Jun 26, 2013
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."
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.
Expect to pay: £12/$15
Release: Out now
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
It’s a pretty good day to be a wallet at Ubisoft. Newly released financial statements reveal that the French publisher and developer pulled in $1.615 billion in revenue after selling more than twelve million copies of Assassin’s Creed 3 and six million copies of Far Cry 3. Not only was overall revenue up 18.3% from last year, but take-home profits rose a staggering 73.7% over 2012.
“The expertise and talent of our teams enabled Ubisoft to manage the year’s difficult market conditions and the drop in the casual segment remarkably well,” Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot said. “In addition, the success of Far Cry 3 confirmed our strong comeback in the major segment of shooter games.”
Though it was admirably restrained and professional, that statement should be understood for what it truly is: investor-speak for “we are seriously rolling in it, and things are awesome.” Ubisoft is the fourth largest independent publisher in the United States and the third largest in Europe.
“Our franchises are underpinned by recognized creative know-how and premier development capacity,” Guillemot said. “With more than 7,000 developers, Ubisoft has the necessary caliber to offer its fans exceptionally rich and immersive gaming experiences on a regular basis.”
Ubisoft’s next big release, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, is out next week.
Ubisoft’s stock jumped about 10% on Thursday after financial statements were released. You can find statements for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2013, here. (PDF)
May 1, 2013
And Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon's month-long campaign of hyperactive teasers comes to an end. It's been a mostly insane tour of slightly-off 80s cliches, most memorably the animated cartoon and cheesy live-action movie. Disappointingly, the launch trailer hasn't focused on the 80s most endearing legacy: the earnest montage. Still, this increasingly explosive look the game's violence and screaming is almost as good.
Wait, so even the snake is evil?
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is out today. If the above video hasn't persuaded you it's worth your time, maybe our hands-on preview will.
A static-filled cartoon depicting the post-post-apocalyptic wastes left in the aftermath of Vietnam 2? A cheesy live-action trailer detailing the neon war between man and android? Nope, this time Ubisoft have taken the bold move of just showing a chunk of the game they're promoting. Here's 8 minutes of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon's creative director Dean Evans talking you through the game's laser-weapons, glowing beasties and cheeky euphemisms.
Given such an unbroken run of footage, you can see how they've warped and twisted the Far Cry 3 DNA. Base infiltration, animal behaviour, side-missions and dynamic open-world encounters are all familiar, but run through an 80s-inspired futurism filter of ridiculous machismo and over-the-top violence. Basically, it looks like they've isolated Far Cry 3's best bits, and pumped them full of silliness. It sounds great.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is out May 1st.
We've seen it in (brief) action, we've even played it, but a part of me still worries that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is an elaborate joke. May 1st will come around, and instead of the weird 80s-inspired neon expansion/total conversion releasing, Ubisoft will instead collectively jump out of their carefully chosen hiding spaces and shout "April Fool's Month!" This live action trailer isn't helping. It's a very silly thing, and all the better for it.
Surviving a nuclear explosion by hiding behind an evil virus-infected android? It's the retro-future post-post-apocalypse version of Duck and Cover.
In the increasingly likely event that it is real, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon will be released May 1st.
Apr 11, 2013
Preview by Ben Griffin.
This first slice of DLC for mega-shooter Far Cry 3 is a laser-guided love letter to the greatest period in human history: the 80’s.
As a Mega Drive-inspired cinematic explains through crudely animated pixel art and lashings of dramatic synth, it’s the near future (that is to say, the 80’s vision of the near future, which is actually 2007), and the world is on the verge of the nuclear war. This, obviously, prompts the rise of cyborg soldiers.
"It’s part Apocalypse Now, part The Terminator, and an all-round send up of the videogame industry."
Freedom fighters such as Sgt. Rex ‘Power’ Colt (Aliens’ Michael Biehn, in a master casting decision). Colt’s on a mission to stop Omega Force, led by a rogue robo-colonel called Sloane, from turning the world’s population bionic. It’s part Apocalypse Now, part The Terminator (in which, as it happens, Biehn also stars), and an all-round send up of the videogame industry.
But wait: what’s that game director Dean Evans is saying? “We’re really proud of our bad script.” Oh. He goes on: “In an age where polygons equal emotion, we went for something a bit different” – and with that he triggered the next slide which boasted “1D characters, terrible story, minimal emotions”.
And that’s exactly why you’ll love Blood Dragon.
Your playground is a crimson-skied open-world island about half the size of Far Cry 3’s and similarly packed with animals and outposts. While both games see you hunt an unhinged mastermind, Blood Dragon puts a spin on things: mercenaries are not men but cyborgs with heads that satisfyingly burst into showers of blue sparks; organic wildlife is swapped for artificial beasts like robo-crocs, cyber-sharks, mutant turtles and devil goats; zip wires are Tron-like beams of light, the radar’s a stark green and black grid, and blood dragons are... well, they’re new.
