On April 1st, 2013, the gaming world saw an April Fools treat beyond all others. The Far Cry franchise was thriving after a stunning third entry set a new path forward. Players were itching for more open world mayhem, and Ubisoft delivered a focused blast of 80s nostalgia. Little did we know at the time that it was more than an April Fool's prank. On April 30th, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon released as a standalone expansion, a bite-sized open-world adventure that introduced the world to Rex "Power" Colt.
Set in future year 2007, Blood Dragon takes Far Cry 3's gameplay ideas and amps them up to 11. Fall damage is a thing of the past, you can breathe underwater, and health kits are injectable. The pacing is equally amped, replacing a full fifteen-hour island tour with a brisk and exhilarating five-hour killing spree. Story sequences are fast and loose, throwing exposition with the same reckless abandon as Rex's one-liners.
Of course, this all melds with the game's finest achievement, which is its impeccable genre savvy. There are countless games out there draped in neon that scream "RADICAL" to try to capture the 80s. Blood Dragon not only perfectly encapsulates the decade's pop culture, it plays off a specific love for the era's cheap VHS films. Tracking shots take over the screen whenever the player takes a hit. The voice acting never rises above gruff macho posturing. Rex actively scoffs at side missions, as if he knows how ruinous they can be to tight pacing. The entire appeal of Blood Dragon hinges on how familiar you are with obscure titles such as Occupational Killer, Strike Commando, and Ragewar.
This very specific inspiration lets Blood Dragon become the most focused game in the entire series. Larger entries might have you take a break from fighting a cult to help a pyromaniac or teleport a nerd to space. Every aspect of Blood Dragon contributes to the worldbuilding rather than distracting from it. The developers know why players are here, and they give focused blasts of action movie nonsense on demand.
Thankfully, the game doesn't change up the formula too much in other places. One of the general failings of Far Cry has been how similar each entry ends up. However, if you're in the mood for it, nothing hits the spot quite like Ubisoft's blend of outpost clearing and wanton open-world chaos. Even after playing through later entries, Blood Dragon's particular stab at this blueprint feels right. There's less to do overall, but the rolling purple hills still host a wealth of content.
That's not to say that there have been no advancements at all. Going back now, players definitely miss the weapon customization and expanded options that later titles bring. You basically have one option for each weapon archetype, and it's not until late in the game that you can make them truly over the top. Having a blocky futuristic sniper rifle is nice, but it doesn't really fit in until it's firing off explosive rounds. Weapon attachments are unlocked through side missions, which are spins on the hunting and hostage rescue you expect from the series.
At least the weapons that are here contribute to the overall vibe. One of the biggest selling points of Blood Dragon for me is the chance to play through an FPS adventure with Robocop's pistol and The Terminator's sawed-off shotgun. These two iconic weapons (plus one bonus unlockable) completely capture the essence of their movie counterparts. It gets it so right that I usually forgo the bandolier upgrade for the shotgun, as it means I give up the amazing gun twirl reload animation.
Blood Dragon shines when leaning into an over the top nature. This occasionally clashes with Far Cry 3's core gameplay loop, since all Far Cry games have one foot in the stealth pool. With a heavy focus on stealth takedowns and disabling alarms, some missions can make you forget that you're launching C-4000 at hapless goons. The game does try to spice this up with laser swords and shurikens replacing more basic knives. However, there are more opportunities to use these tools than the more natural heavy weaponry. The game gives you a minigun but doesn't always know how best to use it.
You can also feel this during the battles with the titular laser spewing dragons. Taking on these behemoths is enjoyable initially, but the fights become drawn-out affairs quickly. The only way to avoid being devoured is to crouch around, leaving you slowly aiming at glowing hotspots and depleting all your ammo. The stealth and sneaking seem to be holdovers from a different game that don't fit here, which is reflective of the game's spin-off nature. One would hope that this would be fixed in a potential full-sized sequel, although who knows if that will ever happen now.
Five years is a long time in gaming, and nothing will showcase that better than playing an old favorite. When compared to Far Cry 5's detailed character models, Blood Dragon's faceless populace stick out. The stylized Ninja Gaiden-esque cutscenes that bookend most missions hold up better. They're pixilated perfectly, even if it's clear that some of the actions they depict would take place in-game nowadays.
The soundtrack is an instant classic for fans of synthwave. Penned by Australian duo Power Glove, the battle themes perfectly back up the action on screen. Several of the tunes are good enough to thrive alone, matching up with the best of the genre. The voice acting is stylistically bad, with over the top monologuing and as many cheesy barbs as possible. Some lines feel out of place, bringing more modern phrases into an 80s context. For the most part, it hits the nail on the head.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon started as a joke. It ended up as the epitome of what Far Cry can achieve in its current form. Even five years later, the game's bombastic action and laser focus let it stand out as an open world triumph. It's an easy game to complete, with a story that leaves you wanting more rather than less. If you aren't yet sick of the 80s, Blood Dragon delivers in radical fashion.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was reviewed on PC via Steam and Xbox One via Backward Compatibility with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
It may be a case of style over substance, but Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is still the perfect way to experience the Far Cry formula as it stands now. The game trades bloated systems and overwrought dialogue with a hammy narrative that knows exactly what it's doing.
- Blazing Fast Pacing
- Second to None Presentation
- Over The Top Everything
- Out of Place Stealth Sequences
- Drawn Out Dragon Fights
- Aging Visuals