Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon will win your heart, offer it as a dragon snack

Half the battle with campy comedy is picking the right subject for a roast in the hot seat. Poking fun is just part of good satire. The other half is a fondness for the subject that transcends the jokes. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon replaces the generic jungle-island backdrops from previous entries in the series with a neon-lit 1980s dystopia that lovingly references every cliché of the era to hilarious effect. I looked at the PC version, but it's available for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 as well.

For example, your character, Sergeant Rex Power Colt, starts the game in a helicopter gunship, manning the cannons and firing away at the evil Omega Force installation to the strains of "Long Tall Sally," all of which ends in a pre-scripted crash and a control tutorial you aren't likely to forget. Cutscenes, lovingly rendered in period Sega/NES style, are laugh-out-loud funny, and character dialog is just as sharp, aside from the occasional awkward and self-conscious bursts of vulgarity.

The FPS mechanics are superb, which isn't a surprise given the pedigree of the Far Cry series. Weapons have multiple attack modes and each plays to the strength of different combat styles, from pray-and-spray Arnold types to silent takedown Sho Koshugi ninjas. Even the base pistol packs a satisfying auto-fire punch.

Instant-kill takedown melee attacks are potent, and you can chain them into slaughter-fests that leave your firearms feeling like popguns. These require a more stealthy approach, but the payoff is sublime...and point rewards for difficult kills are generous.

Speaking of points, a vestigial RPG system exists, but it's nothing you need concern yourself with. You accrue points with kills, and the character advances up a level structure, but all skills and other improvements are automatically assigned. In Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, character builds are for eggheads.

Weapon loadouts, on the other hand, are extensively customizable. You get more firepower than you can comfortably tote around right from the start, and each segment's decision about what to take and what to leave behind start shortly after the tutorial. You collect cash around the island and spend it at weapons-and-ammo vending machines (who wanders around and collects the money from these machines, anyway?) to purchase weapon upgrades or reloads. You can also select different loadouts to better suit the enemies at hand. Sometimes a shotgun is a better companion than a Minigun.

Mutated versions of Far Cry's more mundane fauna prowl the island, along with the titular laser-eyed, giant Blood Dragons, which are a force to be reckoned with and a tactical consideration that can be leveraged to significant effect. The hearts you pull out of enemy cyber-soldier chests when pillaging for supplies act like dragon catnip. You can toss these hearts like bait to control dragon movement patterns or lure enemies into ambushes. It's hard to call this subtle, but it illustrates that the open-ended tactics Far Cry is famous for remain in full effect.

While the game engine isn't sporting any new technical features for this standalone expansion, the vivid color palette and more imaginatively conceived environments serve as a visual upgrade in style. Fun character and creature designs give these flourishes further depth.

There are technical problems, but these are relegated to the Uplay DRM client required by Ubisoft to play the game. Many users report issues with game startup, caused by bugs in the offline mode of Uplay. Suffice it to say the quicker Ubisoft ditches Uplay, the better.

Although short by AAA gaming standards, the ten hours or so of gameplay here are well worth the low $15 asking price, especially when you take into account the standalone nature of the package. A side bonus is the relatively small installation size. While 4GB isn't tiny, it's just a quarter the size (and price) of the full Far Cry 3 game, yet Blood Dragon offers similar thrills and a lot more style and humor. If you're an action game fan, be sure to give Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon a chance to steal your heart.

Note: The Download button takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software.


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