It's rare for a video game released in this day and age to surprise people, now that the game industry has become saturated in previews, promotions, info leaks, and sneak peeks. It's a vicious cycle – publishers want as much exposure for their games as possible, at the risk of over-hyping their product, while gamers rabidly seek out information on games that have caught their eye, even if it means spoiling the experience. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon circumvented all that by appearing right out of the neon blue post-apocalyptic sky, and it was such a stealthy entrance that many people didn't even believe the game was real. It didn't help that Ubisoft released its first teaser material on April Fools' Day, and they were so vague about it that no one was sure what, if anything, this crazy new project was. Ubisoft's hilariously early-nineties “official” website claimed Blood Dragon was a movie. It also claimed you could buy a pair of Blood Dragon roller skates for 130 pounds, so nobody was taking the whole thing too seriously. But that was April 1st. One month later, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was unleashed upon the downloadable gaming scene, and what we got, instead of a movie or an elaborate hoax, was one of the most gleefully madcap and achingly nostalgic first person shooters in recent memory, as well as one of the best standalone expansions available to a mainstream AAA title.


So what, exactly, is Blood Dragon, and why does it have the Far Cry 3 bit in front of its name? Well, besides the game engine, the island where the story takes place, and the basic gameplay mechanics, the two titles don't share much in common. Blood Dragon is a sort of professional mod, wherein the fundamental elements of FC3 were used to build a completely insane send-up to 80s sci-fi/action movies out of neon and chrome and pew-pew lasers. Rather than taking on the role of yuppie pirate slayer extraordinaire Jason Brody, you'll be stepping into the biker boots of Sergeant Rex Power Colt, voiced to gravelly perfection by Michael Biehn (who you probably haven't heard from since the last time you rewatched Aliens or The Terminator). It's 2007, the apocalypse has had an apocalypse, and an army of rogue cyborgs have set up shop on a remote island infested with superpowered dinosaurs, intending to launch missile strikes all across the world and...turn this double apocalypse into a triple apocalypse, I suppose. The story isn't exactly deep or complicated, but it makes up for this with charm and humor to spare. The cutscenes are all done in 16-bit still shots, and the dialogue is delivered with tongues planted firmly in cheek. The nostalgic callbacks, homages, and references all hit that sweet spot where the old feels new again, and the game never coasts on these moments. There's plenty of original hilarity to be had, so even if you've seen Robocop two thousand times, Blood Dragon will still feel like a breath of fresh air.


The game plays out across seven story missions, and after the first two, you're set loose on the island, where you can liberate bases from the evil Omega Force and unlock side missions, as well as hunt for collectibles, wildlife, and loose change. The story missions have the greatest variety, and they're well executed overall, even if the plot linking them together is rather flimsy. They typically unlock new weapons for you, and they contain some of the game's craziest moments (including a finale that puts Half-Life 2's supercharged gravity gun segment to shame for sheer overpowered fun). The side missions and collectibles all unlock upgrades for your main four weapons, which you can buy at liberated garrisons to turn Sergeant Colt's arsenal up to 11. Except for the shotgun, which can be upgraded with four barrels and explosive napalm rounds, thereby turning it up to about 20. The side missions consist of only two varieties, though – either hostage rescue or assassination – and the collectibles are so numerous that the search for them becomes tedious very quickly. You can buy item maps at liberated garrisons to show you exactly where the collectibles are, and while this helps speed up the process, it also trivializes it and turns the whole affair into a big time sink. Sadly, a time sink is what Blood Dragon needs, as the story missions absolutely fly by and it takes roughly five or six hours to finish the game with 100% completion.


Even if the collect-a-thon is an obvious time killer, it isn't as much of a problem as it should be thanks to the game's fantastic gameplay. Lifting Far Cry 3's stellar mechanics wholesale, with its fluid stealth kills and tight gunplay, ensures that Blood Dragon is more than just a slick coat of paint. It's a blast to play, and Rex Power Colt even has a few advantages over Jason Brody. He can keep pace with the T-1000 in a dead sprint, he takes no falling damage, and he can breathe indefinitely underwater. Killing enemies, finding collectibles, and completing missions all grant you cyber points, which unlock new moves, more health, and damage resistances. This means that the game starts out fairly difficult, and you're better off going the John Rambo knife-and-bow route. However, as you progress, your horizons open up, and by the end of the game, you can take punishment like Arnold Schwarzenegger and dish it out however you choose. The game almost becomes a bit too easy by the end, but the action is so explosive and satisfying that there's still plenty of enjoyment to be had once the challenge has dried up.


Actually, a good part of what makes Blood Dragon work is due to Sergeant Rex Power Colt's strength and versatility as a protagonist. He's such an entertaining character to inhabit that his personality infuses everything you do. His arsenal is packed with classic weapon homages, like the Robocop pistol or the shotgun from Terminator 2. You can use the melee button when outside of melee range to flip off your enemies. He has at least twenty different one-liners for headshots alone. Even his reload animations are performed with flair, as he spins a rifle magazine around his cyborg hand before slamming it into his gun, or refills his shotgun by tossing the shells underhanded into the air and catching them with the open chamber. And unlike some other macho FPS protagonists that shall remain nameless, he's humble and patriotic to a hilarious extent, with a habit of dropping PSAs on drugs and the true meaning of heroism at every opportunity.


Special mention should be given to the soundtrack, which was composed almost entirely by video game-inspired metal band Powerglove, with a few popular tracks from classic 80s cinema inserted at key moments. The original music is absolutely stunning in its ability to call back to the sci-fi soundtracks of the 1980s while maintaining its own identity, and the game is packed with enough epic synth-driven masterpieces to give Vangelis a run for his money. You may recognize a few beats from classics like John Carpenter's theme from The Thing or the ambient music from Predator, but these quick hits of nostalgia are mixed in sparingly with the rest of Powerglove's original soundtrack, and last no longer than the time it takes to put a smile on your face.

And that's this game in a nutshell, I suppose. It utilizes 80s nostalgia effectively while maintaining its own identity, it's masterfully crafted, and it doesn't overstay its welcome. For 1200 MS points, it's hard to ask for more than that. If you're even a passing fan of 80s pop culture, or if you love first person shooters, this is one you shouldn't miss. Hell, Sergeant Rex Power Colt is a selling point unto himself. He's the Terminator. He's Robocop. He's G.I. Joe. He's the Predator. He's John Rambo. But he's no hero. Firemen, police officers, janitors. Those are the real heroes. He's just doing his job. And I can only hope that someday soon, he'll be back.