Trials of the Blood Dragon

TheMorty gets distracted and ditches the sandbox for the saddle in Ubisoft's full-throttle follow-up to FarCry: Blood Dragon.

“Blood Dragon… how the hell you not finished that yet tho!?” Having a chat with FBT about his latest FarCry review spawned an interesting question, as such a massive FarCry fan how had I not yet played the most fun and iconic game in the series?

The reason I never made it thought the Far Cry 3 DLC is a lengthy one. See, I did actually purchase and start playing it in 2014 on the Xbox 360 and I loved the first 50% of the game. It was fresh, funny and a light relief from the otherwise engrossing nature of the series. The problem came halfway through the playthrough when I received a knock at the door from Mr. Amazon Delivery Man who brought my shiny new Xbox One. Enamoured with my next gen purchase and the prospect of playing Titanfall and Forza 5, the battered old 360 went back in the box, never to be picked up again. Boxed with it, was my 50% complete save game for Blood Dragon.

Two years passed before Xbox released the DLC as a backwards compatible purchase, but by that point I’d already ventured through the Himalayas as Ajay Ghale and speared Sabre-tooth Tigers in Primal. It’s safe to say, I’d probably missed the boat. That said, when FBT gave me the latest in his long line of kick’s up the behind for not playing and finishing one of his top 50 titles, I felt the need to revisit. In I went to the store; Search: Blood Dragon. Returned: Two matches. One of those matches is the aforementioned sandbox title, but the second return was somewhat more appealing; A ‘Trials’ spin-off covered in glorious 80s neon.

I’m not much of a petrolhead, but I’ve always had a soft-spot for racing games, particularly those on two wheels. It stretches back to my very first console in the 90s and my in-the-box, single cartridge triple of ‘Mega Games II’ on the Sega Mega Drive. Alongside Columns and top down footy game Italia ’90, was a timed checkpoint arcade style racer game called ‘Super Hang On’. It wasn’t the easiest game for an 8-year-old kid - as you had to brake more than accelerate, but it was great fun and many a night I defied bedtime to try and pass that elusive finish line on the Expert European Stage.

I’d played previous games in the Trials series before, but they’d never really set the world alight. True to the 'Kickstart' nature of Trial biking, they’d always been a left-to-right platformer and while that was a decent yarn if you had a spare 20 minutes, you’d soon get bored with the lack of inventiveness. However, the same couldn’t be said for Trials of the Blood Dragon, this was something new entirely…

The game starts with the to-be-expected, classic tutorial level “Enter the Blood Dragon” (80s reference 1 of 167,893,640). Another tutorial, big whoop… Actually, yeah big whoop… It’s a level narrated by Mark IV Designated Cybercommando Rex ‘Power’ Colt, the protagonist from Far Cry! What’s not to love!? While I’m back-flipping my way to the finish line, over various hills, obstacles and huts, there’s some interesting insights in the narration that sets out to bind the two games together. The setting is quite some years after the ending of the Far Cry DLC and Rex is long gone. As Rex tells you, it’s not him on the bike - you’re playing as his Son. One of two twin-siblings, Slayter and Roxanne, that you get to control in the various assignments you’re about to undertake.

There’s the familiar comic-book cut-scene we’ve become accustomed to in the first Blood Dragon game but instead of that Shinobi meets Metal Gear Solid look, it’s drawn with a more limited palette. Re-using the same pink, yellows and reds as if it’s been animated in the style of Teen Titans Go!

The first quartet of missions are in the familiar surroundings of a futuristic Vietnam. Rather than going prone crawling through the jungle, your goal is less stealth and more speed as we’re tasked with getting from one side of the map to the other within an achievable time limit –attempting not to frequently stack it en route. Trust me, that is a lot easier said than I can assure you is done. At first the narration is great, but after your 8th or 9th track restart it gets tedious

“My name is Rex…” STACK.

“My name is Rex Power Colt” STACK.

