FBT is Rex Colt. And the dragons have lasers for eyes. What?
The year is 2007. From the ashes of the last nuclear war arose the Cyber-Commandos; dead soldiers resurrected using cybernetic technology. They were our last line of defence. But Colonel Sloan, the cyber-soldiers’ commander has gone rogue on an island populated by the legendary Blood Dragons. Now, our only hope is Sloan’s greatest pupil, U.S. Military Mark IV Cyber-Commando Rex ‘Power’ Colt. Get ready for the Power…
Opening with a 4.3 screen, vhs tracking bar and fuzzy credits, if you’re not from the 80s this game could be confusing. Being built on Far Cry 3, everything you expect is here – main mission, side missions, things to kill, places to explore and bases to take over; standard open-world shooter, but that’s where the familiarity ends. This makes me want to dig out my Vic-20. But if the 80s setting and in-jokes are lost on you, there’s always the gaming piss-takes ...
Rex and "Spider" Brown (who is days from retirement and has a wife and kid waiting for him at home) are sent to the island where Sloan is holed up. Having become disgusted at America’s soft-stance on war after Vietnam II, Sloan plans to fire missiles (filled with the blood of Blood Dragons by mad scientist Dr Carlyle) at every nation and send us back to the stone age. Or something; it doesn’t matter. No match for their old mentor, Rex is left at the mercy of the Blood Dragons which can shoot laser beams from their eyes. What? Escaping, Rex takes over a nearby base, earning the gratitude of a bunch of nerds and Carlyle’s disillusioned assistant, Dr. Darling decides to help Rex stop Sloan, but warns only the ‘Killstar’ can beat him and in order to wield it, Rex has to become more than his cyber-programming.
Gruffly voiced by Michael Biehn (so perfectly you’ll have to watch Terminator, Aliens, even The Rock again), Rex is the ultimate 80s action hero. Whether it’s doing cool moves like giving the devil’s horn when he levels up (and the finger when you melee out of range) or reloading the shotgun by throwing the shells in the air, Rex is the hero we watched as kids, sitting a foot away from a square telly. He loves his country, his job and paintings of dogs playing poker. But Rex is not just a manly man’s man type, he’s also us gamers. Going through a tutorial (“to look up, look up”) causes him to yell “for fucks sake”, his HUD constantly annoys him with pointless info, he complains about missions and the logic behind them (like having to dive into cyber-shark-infested water to turn a fuse on), gets bored by exposition and questions collectables – “Great, found another one. What the fuck am I doing?”; what gamer hasn’t muttered that?
Explained as an evolutionary throwback, Blood Dragons are massive and lethal. They glow different colours depending on mood and they’re huge … fun to get killed by. They roam the island taking out anything they find; getting chased by one while in a jeep is the stuff of Jeff Goldblum’s ‘must go faster’ nightmares. You can rip out the hearts of downed cyber-baddies to decoy the dragons with, and getting them to attack bases is great, even if it means decoying it back out again or killing it afterwards – if you can.
BD is all about the fun of playing a straight-to-VHS action hero; the heroic cut-scenes, dramatic dialogue, it’s perpetually set at neon-night, the creatures are shiny chrome-coloured, the bases have that 80’s sci-fi atheistic and they’re filled with cyber-baddies in crash-helmets that talk in robotic voices. There’s a cold-war attitude and the assumption that the near future will be a ravaged, nuclear hell-hole – they’re not far off - and the score is by a synth band called Power Glove. Items we collect include VHS videos, and the titles are so spot on I swear I watched them as a kid. But it goes further than that, you really need to know your 80s to get the references built into it - missions are all movie quotes or titles, there’s Jaws and Blazing Saddles refs – wrong decade, but we all rented those in the 80s, long tall sally plays during the helicopter ride, when you fire a mini-gun Rex lets out a roar, and his sidearm looks very familiar. There’s classic training montages, Rex goes into the sewers to take out some mutated turtles, Dr. Darling looks like Bridgette Nielson while Slone bears a striking resemblance to Bennett. There's a classic 80s sex scene and the final shot is straight out of a video that defines the eighties. It's a joy to play your childhood – we are Michael Dudikoff.
While the 80s theme and humour are the most memorable thing, BD gets the open-world shooter bit right as well. The main mission is centred around dismantling Sloan’s war machine and Carlyle’s labs, while the side-missions fall into two categories – animal hunts and scientist rescues. Standard Far Cry stuff but this is more than a reskin; all the bases are different and require planning, especially if a Blood Dragon is about, while the missions are designed to have fun with and there are some great set-pieces - taking out the Blood Dragon’s nest is a standout (complete with an Aliens in-joke). And then, once we get the Killstar and assault Sloan’s base ... whoa; its pure actioner wish fulfilment like you’re re-enacting the ending to Commando - except Arnie never rode a tame Cyber-Blood Dragon (which is self-aware and has its own 80s movie quotes), while the final fight with Sloan somehow mashes together every action movie you ever watched. You will be cheering like you did when Matrix said “Remember Sully, when I promised to kill you last?”
At face value, BD lazily takes aim at a decade that can’t be taken seriously anyway – just look at the 80s. But there's so much to it - it’s as much a homage as parody and while 80s actioners are squarely in its firing-line, so is gaming; Rex constantly responding to the game's logic with a befuddled ‘what?’ is all of us – but he’s no hero, he’s just your everyday U.S. Military Mark IV Cyber-Commando doing his job. It’s a genuinely funny game – “Tell my wife ... I died fighting for my country!” / “You can tell her that yourself” - it’s like Naked Gun the Video Game.
This is another Far Cry; there’s nothing here you’ve not done two or three times before in a FC game, but Blood Dragon's style and sly comedy raises it above the series' diminishing returns and makes it a classic in it's own right - I'd look forward to a BD2 way more than an FC6.
BD is short but it’s perfectly timed and doesn’t outstay it’s welcome – it’s one of those games you get tempted to replay immediately – not because you missed anything, but because you really want the exact same experience again.
As soon as I’ve re-watched Cobra.
2013 | Developer, Ubisoft Montreal/Shanghai | Publisher Ubisoft
platforms; Win, PS3, X360