The fictitious third chapter in a non-existent, epic 80s action movie franchise, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is honest about what it is. Gaze upon the retro goodness that its poster exudes from every inch. Cyborgs, ninja masks, glowing red cybernetic eyes, a dead ringer for Robocop’s Auto 9, a platinum blond in a sharp Tubbs-and-Crockett ensemble, dinosaurs spitting lasers, and a retina-scorching amount of neon. And the centerpiece, a hero who looks like none other than a mash-up of time-traveling hero Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn, also of Aliens and The Abyss fame) and his infamous mechanical nemesis torn straight from the notebook margin doodles of your childhood imagination.
He is Sergeant Rex Power Colt, a Mark IV cyber-commando, tasked with a priority mission in the distant future year 2007. But from the opening moments, this game realizes that the over-the-top narratives of the 80s owe a large debt to the turmoil of the ’70s, like John Rambo’s traumatic experiences in Vietnam and Apocalypse Now’s mythic spin on Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The backstory is firmly rooted in these 70s touchstones from Colt’s service in a second Vietnam War to his opening mission deep inside hostile territory to topple a deranged former CO. It even opens with an helicopter assault set to the rocking strains of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally that could probably pass for the battlefield perspective of Apocalypse Now’s acid-tripping Lance Johnson.
The combat is familiar and doesn’t attempt to retool the fundamentals of Far Cry 3’s gameplay. Already solid existing mechanics are thoughtfully reinterpreted within the retro-futuristic setting. Instead of binoculars, Colt boasts a Cyber-Eye with a soothingly familiar red-tinted HUD to mark enemies. Instead of tossing rocks as a distraction, how about multi-sided tabletop dice? (I’m confident classifying Sgt. Colt as “Chaotic Good.”)
The gunplay is still solid, though while the shotgun packs a mean punch, the assault rifle feels a little floaty due in part to the high-tech feel of its laser ammunition. Fortunately, the action comes so fast and furious that any loaded gun is a good one. Even stripped of his weapons for story purposes, Colt plays it cool with a neon bow that doesn’t harm his stealth or stand out in this brightly lit apocalyptic landscape. Foregoing firearms to stealthily chain melee takedowns augmented by pinpoint-accurate shurikens is incredibly satisfying. Overall, the weapons purposely feel like a generic 80s shooter brought to life, with every major class of weapon represented without any need to worry about the “best” shotgun or the “best” pistol.
Just as deliberately generic are the helmeted legions of cookie cutter cyber-minions you cut down. These faceless cyber-enemies fall with ease and while picking up ammo is automatic, you’ll still want take some time to stop to wrench Cyber-Hearts from their torsos. These organs are crucial to surviving and manipulating the titular Blood Dragons that roam freely. Lure them away from you and toward heavily-defended outposts to create a chaotic battlefield where Colt is free to run amok amid the anarchy. A solid, straightforward progression awards CP for headshots, explosive kills, death from above, and more that unlock a new skill at every level to keep Colt on the cutting edge when it comes to doling out destruction.
Aside from the towering titular threats, wild predators will make a return, now more vicious and chromed out than before. Expect to face familiar fauna made more fearsome by technology unchecked by ethics or morality. Along those lines, nifty animations constantly remind you of Colt’s cyber-arm, such as pressing melee when no target is in range to flip the bird, manipulating a spring hand grip to restore health, or throwing up metal horns.
Biehn’s voiceover hits a pitch-perfect rendition of a prolific action actor who knows how to intentionally phone in grizzled one-liners this far into a (fictitious) franchise. The rest of the cast rises to the occasion, with just the right level of campy overacting to bring a smirk to your face. The action is driven by a pumping soundtrack courtesy of Power Glove as aurally pleasing as Hotline Miami’s synth-soaked vibe. The main theme in particular is heavily reminiscent of the pounding industrial sounds of the Terminator theme.
Frequent ’80s touches both light and heavy thoroughly populate the game, from a loading screen VHS tracking meter to the limited color palette of its classic console-inspired cutscenes. Your mileage may vary as the references go from broad (“Winners don’t use drugs,” growls Colt indignantly) to the achingly and awesomely specific (for those of you can already see in your mind’s eye the Google image search results for “Predator handshake”). But the game constantly fires on all cylinders as an anything-goes homage. The kitchen sink approach can also be heard in the abundance of profanity that you’d expect from a film pre-dating the introduction of the PG-13 rating. Yet for all the obscenities yelled, the violence is remarkably sanitized, with blue cybernetic fluids in lieu of gushing arterial sprays. If anything, the game could stand to be even more gruesome given the sub-human nature of Colt’s enemies.
As a standalone, budget-priced open world with a firm grip on its inspirations, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon grafts a winkingly knowing premise onto an impressive game engine with plenty of references for the benefit pop culture buffs and nostalgic children of the era alike. It’s slated for release on May 1 for XBLA, PSN, and PC.