We can’t let the ’80s go. The remakes and sequels to movies from that era — like Miami Vice, Die Hard, and Tron — are proof enough. Then, somewhere along the way, our nostalgia for that decadent decade gave rise to “neo-80s”, a mini-movement in film, music, and games that repackages the neon colors and synthesized soundtracks into new experiences. Ryan Gosling’s 2011 crime film Drive, with its flamingo font and electro-pop score, may be the mainspring of this new sub-genre. Since then, games like Double Dragon Neon, Hotline Miami, and Retro City Rampage emerged, almost certainly inspired by Drive and our collective memory of VHS tapes and NES carts. As a fan of action movies with practical effects, electro synth, and 8-bit games — and everything I just name-dropped in this intro — I’d love to see more games (and media in general) recapture that style. Like closely-related cyberpunk, which materialized in the 80s and was codified by works like 1982′s Blade Runner, these tropes and atmospheres speak directly to my tastes.
Enter Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, a stand-alone $15 PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 downloadable title that’s dripping in ’80s aesthetics. It opens with a VHS tracking screen, followed by a lo-def version of the Ubisoft logo, and the familiar VCR “play” icon in the corner. Every loading screen appears in the 4:3 aspect ratio. Metallic music that would fit in the first Terminator or a John Carpenter film thumps and clangs in the background. Small cutscenes play out almost exactly the same fashion and look as they did in the original NES Ninja Gaiden. All these details and more transported me back to my late ’80s/early ’90s bedroom, aglow with the Transformers: The Movie video cassette or some other cartoon. Blood Dragon‘s a hell of a nostalgia trip, and damn, if it ain’t a whole lot of fun.
As Sgt. Rex Power Colt, a Mark IV Cyber Commando, you crouch and run and jump and do many of the same things you did in Far Cry 3. Except this time you’re a cyborg, so everything’s way cooler. You move slightly slower, with a bit of weight, some heft, but you sprint like a nimble madman. It feels great. Your Cyber-Eye ability gives you red Terminator vision, allowing you to zoom in and tag enemies from afar with target icons to keep them in check as they mosey around the neon-lit landscape. Instead of rocks, you throw d20 dice to distract enemies, similar to my preferred way to distract baddies with empty ammo magazines in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Taking another page from Peace Walker, you can chain stealth kills together by sneaking up on enemies, performing a takedown, and then doing the same to the next foe by tapping in his direction with the left analog stick. You can even zonk bad guys out of arm’s reach with a shuriken. Then, like Revengeance, you can harvest their cyborg organs by ripping out their cyberhearts.
Colt’s arsenal is one of my favorites in recent memory. He totes a laser rifle that sounds like the weapons from the future scenes of The Terminator, a powerful short-barrel shotgun, and Robocop’s (YES!!!) three-shots-at-a-time pistol to name a few. Other impressive weapons include the glowing neon Rambo bow you see in the screenshot above. And you can upgrade everything so long as you unlock their additions through side missions — hostage rescues, animal hunts, etc.
The bulk of the game is spent going from mission to mission messing up the plans of evil Bennett-from-Commando look-alike Sloan. You guide Colt around a small-ish (but still expansive) island from base to military base to blow up dams, laboratories, and whatever else gets in your way. The title characters of the game, the Blood Dragons, roam around popping into skirmishes once in a while to complicate things. They’re enormous and immensely powerful, so you’ll want to stay out of their way. You will want to take advantage of them though, as they can demolish enemy garrisons with lasers shot out of their eyes so long as you use the right bait: enemy cyberhearts. I ended up maxing out my cyberheart count so I could toss them willy-nilly whenever a big neon dinosaur showed up. Besides the story missions, these moments of Blood Dragon-assisted carnage are by far the most fun I’ve had with the game.
The sound design does its part because it is absolutely fantastic. Michael Biehn, a.k.a. Hicks from Aliens and Reese from The Terminator, plays Rex Colt with grumbly glee, though his one-liners may wear out their welcome after the third or fourth time. The real star of the game would be Power Glove. When I first heard Power Glove’s soundtrack kick into overdrive, I fell to my knees, wept a little and muttered “Thank god this game is real.” Remember, this game was revealed on April Fool’s Day via a crappy GeoCities-looking website.
And that’s the gist of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. It’s a condensed, but better – and more interesting — version of Far Cry 3 that still has a lot to do and collect. Are there bad things? I suppose. The bad guys, sadly, are pretty dumb. A.I. isn’t one of Blood Dragon‘s strong suits, but the Blood Dragon encounters, various story-related set pieces and the stellar presentation more than make up for dumb cyborg soldiers.
It’s the anti-AAA game. Yes, it’s from a studio that’s become known for its AAA properties — properties that it vowed to drive into the ground. Rather than trying to “push the medium forward” with “deeper” and “artsier” cinematic experiences — and still disappointing anyway – Blood Dragon runs in the exact opposite direction. It revels in its low culture video game-ness. That’s what makes its ’80s sheen brilliant. That decade writhed in its low culture tackiness (check out any episode of Miami Vice and look at the clothes and hair) and now it’s the stuff we long for, rejiggered with the technology and ironic hindsight of 2013. It’s dumb and it knows it. It’s a megaton bomb of nostalgia made new again. It’s neo.
Will Blood Dragon be a Bigger Deal than BioShock Infinite and Beyond: Two Souls, games that bleed with ambition to BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY? Absolutely not, but it probably deserves to be — it’s doing more interesting things. And for a $15 downloadable title Blood Dragon is laser-focused on delivering what matters most in a game, or a game from the ’80s: great fun, great graphics, and great Predator jokes. This is exactly the type of thing developers should be doing so much more of. You can tell Ubisoft had a blast making this. I had a blast playing it. You will, too.
You can buy Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (PC version) at Amazon.com for $14.99.