This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.
The relationship between retailers and game publishers reminds me of the British coalition government; they're like two people who have to work together but you can tell from their toothy smiles and firm handshakes that both are waiting for the other to flinch, just for an instant, so that they can rip off their shirts and start clawing for the eyeballs. "Retail? Pah! Direct download is what all the cool kids use!" cry the game publishers. "Also we're designing future console hardwares so that if you put a pre-owned game in it, it will catch fire and launch hot acid at your eyeballs." "What was that about a new console?" go the game retailers. "Okay, I guess we'll stock it on this shelf here, behind a rack of Nancy Drew hidden object games and a series of rotating knives!"
Come on, guys, learn to live with each other. You might as well accept that some people are always gonna want physical copies of games, if only because deleting a game just doesn't give the same sense of closure as microwaving it. Presently, however, retail releases are having a little sleepy time after the big spunky blow-out of Quarter 1, so let's ride the wave of the future and motherfuckin' download some shit, starting with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon!
You know what, as much as I like games like Spec Ops: The Line, there's a danger of video games starting to take themselves a bit too seriously, with all these gritty character arcs and bombastic orchestral soundtracks playing as they very earnestly and dramatically raise their mounted taint periscopes to gaze at their own bumholes. It is possible for violence to be fun, remember? That's basically written on the archway leading into Video Game Town, and Blood Dragon opening with a helicopter minigun sequence to the sound of "Long Tall Sally" by Little Richard is probably one of the most efficient openings I've ever seen in terms of laying out one's intentions. The tongue is not only in the cheek but it has bored right through the cheek, burst out of the face and has signed on to a whimsical Zucker Brothers film.
Most overtly, it's a spoof of 80's sci-fi action, meaning basically every Schwarzenegger film before Kindergarten Cop, but also takes the time to parody both retro action games and modern shooters which it does by basically being a modern shooter. You play Rex "Power" Colt, cyber-commando voiced by Michael Biehn in the less embarrassing of his two video game appearances this year. He's got to end the evil machinations of his former commander gone rogue with the help of a beautiful scientist, because he may be constructed from radio parts and Meccano but all that matters is that he still has a human soooouuuuuull, etc., etc.
Despite appearances, this isn't actually Far Cry 3 DLC, it's an entirely stand-alone affair based on Far Cry 3. But it's only a 1 gig download and that didn't seem like it could stretch that far. For most AAA games these days, that gets you an intro cinematic and maybe a party bag to take home. Turns out what this gets is in this case is one island, thirteen garrisons to liberate and a story campaign that you could miss entirely if a large dog happens to run past the screen at the wrong moment. When I say it's "based on Far Cry 3", that's kind of like saying that a car with a suspiciously fresh respray job and licence plate is "based on" another car that went missing around here recently. It is Far Cry 3, but with neon colours and synthesizer music. It reminds me of those zero-effort Doom mods from back in the day when they just replaced all the sprites with pictures of girls and coloured the rocket launchers pink - it's the same terrain and the same gameplay, but they're trying to sell a special bukkake edition.
And while I like Far Cry 3, the tone of the gameplay doesn't serve a joke-y sci-fi game as well as it did the original. There should have been a more fitting way for Rex to get around the island than constant bloody nature hikes, and might as well stop beating around the bush, where's my fucking jetpack?! That was an opportunity sticking its six foot-wide arse in the air and you still missed it! Largely, it's back to the old routine of clearing out garrisons and hunting, except the vibrant neon colours on a dark background are kind of like undergoing reconstructive dentistry, in that it can make things hard to make out (slightly tortured simile).
The only real gameplay addition is the titular Blood Dragons, a sort of logical progression of the old Far Cry 3 trick of delegating the clearing out of garrisons to Mister Whiskers and the forest friends. If you sneak into garrisons and deactivate the forcefields, you can bait giant glowing dinosaurs to come and do the spring cleaning, but it's a fiddly and unreliable technique when if there are no more baddies in their line of sight, they decide to snack on some Kyle Reese's pieces instead - perhaps a plate of fish and Hicks! But at the end of the cyber-day, one must judge an intentional comedy by whether or not it's funny because a comedy I don't laugh at is like a strangling murder that doesn't make me cum: might as well not have bothered.
But fortunately Blood Dragon does make me laugh, fairly often. I still wish more video games could figure out that there are more schools of comedy besides being ironically over the top or referencing pop culture and internet memes. And some moments in the oh-so-hilarious retro style, barely animated cutscenes can seem a bit try-hardy (yes, that's a word), but the humor is densely packed. Every single collectable document and database entry provides one or two reliable chortles, and that gives me far more motive to seek 100% completion than Skyrim ever did. It's the best kind of parody in that you don't have to be fully familiar with any one thing that it's referencing in order to find it funny, which is the stick I will beat Duke Nukem Forever with until I've extracted every micron of entertainment value it promised me. Michael Biehn's deadpan voice proves quite an effective parody of himself - this is what's known as the Leslie Nielsen career trajectory.
But funny as it is, all that is wallpaper and the hiding blanket of irony only covers so much. The ending, for example, wasn't ironically as over the top as it needed to be, ironically. Yes, you get to ride an armoured laser dinosaur into the enemy stronghold but then it just kind of stops; no boss fight and the main villain dies in the ending cutscene. There should have been some kind of disco arena space battle with another guy on an armoured laser dinosaur, and you should have both been wielding American Gladiator paddles with hedge trimmers strapped to the ends.
I suppose it wouldn't be Far Cry 3 if the villains didn't all die as anti-climatically as possible, and if the "It's a Parody" shield stops working then they can always swap it with their "What Did You Expect for Twenty Bucks" defense, but on the whole, I find Blood Dragon to be a positive development in... uh, development. Someone wanted to unwind after a big AAA project by taking all the tools and making a funny little ancillary game that appealed to them 'cause they didn't have to take it so seriously, and then lo and behold! People like it 'cos it's fun and got a bit of heart that makes it stand out among the usual AAA releases. Blimey, who could have predicted that a man dressed as a giant light-up purple cock would turn a few heads at the Paint Drying Appreciation Society!
That's the wrong kind of laser eye surgery: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Apparently 'Biehn' is just pronounced 'Bean' because some people are determined to make things complicated for everyone else
Bungle the Tapir now available for after dinner speechwriting