting system in place – and with really no incentive to hunt them – their inclusion seems forced, thrust onto the map merely to liven up the game world, to destroy the static feeling which pervades the island. Indeed, quantitatively few dynamic encounters exist, the most frequent being periodic skirmishes fought between the friendly scientists and Sloane’s corrupt super-soldiers. The Blood Dragons, central to the narrative and possessive of interesting lore and beautiful design, are mostly absent when exploring, only appearing in pre-determined locations, where their existence will be most useful to the player; one or two might congregate around an unsecured garrison, eager and hungry for the prey dwelling therein, who are easily exposed and made vulnerable – once their protective shield is deactivated, the Dragons can be tempted inward through the use of cybernetic hearts; swift and total destruction often accompanies that entrance. With impossibly high health bars, they are fun and tense to fight, and an increased presence would have been a solid design decision. But beyond this commonplace hollowness and very minor engagements, there are more involved ones on offer; involved but equally repetitious.
Of this secondary content, most notable are the mentioned garrisons, which mark a trademark feature of the series. Fairly scant numerically, the amount of strategizing on offer here can be quite staggering, resulting in an excess of satisfaction upon success. A cybernetic eye facilitates stealth, marking enemies on the minimap, while an arrow shows their positioning, even through walls or other structures. A plethora of enemy types is present, from straightforward grunts, fairly easy to best in combat, through to more challenging enemy types, like an accurate sniper, or a hulking, brute of a man, wielding a blazing flamethrower. Flexibility again arises when considering the nature of engagement – clever, patient tactics can be adopted – or they can be discarded completely. Typically, gameplay will be a mixture of the quiet and the loud, seeing the employ of stealth and strategy, softening up the enemy forces, before descending below, to pick off any stragglers. If a bolder approach is adopted – in the garrisons and beyond – it is not punished; the game is far from a traditional stealth title, Rex highly competent in gunfights – here is not some fragile, vulnerable man, but here is a cybernetic super-soldier, impossibly resilient and powerful. The nature of the weaponry facilitates these branching approaches; the sniper rifle is fatally powerful and accurate, able to dispatch almost all foes with one headshot, no matter the distance, while a devastating shotgun is also wieldable, wreaking havoc at close range, with a sharp damage drop-off; they perfectly complement one another. A bow is also present; totally silent, it is a necessity for successful stealth endeavors
Almost this entire arsenal of the weaponry is handed to the player from the first. Small numerically, each weapons has a dedicated purpose, even as some suffer from heavy flaws, many of which can be mitigated through the game’s excellent if simplistic progression systems – save for the bow, all primary weapons can be upgraded, fashioned with various attachments, which can drastically alter and improve the viability of a weapon, which would otherwise go ignored and neglected. Existing in relative abundance, these attachments are unlocked upon completing a certain mission, or reaching some predetermined collectible threshold. As illustration, the assault rifle, as the narrative begins, fires in bursts, possesses immense recoil, while the damage output is minimal. Near the end game, the gun can be fashioned to fire automatically, while a grip and barrel increase accuracy and stability; a laser attachment, meanwhile, can drastically increase the damage of the bullets. More imaginative upgrades exist, like increasing the number of shotgun barrels to an exaggerated four, fitting in well with the game’s excessive tone. Altering the game in fundamental ways, the presence of these attachments incentivizes exploration.
The principal quests which award these attachments are not possessive of profound depth or variety, though still the enjoyment factor persists in abundance. Having liberated a hostile garrison, these missions can be accepted, consisting of two primary types: a hostage rescue scenario, and more predatory missions, seeing the dispatch of some marked foe with a predetermined weapon. There are just enough variations to keep these objectives fresh, and the stellar nature of the gameplay decreases a descent into monotony. The hostage rescue situations are especially memorable, as they greatly encourage the usage of stealth – reveal yourself to the opposition prematurely, and oftentimes the hostage will be executed on the spot. The checkpoint system is very fair, so failing these missions is rarely a frustration; simply reload an autosave and jump back into the fray – it is seamless. But with a scant thirteen garrisons in total, and a relative dearth in these secondary objectives, the game is rather lean in terms of content. This shorter length, though, seems an asset. Over-the-top as the title is, its brash, self-aware tone could certainly become grating and irritating.
