Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon takes everything you love about 80's action and sci-fi movies and pumps it full of performance-enhancing pills from a bottle that reads 'Warning: side-effects may include hallucination.' It leaves reason and good sense far behind, opting instead to create a world in which the sole purpose is enjoyment. It's a game that knows exactly how serious it doesn't want to be and keeps its tongue firmly in cheek. And don't let the title mislead you - this standalone DLC shares only the mechanical framework of Far Cry 3.
The cutscenes consist of retro, 8-bit panels akin to something you'd see in an old Contra game. The first, narrated by the same Don LaFontaine imitator as the reveal trailer, depicts the nuclear war that will ravage Earth 'In the near future... At the end of the 20th Century.' The stirring music rises and we see the protagonist, Mark IV Cyber-Commando Sergeant Rex Power Colt (yes, really), undergo cybernetic surgery. The game's influences are blatant and dripping with nostalgia, and - much as I'd like to - the references were too many to list here. Just know that I caught nods to Star Wars, Terminator, Predator, Die Hard, Star Trek and Aliens in the 40 minutes I got to play. My favourite was a promise to do things 'Mark IV style, motherf***er!' before a hand clasp straight from the Weathers-Schwarzenegger handbook of bromanship.
When Blood Dragon first hands you control, you find yourself circling an enemy base with a helicopter minigun in your grasp. Little Richard plays you along (another big Predator reference) and this is where Blood Dragon's striking visuals become apparent. Red spotlights illuminate the perpetually dark, post-apocalyptic skyline; rounds of bright blue energy are fired at you from all directions; everything in the base, both structures and enemies, are laced with neon lights. The colour pallet is outstanding and varied, ranging from bright blues, greens and reds - Rex's blade is even neon pink. The entire game is played with scan-lines covering the screen, and manages to simultaneously look like a fine-tuned, modern video game, whilst channelling the 1980's and providing visuals that feel genuinely plucked from the era.
The game is eager for you to kick back and relax while playing, and doesn't mind mocking itself to achieve that. The loading screens are amusing, with tips such as 'Sniper rifles... close-range weapons for when you accidentally select the wrong gun.' The tutorial had me laughing out loud with 'Press A to demonstrate your ability to read' and then a sequence of intentionally patronising commands. Add in a suiting-up cutscene that ends with a crotch-grab, Rex's frequent one-liners and occasional middle-finger taunts, and a healing animation that involves using a hand-grip exerciser, and it's clear you're supposed to play with a smirk on your face.
In terms of mechanics, there is much that you'll find familiar from Far Cry 3. The right-stick is still used for assassinations - which look the same - and you can chain them from the start. You can still throw stones to distract enemies, and pressing up on the d-pad activates your 'cyber-eye', which functions the same way as Far Cry 3's camera, allowing you to zoom in and out to tag enemies. Rex runs faster and jumps higher than Brody, and takes no damage from falling, allowing more freedom around the map. Holding Y is still used to heal, but scavenging takes on a new meaning - not only can you loot money and ammo from dead bodies, but Rex now plucks the blue and mechanic cyber-heart from his fallen foes. They're worth hoarding, as you'll find them useful when dealing with the eponymous 'Blood Dragons'.
Now, about the 'Blood Dragons': they're easily the most important change to the open-environment gameplay. Huge creatures that roam the island, they more closely resemble a T-Rex with long arms than a dragon, as all the ones I've seen have been wingless. With poor eyesight and a taste for cyborg-juice, your best bet is to try and crouch past them, flinging cyber-hearts to lure them away. Pale-blue neon lights course over their bodies when they're calm; if you see them turn red, you'd better get running. But they're not merely obstacles to overcome. In the short time I played, I used them to my advantage to take down two enemy strongholds. First, I flung a cyber heart into the middle of a base and witnessed the dragons' laser-eyes tear my enemies apart. Second (and more inadvertently), I was chased by one into a base, where I found and switched off the force-fields and watched on as carnage ensued. These scenarios could've played out in many different ways, and I can't wait to start experimenting with various methods and tactics.
Blood Dragon is a barrage of 80's aesthetic, and one of the most impressive aspects of this is the way it sounds. The pulse of the laser weapons is spot on, and the voice acting is old-fashioned in a pleasing and authentic way. Rex's face and gravelly tones are provided by Michael Biehn, who played Kyle Reese and Corporal Hicks in Terminator and Aliens respectively. The soundtrack, though coming dangerously close to ripping off Brad Fiedel's Terminator soundtrack, is absolutely superb. From the menu, it begins subtle; but as the action rises, the electric pop and synth drums pulse harder and harder. I need to play more, but this is already becoming one of my favourite game soundtracks from recent years.
From the nostalgic music and amusing 80's references, to the feel of the guns and the sight of exploding cyborg heads, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is an immensely satisfying experience. I had nothing but fun while playing it and, though some will buy into the non-stop 80's homage more than others, the gameplay mechanics are sound and keep much of what made Far Cry 3 so popular. There's threat of it falling into similar tiresome territory as Duke Nukem: Forever (see: crotch grabs and middle finger taunts), but it remains something entirely different and is a shining example of how varied DLC can be. I can't wait to see whether it retains its composure throughout the campaign.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is available to will release May 1st on Steam, Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network. Steam users can pre-order now and will receive a copy of the in-game soundtrack on release.