As a general rule, once I’ve finished playing a video game, that’s it. No more. Don’t bother selling me new missions, extra multiplayer maps or additional guns. By the time I’ve sunk 15 or 20 hours into a game, I’m ready to move on.
But then came Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, a $15 extension to last year’s fun-but-stupid first-person shooter. Downloadable content, or DLC* in gamer jargon, had suddenly piqued my interest.
Blood Dragon isn’t a typical add-on. It’s a departure from the source material, trading hostile natives for cyber-soldiers, and island shanties for metal-clad compounds. Like Far Cry 3, the game is set on an island, but now it’s covered in neon pinks and blues, with red and green laser lights beaming up into a stormy sky. You start the game, and synthesizers start blaring.
Blood Dragon is a throwback the testosterone-driven films of the ’80s and early ’90s, before we demanded deep thoughts out of our action movies. The protagonist, Sergeant Rex Power Colt, is a gravel-voiced cyborg with a metallic arm and glowing red eye. Tired cliches, cringeworthy double entendres and references to decades-old pop culture saturate every line of dialog. Basically, it’s like modern video games, except Blood Dragon is aware of its silliness.
The game itself is presented as an artifact from the VHS era that imagines “the future” as a neon-soaked 2007. (At the start, Ubisoft’s logo warbles out of tune as it spins onto the screen, and a “tracking” bar appears during load times to adjust the picture.) Even the characters are tuned into the nostalgia; the game’s villain is bent on reverting humanity to a more savage state, which seems like a gussied up way of saying he wants his ’80s movies back.
Mechanically, Blood Dragon doesn’t stray far from the source material. The game is still largely about raiding enemy compounds, venturing on side missions and wasting time on the island looking for trinkets and hunting (cyber) wildlife. As with Far Cry 3, you can still use stealth to take down enemies and disable alarms, or you can just start shooting.
The difference with Blood Dragon is that it all happens at a faster clip. Sure, you could sneak into an enemy base and thin the crowd with stealth kills, but Blood Dragon stocks you with plenty of health, ammo and explosives if you’d rather evoke a firefight. Many of the special abilities you must earn in Far Cry 3 are available right away in Blood Dragon, so you’re deadlier and more efficient from the start. And although you’ll still find some vehicles strewn about, the protagonist is so fast on his feet that you can just as easily sprint to a desired location. It’s a fitting approach for a game that’s supposed to be all about machismo. (To that end, Blood Dragon also throws out some of Far Cry 3‘s more tedious elements, such as mixing potions, balancing an inventory and choosing which skills to acquire, so you can focus on shooting stuff.)
Despite the differences in tone and action, Blood Dragon can still feel like window dressing. Even the game’s eponymous “blood dragons,” which roam the island and put up a serious fight, seem like they were just dropped into the game for novelty’s sake. Worst of all, Blood Dragon has a habit of breaking into faux-16-bit cutscenes at its most climactic moments, where you might actually want to control the action. Amusing as these cutscenes are, they come off as an attempt by the developers to avoid doing too much extra work. Certainly, Ubisoft could have gone a bit further, and sprinkled the game with more over-the-top moments.
Then again, more elaborate set pieces might require a bigger budget and more development time, which would likely demand a higher price tag. And really, the beauty of Blood Dragon is that it isn’t a big production. It’s more like the B-side of an album, where the artists stop worrying about making a megahit, start having some fun, and end up creating something special.
As far as DLC goes, we need a lot more of this.
Score: 4 out of 5, reviewed on PC
*One might argue that Blood Dragon isn’t technically DLC, since you can play it without a copy of Far Cry 3. I consider it “standalone DLC,” due to its ties to the source material and its similar price tag to other games’ expansions.