“My name is Rex Power. I’m a Cybercommando… my mission is to protect and serve the United States of America… for the past decade, I’ve…” STACK

Oh, for fu…

What I do love about stacking though is the taunts. The message that comes across screen as you die is a passive aggressive statement designed to infuriate you as much as it’s supposed to spur you on.

The gameplay itself stays true to the nature of trial biking. Your incentive is time and accuracy, the ‘Kickstart’ attitude and ethos. A well-timed brake gets you further ahead than gunning it and a tactical acceleration when landing can be like a mushroom boost in Mario Kart. There’s no extra points for BMX style flips and you’re not rewarded for pulling a trick like you would in ‘Matt Hoffman’s Pro BMX’ (the Tony Hawk of bike games). That said, it isn't half fun attempting them.

It’s clear by this point in the game that Ubisoft's are hoping to piggyback off the success of the popular FarCry DLC in order to boost another of its dying franchises – a trick all too familiar if you’ve followed their collaboration with Square Enix over the Assassins Creed/Final Fantasy XV DLC, just as the “remastered” AC games made their timely way to the current crop of consoles.

In-jokes about the 80s and Blood Dragon aside, by the second full mission it’s starting to get a little monotonous. Biking, not racing, doesn’t always have a good replay value and as a single-player game, the story is starting to wear thin. This is where the game is forced to mix it up. Roxanne gets off her bike half way through the trial run and we move into a 2D platformer, reminiscent of Assassins Creed Chronicles. As we navigate the classic traps and pitfalls of electric floors, bottomless pits and neon Lava, we make our way up to the control room and hit the switch before the time runs out. It gives it a bit of a different dimension and stops it from becoming plain.

The game progresses in this way and there’s additional levels where you play an RC, a tank and even float around space wearing a jet pack. By level 3 you can fire a gun from your bike and later in the game even unlock a grappling-hook, where you can swing across the roof from one track to another - Batman-style. Something pretty fun when you're darting through the rickety old mines on a clapped-out cart.

The game re-invents itself level-to-level and you're never sure what to expect. While some of the tedium remains, the repetitive nature becomes a lot more palatable the more you progress. It gives itself a welcome break from the norm and the story itself provides a driver and a purpose to keep playing, something other time-trial based games fail to do.

The main issue with the game was its value for money. Unless you’re going for a 100% record on every track and aiming to get an A+ filled report card, you can beat the game in around 2-3 hours. Not great worth for a £15 purchase.

Arguably my biggest annoyance is the lack of Blood Dragons. I remember from my pathetic attempt at playing the original I was terrified when one stalked you into a camp and you spent most of your time hiding and trying to tactically take it down without being spotted. In this game, the Dragons are few and far between and when you do see one, it's in the background or helping you out by wiping out the obstacles in your path - hardly living up to the game's title.

There are unlockable levels and collectable items in the form of stickers. Each carrying a vague, obscure and well before my time reference that I'm sure the older generation would love, but the game doesn't really give you the opportunity to have a field day picking them apart. Figuring out where the developers were nodding might be a little giggle, but it still wasn't enough to make me want to ace every level just to find them, by level 18 I was ready to just get from start to finish and move on to the next track.

The game's biggest problem is it sits between two incompatible genres, it’s not quite good enough for motorbike-gaming enthusiasts and it’s nowhere near good enough as an action platformer. There’s no multiplayer and there isn’t a map creator/editor as you'd expect in other games in the trials or Motocross series – another thing which equally limits it’s replay value. There's no character or vehicle customisation, what you see is what you get with this mid-market arcade game.

The pulsating soundtrack is good for the missions, but it’s not something you’d listen to on the daily commute to work. I’d argue the only way you’ll get something out of this game is if you’re an 80s Easter Egg hunter or if you’re a massive fan of Blood Dragon and are desperate to follow on Max’s story.

It's a Far Cry from the original, but it's a good effort and if you can pick it up for a fiver, it's a decent way to kill a few hours. Go in with minimal expectations and you'll probably find this is your cup of tea, but to me it just feels like a forced mess that bastardises two fantastic franchises into a soggy mess.

2016 | Developer; RedLynx | Publisher; Ubisoft

Platforms Win, PS4, X0