The games industry loves a good April Fools joke. It’s a shame most of them are so dreadful. On the first of April, the readers of gaming sites the world over wearily brace for a barrage of poorly constructed Half-Life 3 confirmations – the self-satisfied ‘gotcha’ giggles almost audible upon reading – and the announcements of ridiculous products that would clearly never receive publisher approval.
Deliberately announced on April Fools day, we and many others dismissed Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon as the latter, only to discover that this camp, VHS-style ‘80s interpretation of the future is in fact the genuine article.
Blood Dragon perfectly evokes the B-movies and Saturday morning cartoons of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, and their schlock sci-fi vision of our present. It’s 2007, and Sergeant Rex “Power” Colt – a bionic veteran of Vietnam War II, and a survivor of the apocalypse’s apocalypse – is undertaking a mission to bring down his former cyborg commander and his killer-cyborg army because explosions.
The game delivers this spectacularly tacky story in crude 16-bit cut scenes that perfectly intimate both arcade gaming, and the Super Nintendo and Mega-Drive era. This suitably brief bout of exposition stands in stark visual contrast to the game itself. Built using the same engine that powered Far Cry 3, the game looks every bit its equal but for a saturation of neon that is synonymous with the style the game so lovingly ridicules.
Rex is a pastiche of ‘80s and ‘90s heroes, from RoboCop (whose sidearm he carries) to Duke Nukem, and he’s brought to life in what looks to be a brilliantly self-deprecating performance by actor Michael Biehn (Aliens, Terminator, Navy SEALs). The supporting cast appears to be similarly clichéd: The Black Panther-alike “Spider” Brown is a reference to the tokenism of black characters in older action movies, and his time on-screen is cut predictably short. No doubt a blonde damsel will be rescued in due course.
Gaming tropes past and present are also in Ubisoft’s sights for lambasting. An overly coddling tutorial, for example, includes tongue-in-cheek digs at the in-game microtransactions and advertising that appear elsewhere in today's games.
The controlled, mostly linear demonstration we played featured the same combat mechanics as Far Cry 3, and indeed combat is the only aspect of the game that feels strongly reminiscent of the game on which Blood Dragon is built. As in Far Cry 3, players are able to go quietly or go loud. The latter would appear most attuned to Rex’s gruff character, but it seems that Far Cry 3’s sometimes-stealthier inclinations also make it challenging in Blood Dragon’s more open environments.
For now, it’s the only obvious hangover from Far Cry 3. Everything strays much more into the ludicrous, from robotic sharks to a dragon that shoots lasers from its eyes.
Blood Dragon appears to be confidently self-referential in a way that surprisingly few games seem to feel comfortable with. It’s all the more remarkable given that this is perhaps one of the very few industries truly, entirely devoted to the concept of entertainment.
A stand-alone downloadable title, Blood Dragon is coming to PC, Xbox Live and PlayStation Network in early May.