Far Cry 3 was a great game, even if its story and characters were pretty lame. Taking over outposts by stealthily cutting alarms, hunting animals, or climbing towers provided terrific distractions from the main plot. So the idea of a standalone Far Cry 3 offshoot that offers more chances to get into some of this specific type of open world mischief is pretty appealing. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon isn't just more Far Cry 3, though. It's Far Cry 3 taped onto a VHS tape, then duped over to another VHS tape with the commercials cut out, then copied for your friends at school and played on a filthy VCR that's been playing illicit tapes taken from the "steamy" section of the local rental store. This '80s action movie twist on the Far Cry 3 mechanics has a killer aesthetic, but it flinches a little too often, resulting an a game that oscillates between dumb B-movie tropes and a self-awareness that prevents the look and tone from working as well as it should.
Blood Dragon takes place in the far-flung future of 2007, where cybersoldiers are the norm. You play as a Mark IV model named Rex Power Colt, and you're sent to an island to stop your former commander, who is harvesting blood from large dragons and plans to launch missiles and infect the world with... whatever it is that the blood from those dragons actually causes. The details of the story are largely irrelevant; it's the style of this retro-futuristic 2007 that matters. The whole game has a dark (almost too dark, at times), muddy look that's being filtered through Colt's cyber-eyes, giving the entire game scanlines. There's a small handful of main story missions to play through, and plenty of side stuff, too. Some of it, like taking over outposts, comes in from the main Far Cry 3, but nothing comes in untouched.
Capturing outposts in Blood Dragon is a little different. The basics of eliminating all the enemies and trying to avoid alarms are still in place, but each base is surrounded by huge energy shields that keep the blood dragons out. If you like, you can sneak into the center of an outpost and lower those shields, letting you watch as the huge, mostly-flightless creatures make their way in and start stomping the computer-voiced enemy troops. Once that's done, of course, you'll still have to deal with the dragon by either killing it or tricking it into leaving the base, which automatically raises the shields again. You can lure the dragons around by throwing cyberhearts, which are looted off of the bodies of your humanoid enemies. It's like the rock throwing system in Far Cry 3, which also shows up in Blood Dragon, but for some dumb reason you're throwing 20-sided dice instead of rocks.
That starts to illustrate the disconnect between Blood Dragon's '80s action movie style and its self-awareness. The game starts with a sour note by putting you through a tutorial that's too cute for its own good, forcing you to stand still and go through the basics while your character, voiced by Michael Biehn (though at times his delivery is a little more Michael Rooker), curses up a storm because he just wants to go kill stuff. All of the loading screen tool-tips try to be self-aware, too. It's like the game can't decide if it wants to lean all the way into its Commando and RoboCop references or hang back and comment on the action like the game is trying to be "above it." It's disappointing, because there are funny moments in both cases, but the whole thing would have been stronger if the writers could have just committed to nailing one or the other.
Other side missions let you rescue hostages or go hunting. Completing these tasks unlock the ability to buy weapon attachments, like explosive rounds for your sniper rifle or a silencer for your pistol. You'll also gain experience points and level up, but unlike Far Cry 3, you can't spend points on a skill tree. The skills--most of which are lifted right out of the main game--are unlocked in a set order. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon isn't an especially long game, but if you attempt to wring every last bit out of the side missions and start hunting for collectibles, there's certainly more to it than the average digital release. It also has a fantastic soundtrack that fits with the retro-futuristic action perfectly.
By building on a strong base game, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon brings in a lot of the best moments from its predecessor. Stalking around and silently grabbing an enemy, then dragging his body out of sight is still pretty fun. Chaining together stealth kills and tossing ninja stars at distant enemies (which replaces the "stealth kill one enemy then use his gun to shoot someone else" animation from the original game) is rad. So Blood Dragon works. It also has enough completely ridiculous moments--especially near the end of the game--to make its boneheaded action movie tone work. It's just a shame that this love letter to the sorts of movies you'd catch on Showtime at 2PM on Wednesday in 1988 gets cut with so many winks and nods. Played straight, it'd be a funnier game, but like the core game upon which it is based, Blood Dragon is still great fun.