My five hours with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon led me to ask some important questions: Is a pithy one-liner just as funny the 800th time as it was the first time? What if it wasn't funny the first time? If a game has an open world that you cannot see very well, are you still expected to explore it? Blood Dragon did not provide answers to these questions but boy, did I think them.
On the one hand, I think ditching a game's source material to embrace a new aesthetic and tone should become common practice for DLC. However, this can only succeed if the gameplay mechanics meaningfully support the narrative and tone of the new game. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon wants to be an over-the-top power fantasy, but instead is awkwardly stuck in its quasi-realistic jungle simulator foundation.
Far Cry 3's crafting system and character customization get axed in Blood Dragon. Animals still roam the island, but hunting them no longer yields a tangible reward, and Rex's "upgrades" are predetermined by the game. Removing the nuance of building your play style in an "open world shooter" is an odd choice. I stopped paying attention to the XP bar after the first few missions, and opted to not get lost in the wilds like in Far Cry 3. As it is, Blood Dragon players coming directly from Far Cry 3 will wonder what happened to half of the side-content (thankfully, rescue missions and base liberation tasks still exist), while folks who skipped Far Cry 3 might wonder why the developers bothered making cyborg versions of ostriches. It reminds me a bit of L.A. Noire's open-world aspects. Sure, it's there, but it doesn't make me feel any more like a detective (or a cyborg supersoldier, as the case may be).
Blood Dragon is certainly unique and charming in the visuals department though. It dares to stand out with neon lights and flashy explosions. Everything is bathed in a "VHS tape on an old TV" style glow. However, in making Blood Dragon look more like a 1980's straight-to-video action film, a thick fog was put over the entire island, effectively halving the view distance of Far Cry 3. This killed any remaining enthusiasm I had to explore the island: I couldn't see anything!
After a few hours with Blood Dragon my worst fears were confirmed: Ubisoft had taken out the most fun parts of Far Cry 3 and made the bad parts even worse.
At the outset of Blood Dragon, it is hard to tell if the plot is bad so as to be satirical, or if it is just bad. The one-liners are appropriately brain-dead, and the action itself ridiculous, but players are never given a reason to care about what is going on. The first two acts of the game are mired by underdeveloped central characters and missions that seem to have no effect on the island or the progression of the plot. Again, this could be a satire of uninspired 80's action movies, but if I can't tell for sure, then we have a problem.
The last third of the game though, that is something special. It's not until Blood Dragon completely ditches its Far Cry 3 heritage and becomes a Serious Sam-esque arena shooter with tight cinematic scripting that the gameplay starts to match the tone of its brilliantly realized look. The conclusion is just as satisfying as that of any campy 80's movie. It's too bad that you have to endure several hours of tedium (and poor jokes) to get to it.
It's perhaps unfair to judge a game on its humor, but Blood Dragon reeks of desperation as it tries to make you laugh. Any jokes that got a chuckle out of me quickly took a detour to irritating as they dragged out two beats too long. A fourth wall-breaking rant on why video games are awesome elicited an audible groan from me; so loud that my roommate came over and asked if I was ok. The fact is, post-Saints Row The Third, the bar for "funny games" is high, and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon doesn't so much jump over the bar as get clotheslined by it. The jokes are only skin deep, and are handled with all the subtlety of a middle schooler listing synonyms for the male organ out loud to himself.
It's a shame that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was forced to be a type of game it clearly isn't. A game just called "Blood Dragon," free of its open-world tropical heritage, would have given developers the flexibility they needed to do their vision justice. Compared directly to Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon is a mediocre Far Cry experience. In a more broad scope, Blood Dragon is an unfocused mess that could have used some fat-trimming in development. Fans who just want more Far Cry 3 or have particular nostalgia for the 80's could certainly find worse ways to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon, but you'll have to hear some terrible jokes to get there.