Furthering this tightness of focus, this succinctness, beyond the weapon upgrading systems, the sole other form of progression is streamlined; a level up system is in place, each kill or successful completion of an objective awarding experience points, larger engagements or complex encounters naturally resulting in an accumulation of greater points. With each level up, a perk of some kind is awarded, from the mundane and frequent health extension, through to more exotic upgrades. Here, though, is zero player choice, each rank and reward being predetermined. Some are exciting and liberating, and there is something tantalizing about the systems, as the path of progression is made visible in the opening moments. The inclusion of this progression system – lean though it may be – only further incentives exploration, right alongside the quest for more powerful weaponry.
The narrative – and the gameplay systems overall – falter towards the conclusion of the game. The freeform nature of the garrison outposts is totally abandoned, discarded and replaced by the overwhelmingly bombastic and restrictive; certainly enjoyable in a unique manner, these missions seem like oddities, departing with everything which came before. In the first instance, a combat gauntlet is navigated through, populated by undead enemies, whose inclusion baffles me, though surely there is some lore behind their presence. Totally unfun to fight, they attack in mindless droves, and can only be dispatched with a headshot. Weaponry here is limited, a pistol wielded first, then a shotgun and sniper rifle, more exotic weapons left underutilized. Lasting an objectively scant five or ten minutes, this section seemed to drag on endlessly, devolving into a slog, contrasting greatly the cerebral approaches in prior missions and those found during exploration.
The gauntlet concluded, mindlessness abounds further, overtaking all. In reward for completing the gauntlet, a powerful weapon, the Kill Star, is given Rex. Firing totally accurately, with incredible range, damage, and needing no reloads, the wrist-mounted weapon devastates all enemies who fall unfortunate victim to its piercing, searing redness. Dozens and dozens of enemies are here thrown at the player, while helicopters fly overhead, dispatched with equal ease. It is impowering, but it is far too silly to me, wielding such an overpowered weapon. Furthering the excessive, a dragon is ultimately mounted, with the capabilities to summon lasers down from the heavens, also devastating the opposition. Enjoyable to an extent, I was quite relieved when these sections concluded – and then the game ends. The stylized cutscenes reemerge in force, with some critical revelations, and a cliffhanger of sorts. Charm thrives in these cinematics, and the conclusion was satisfying – if abrupt; completing the main campaign, in addition to all of the hostage rescue, and predator quests, took just shy of eight hours. Again, it is an ideal length, as the tone could gradually grow to outstay its welcome, while this shortness and tightness of focus distinguishes the game from others in the open-world genre, which are oftentimes sprawling, bogged down with fluff. True, there are a plethora of pointless collectibles here, which can be pinpointed on the map with the acquisition of certain items, but the map proper is not littered with pointless icons; it is succinct and focused, and that is admirable. Rarely did I feel as though I was merely checking items off a list.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, then, is tonally and stylistically unique; the narrative it tells is not particularly novel, but the way it is presented is decidedly unique, the brief cutscenes bookending the primary missions being of an exceedingly high quality, totally endearing. This endearing attribute, though, is departed from, with a world design that is unappealing, showing a creative poverty; beyond a few bright beams reaching upwards, landscapes are characterized by grays and fogs, even as an arresting, ominous red sun shines overhead. Many incentives for exploring that world do exist, and the rewards are traditionally valuable, while the acts which distribute those rewards are consistently fun to engage in, the weaponry progression system being a highlight. Beyond the final moments, stealth is viable throughout, even as detection is not something to be dreaded, as Rex is a cybernetic soldier, capable of withstanding considerable damage. This flexibility of approach remains one of the game’s greatest strengths, and in the disappointing concluding hours, all of those strengths are abandoned, displaced by the totally linear; from a gameplay perspective, the ending falters, while narratively the game actually soars. The length and pacing were consistent throughout, memorable not so much for its competent gameplay systems, but more so by the tone and atmosphere it evokes – playful and daring, stylized and arresting; it is humorous, whereas so many other titles eschew totally the humorous – or over-rely upon it. Here is an excellent, commendable tonal balance.