"Packs of neon Godzillan quadrupeds freely roam the island."
Packs of neon Godzillan quadrupeds freely roam the island. Blind and relying on smell, they’ll charge if you don’t exercise stealthy caution, but they function best as attack dogs. Killing mercenaries, for instance, lets you scavenge their hearts in the same way you’d skin animals. Throw these hearts and blood dragons will attack anything in the vicinity.
Force fields prevent the monsters from entering and running amok, but luckily – awesomely – their LASER BEAM EYES can penetrate the defences from distance and instantly melt targets. To think, we once thought a few rogue buffalo threatening.
The ludicrousity meter is ringing right from minute one; even the tutorial gets in on the act, devolving into an elaborate trolling attempt via the sultry voice in your ear, Dr. Darling. “Use the thumbstick to move in many exciting directions,” you’re told. Colt’s response: “Motherfucker! Just let me shoot things!” “Tired of tutorials?” the next obtuse pop-up goads, “Upgrade to the premium edition today.”
"There isn’t a spot in Blood Dragon not slathered with 80’s gaudy neon taint."
But once this is done, as is Far Cry tradition, you’re free to do what you want: hunt rare animals, blaze through bases, scout collectibles (here: VHS tapes) and more, even if it’s the story missions that offer the expansion’s most thrilling moments. The first sees you man a helicopter chain gun and rampage through a modernist settlement, exploding numerous bio-fuel tanks and scorching the sleek black geometric structures as Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally blasts over the top.
From the Terminator-style infrared interface which replaces your digital camera, to beautifully tacky weapons like the Fazertron laser rifle and light bow, to the stripped-back ranking system which replaces skill trees with linear level-ups (thankfully, old skills like takedown-chaining and aerial assassinations needn’t be relearned), even down to the desert chrome logo font – there isn’t a spot in Blood Dragon not slathered with 80’s gaudy neon taint.
Game director Evans’s take? “It’s fun, it’s bullshit.” It’s hard to disagree.
This trailer for the ridiculous Far Cry 3 expandalone Blood Dragon is like a powerful cyborg punch to the nostalgia glands. It's got everything: 80s people eating greasy breakfasts, grimy shop fronts, spandex, lasers, the post-post-apocalypse, and cartoon metal men battling around the sickening fuzz of a VHS filter. Somehow, amidst all this, there's also some footage of the game.
It's such a bizarre direction for Far Cry 3 to take that I almost still don't believe it's real. Except it is. You can pre-order it on Steam and everything. Ubisoft sum up the plot, such as it is, like so: "The year is 2007 and you are Sergeant Rex Colt, a Mark IV Cyber Commando. Your mission: get the girl, kill the baddies, and save the world."
From the footage, you can see it's still unmistakably Far Cry 3, only soaked in a bath of neon and testosterone. There are robots, there are laser knives, there are green-eyed panthers and a command to flip your enemies the bird. This is all as it should be.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is due out May 1st, for £11.99.
Here's a generous 15 minute video of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. It hasn't come through official Ubisoft channels, but it's unmistakably Red Dragon because it confirms a lot of what we've gleaned from the game's official website and screenshots. It basically re-skins Far Cry 3 with a colourful 1980s sci-fi action aesthetic. All the mechanics appear to be intact - including enemy tagging and stealth - and the environment has been confirmed to be open world.
According to recent reports, the game will be standalone and is set to release on May 1. That's only a matter of weeks away. Oh yeah, and Michael Biehn will be in it. Expect gratuitous violence, cyborgs, and foul language.
Ubisoft's left-of-field Far Cry 3 expansion Blood Dragon will be standalone, which means you won't need to have purchased a copy of Far Cry 3 to play it. The news comes via a listing on the Xbox Marketplace website, which points to a May 1 release date and (take a deep breath) the involvement of Michael Biehn.
You should know who Biehn is already, but if you don't: he played Dwayne Hicks in Aliens and Kyle Reese in Terminator, which means that for any high-budget project trading on VHS '80s nostalgia, he's a perfect fit. Just in case the retro-futuristic sci-fi aesthetic of Blood Dragon isn't already abundantly obvious thanks to these screenshots, here's the official blurb on the Marketplace page:
"Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon is THE Kick-Ass Cyber Shooter taking place on a bizarre open-world island crawling with evil. Welcome to an 80’s VHS vision of the future. The year is 2007 and you are Sargent Rex Colt, a Mark IV Cyber Commando who’s fighting against a cyborg army gone rogue. Your mission: get the girl, kill the baddies, and save the world. Experience every cliché of a VHS era vision of a nuclear future, where cyborgs, blood dragons, mutants, and Michael Biehn (Terminator, Aliens, Navy Seals) collide. Playing Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon doesn't require a copy of Far Cry® 3."
So yeah, this is definitely a thing, and it's coming very soon.