Expect to pay: £12/$15
Release: Out now
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Link: Official site
Written by Alex Wiltshire.
I'd just dropped the kids off at school when one of the fathers asked me what games I was playing. He's no gamer but I thought he might at least gel with the concept of Blood Dragon: a sci-fi shooter and heavy pastiche of '80s action films, voiced by Michael Biehn. You know, out of The Terminator. Neon, synths, one-liners, chrome, ultraviolence, pixel graphics. He looked confused, maybe appalled. I faltered. “It's kind of, well, a joke.”
He changed the subject. You know how good a joke is when you tell it to someone else. Turns out that Blood Dragon's scattershot storm of references barely holds together in the cold light of a school run. It's presented as if playing on a VHS tape, but the story is told through crude sort-of 8-and-16-bit cutscenes, and the game itself is modern 3D. It references 18-rated movies, while the trailer harked toward He-Man. Despite how incredibly hard it tries, it rarely raised much of a smile, although I loved Power Glove's pitch-perfect soundtrack, which blends parody with homage so well it's actually good to listen to.
So thematically Blood Dragon's a bit of a mess, but it's still enormous fun because it's actually just a tuned up, pared-down Far Cry 3 that's even less willing to get in the way of uncomplicated mayhem. You start with its four core weapons: a shotgun, assault and sniper rifles, and handgun. You can run like the wind, jump like a kangaroo, and you don't take fall damage. You're a Cyber Commando, a resurrected soldier that crosses T-1000 with Robocop, and you're out to wreak manly justice on your doublecrossing CO, who wears a chainmail vest just like Bennett's in Commando. Action is pressed to the fore: the island is thick with battles between your faction, the Scientists, and the bad guys, and it frequently feels more than a little Serious Sam.
There are also wandering dinosaurs – blood dragons – which fire lasers from their eyes. They're the main addition to FC3 – tough and powerful, but you soon learn you can lure them towards enemies to help you out. They're not interesting to fight, however, simply bullet sponges against your arsenal of miniguns and health packs, and a missed opportunity to power up the ecosystem. More smartly, the island's scattering of collectibles and missions found at cleared outposts unlock weapon upgrades, leading to a succinct sense of progression.
Despite the colourful setup and all the neon accents, Blood Dragon is set in a bafflingly drab world of permanent night, as if anxious to conceal the fact that most of its assets are reused from FC3. The theme, after all, is just a veneer on that game. Yet by the end you realise that its haphazard portrayal of trashy macho culture actually fits the series' fixation with the nature of heroism and violence rather well. Chances are that you've thoroughly enjoyed yourself, too.