In an age where the search for deeper meaning in our interactive entertainment pursuits begins after the first trailer — where more thought goes into post-game critical analysis than development — a game that bears its shallow soul for all to see is a blessing. "The game is stupid," Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon creative director Dean Evans proudly proclaimed during a recent press event — not foolish pride, but pride in foolishness.
"Dare to be stupid," sang parody artist Weird Al Yankovick in a song appearing in the 1986 animated Transformers movie, a contemporary to the late 80s, early 90s action films from which this day-glo Far Cry 3 spin-off takes much of its inspiration. As a young teen I enjoyed the tune in the same way I enjoyed movies like Terminator and Aliens (both featuring Michael Biehn, the voice of Blood Dragon's protagonist) — mindless fun.
The game casts players as Sergeant Rex 'Power' Colt, a name we wouldn't have blinked an eye at back in 86. He's a special forces cyborg with a man to kill, but first he's going to have to kill all of the things standing between him and that man. The game's loosely about saving the world. Heck, if we were in the 80s it might have been heralded as a commentary on the Cold War. We were pretty ridiculous in the 80s.
The story unfolds through a series of 2D cutscenes that wouldn't be out-of-place in an NES-era adventure (well, except for the foul language and... other things). And when those scenes end, it's into a day-glo nightmare from the early days of MTV.
If a black light poster broke open a neon bar sign and inhaled its contents, this would be what the puddle of vomit around its corpse would look like when the police found him. It was nice and novel for the first couple of hours, but I soon found myself yearning for the cloudy blue skies of Far Cry 3 proper.
Ubisoft has done great and terrible things with the game engine, transforming it into a nightmare world, where wild boars roam the purple plains, backs covered with neon graffiti. Where mutated gila monsters — the eponymous blood dragons — prowl the tiny island, seeking to make a meal of whatever flesh your cyborg body still possesses.
As outlandish and garish as this tiny island is, there is always something there to remind me of Far Cry 3. There's the sweet-spot shooting (not too loose, not too tight) that helped push me to nominate an FPS — not my normal go-to genre — for game of the year last year. There are outposts to conquer, side-missions to complete for weapon upgrades, money to collect and animals to hunt. The crafting system is gone (and good riddance), and the leveling system has swapped tattoo-based branching trees for straightforward level-based power upgrades. Oh, and the developers couldn't resist the opportunity to scare the living shit out of me with an alligator. They get me every damn time.
But alligator attacks are few and far between — Blood Dragon would much rather make you laugh than make you scream, and it's damn good at it. Michael Biehn sighs gruffly through the opening tutorials, eager to get with the killing and catchphrases. The dialogue sounds as if it were written by a thirteen year-old me, more concerned with how cool it sounds than how much sense it makes. "Tell them I died for my country," one of Rex's compatriots tells him during a moment of tension. "You'll tell them that yourself!" he responds.
That's the power of overt, honest stupidity. I just described two things I despise in a game attempting to be taken seriously. Bad dialogue and repetitive voice clips would completely kill most games for me, but there is no pretension here at all. There is no other expectation. It's the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker of first-person shooters, delivering ridiculous with a straight face, Airplane! style.
There are people who consider Far Cry 3 to be the wrong kind of stupid — a senseless story masquerading as something deep and meaningful. There are many games that do just that, and sometimes they succeed. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon isn't trying to fool anyone, and that's why I loved every minute.