Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon welcomes you to the retro party

Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon welcomes you to the retro party

If Far Cry 3's grim tale of survival was a poor fit for the game's exotic, often preposterous antics, there are no such fears for its seemingly disconnected spin-off. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is nothing short of ridiculous, and deliberately so. Ubisoft's standalone shooter celebrates the endearingly excessive sci-fi action of a bygone era in entertainment, when men wore cyber-armor over cyber-arms and when eyes glowed red.

An animated introduction transports us to the post-apocalyptic near future... of 2007. Our new cyborg hero is sent to an island to take out a rogue terrorist group – full of evil cyborgs. The intro has music so pungent of Terminator 2 that I half expect it to tell me it'll be back, and the first 10 or so minutes are filled with references to sci-fi and action movies from in and around the 1980s. Blood Dragon pays homage to an era full of sci-fi missteps and overblown heroes exuding machismo.%Gallery-186125%

"Did you download my mainframe into your cortex?" asks the beret-sporting, mustachioed villain moments later, eyeing down our wonderfully named hero, Sgt. Rex Colt.

With the voice of The Terminator star Michael Biehn, Colt raspily says, "Fuck you."

There are cuter touches too, like the presentation taking on a distorted VHS feel when your health is low, or headshots pouring out a bitty white glow. Some don't quite fit the overall motif but are still amusing, like how the rock from Far Cry 3, thrown to distract enemies, becomes a d20 die. Colt's A.I guide calls him a nerd for using it.

The d20 substitution is a good example of how the retro re-skin represents a sizable chunk of what's different in Blood Dragon beyond its neon palette. Far Cry 3's knife takedown, for example, is executed with a glowing purple sword, and the follow-up knife throw replaced by a shooting star to the skull. The camera, meanwhile, becomes Colt's Cyber-Eye. It still lets you tag enemies, but now has a digital pink overlay that whirs as you zoom.

At this basic level, from how you heal to the way weapons handle, Blood Dragon feels like a new skin on the old Far Cry 3. The game all but confesses its core resemblance to Far Cry 3 with a tutorial that, while poking fun at itself for being rushed, is still rushed. It seems to assume I'm a returning Far Cry 3 player, failing to realize the game's potential for broader cultural appeal.

The foray into a first outpost initially perpetuates the pseudo-Far Cry 3 feeling; I sneak up on enemy guards, taking them out with my assault rifle-like Fazertron lazer gun while looking for the alarm to prevent reinforcements.

It's when I infiltrate the base's underground that things change up. Unlike the typically open, wide outposts of Far Cry 3, the indoors environment of the first base more resembles a compact multiplayer map. There are catwalks to sneak up above enemies, nooks and crannies to dive into and bide time, and plenty of cover to duck behind. Stealth is still explicitly encouraged, but the presence of an AI partner, an expletive-spewing commando called Spider, rather forces my hand into eventual action. The end result is something twitchier than most of Far Cry 3, especially when the electronic base of Power Glove's muscular soundtrack thumps into gear.

After escaping the first base, albeit stripped of all my weapons in an untimely explosion, I find myself in a wide grassy alcove. It's here where I meet the blood dragons themselves, who aren't dragons at all. They're sized like a behemoth Tyrannosaurus Rex, and at a good seven or eight times my size they'd be hard to miss even without the swathes of neon lining their bodies. And the lasers they shoot from their eyes.

The neon on their bodies changes color to indicate what state they're in; red means the hunt is on, yellow suggests caution, and green is something approaching peaceful. Their name may derive from their fondness for cyberhearts; organs you pilfer from dead cyborg enemies. You can use the cyberhearts to distract the beasts and, more significantly, lure them where you want them to go.

Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon welcomes you to the retro party

One of the most enjoyable parts of Far Cry 3 was the variety and unpredictability of outpost captures, and the way outside factors, like wildlife, could naturally mix things up. Blood Dragon is much the same, except with huge neon-coated dinosaurs firing laser beams.

I try to make my way through a pack of blood dragons to a small shack overlooking a nearby base. As long I move slowly and far away from them, I'm fine, my AI guide tells me. However, a bit spooked, I run the final furlong of my journey. This only results in the beasts following me along.

Happily, this works out well. The blood dragons turn their attention to the smattering of enemies guarding the shack, and start firing their eye-lasers down onto the defense. When I look up from the rock I'm hiding behind the shack is still standing, but it's now lined by scorched bodies.

I quietly sneak into the shack and find a bow conveniently waiting for me. With the blood dragons gone, I try to stealthily take out the guards in the larger outpost below. Of course, they soon spot me. Luckily, this in turn causes enough commotion to draw the blood dragons, who'd naturally made their way down the hill, towards the base's front gate. As they once more rain laser beams down, causing explosions left, right, and center, I use the distraction to scurry down the hill. Slipping in through the back door, I'm able to storm the base by surprise, almost as if I'd planned the whole thing.

Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon welcomes you to the retro party

Using a blood dragon to my advantage is one thing, but taking one down should prove an altogether different proposition. As with Far Cry 3, hunting this very wild life is one of the open-world island distractions outside the main campaign; the "User's Manual" reveals a compact map with outposts fairly near each other. It also lists 30 levels to progress through by accumulating CP (cyberpoints). There are no skill trees, with boosts added automatically with each level. Collectibles make a return, except they're things like VHS tapes and TV sets now, while fast-travel is again opened via outposts.

While I already know Far Cry 3 is great, it's hard to judge is how much of my fun with Blood Dragon is coming from an initial novelty, and we don't know if the game can sustain it across its length - I find myself welcoming a shorter campaign. Also harder to judge is how much Blood Dragon plays to Far Cry 3's strengths and weaknesses. Yet in those first 60 minutes or so, there's enough to suggest this unexpected spinoff, when it arrives on XBLA, PSN, and PC on May 1, will be less a bogus journey and more an excellent adventure.