I sometimes feel like my job as a video games writer is to cushion the public from phrases like "key pillars". It's a phrase that was so obviously born in advertising, and somehow became so normal in conversations between PRs and developers that it started leaking out in presentations to journalists. This means that an essential part of my job is to soak up this phrase like a Kevlar vest, and never repeat it to you, in case a hideous phrase becomes widely accepted. I'm sorry. I've failed.
But boy! Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon has some fantastic key pillars. One slide on the powerpoint presentation is headed, simply, "STUPID". Underneath that: "TERRIBLE STORY". Again: "ONE DIMENSIONAL CHARACTERS". And finally, brilliantly, "MINIMAL AMOUNT OF EMOTIGONS". Emotigons! Of course it's a typo. But it's like Ubisoft Montreal have invented a unit of video-game emotion, just so they could monitor their reduction.
It's like they saw the Battlefield 4 presentation, packed with visceral cries of emotion, and thought "screw this".
Blood Dragon feels like a response to the discussion that followed Far Cry 3's release. The chin-stroking and completely valid discussion of the island plot was pretty unforgiving . When Jeffrey Yohalem promised that he was using the tropes of Hollywood in order to subvert them, it was generally felt that he hadn't subverted them, so much as repeated them. Far Cry 3 was another example of white-man-save-helpless-tribe, rather than a retort to a racist cliché. Repetition is kind of how tropes persist.
(Tropes and visceral are also probably words I'm also supposed to avoid. I'm sorry, but I've broken the seal and I haven't the abdominal musculature to stem the flow.)
Blood Dragon isn't an intentional response to those criticisms - it was conceived before FC3 was shipped. That said, it serves perfectly well as one, by going to a place that subverts itself: the 80s. It takes the Far Cry 3 play, and submerges it into a world of weak cartoons, 8-bit video games, and a time when movies were simultaneously brilliant and rubbish. It's compressed into a rich, unexpected paste that Blood Dragon smears liberally across your face, for you to lick off at your leisure.
The intention is, to frogmarch the Far Cry franchise, just ever so briefly, into that hallowed zone - the soulless sellout that's forgotten what it's supposed to be. It's Jason X in space. It's Robocop 3, with ninjas. (You do have a Shuriken Takedown. Why? WHY NOT?) It's the Star Wars Holiday Special.
Nearly every aspect of Far Cry 3's combat finds its way into this neon, manly world. The controls are identical, but because it's a standalone title, there has to be a tutorial. This comes after an empowering Jive-accompanied mini-gun spree from the side of a helicopter, and the repetitive, joy-postponement of tutorials is parodied right up to the point where you want to scream "OK! I GET IT!" And then, it stops, and in rushes the relief. This might be a stroke of manipulative genius. It might have been lucky.
Everything else Far Cry 3 is there, translated into the era: the vehicles are beefed up, and less wonky. The camps have much higher steel walls, and green megashields. And the map is still dotted with wildlife, only it's cyborgised animals that you're hunting. Of course it is. Everything's a cyborg around here.
The Blood Dragons are a breed of super-sized wildlife - like the panthers in the cages of Far Cry 3. Only, you know... thirty feet tall and with lasers firing out of their eyes. You can avoid these whalloping critters by creeping past them, or distract them with the delicious cyber hearts that you've just "pilfered" from your victims. But the sizey guys are also useful - if you bring down the megashields of a fortress, the Blood Dragons can enter. When your enemies are fighting a massive laser lizard, you'll find the situation resolves itself.