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21 Reviews

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon Xbox 360

Robocop, Terminator and He-Man walk into a bar, then hit Jason Brody with it

There is much that is perfect about Blood Dragon, not least the fact that Ubisoft decided to greenlight it in the first place. At any other company, you suspect the idea of converting your open-world shooter into a hybrid of Communist-fearing, neon-flecked 1980s sci-fi movies in which a grizzled cyborg battles laser-equipped dragons would be rejected out of hand.

Ubisoft made it anyway. It brought in Michael Biehn to voice the aforementioned cyborg, which is perfect, it gave him some brilliantly awful one-liners, which are perfect, and it set it all to a synth-heavy soundtrack which is all but indistinguishable from the original Terminator score and thus, perfect. It's hard to identify an aesthetic detail that isn't perfect, actually, although if pushed we'd say that the barely-animated 16-bit cutscenes that tell the story are oddly jarring when properly narrated rather than expressed through traditional pixellated subtitles.

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Where things stop being perfect is, rather unfortunately, the point where it has to start being a game in 2013 rather than an action movie in 1985, because beneath the impeccable period veneer is machinery that's not actually that well-suited to celebrating meat-headed machismo. Far Cry 3 is a game that satisfies by letting you exploit its systems, confuse its guards and interact with its world. Blood Dragon's approach to interaction is best summarised by the fact that clicking the right stick makes you flash a middle finger.

It's not that it's bad at dumb action, it just never does it with the flair of, say, Gears of War or Bulletstorm. There's a constant sense of delicate machinery being put to extremely crude use, like using an F1 car as a tow truck. Heavy enemies are introduced early but the fixed upgrade path doesn't give you the ability to take them down quietly until very late. Weapon-silencing upgrades can't be purchased until you've completed the post-outpost side missions, and don't appear to silence weapons in any case. The native animals, given a "cyber" makeover that consists of a bad paint job and the occasional robotic eye, are no longer a delightful randomising factor hovering at the edge of each battle, but insignificant roadkill.

The regular fauna has been supplanted by the Blood Dragons of the title, giant fire-breathing lizards with laser vision, bad eyesight and short tempers, but the substitution is less interesting than it sounds. They're just lumbering heaps of hitpoints you can summon with a button or a thrown enemy-harvested snack - an overpowered base-attacking weapon that gets boring after the first use. There's still a moreishness to clearing out the enemy outposts that dot the island, but cruder tools and less-distractible guards mean it's not nearly as satisfying as before. Step away from the story's gloriously overdone in-jokes and the island's an oddly boring place to be, its challenges overly-reliant on big guns and swarming enemies that - while appropriate to that latern-jawed aesthetic - just aren't particularly special.

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Most irritatingly, the game mistakes slack-jawed mimickry for biting satire, seemingly convinced it's being desperately witty when it's actually just rolling out the same tired material. You get an early taste of this with the tutorial, which makes much of how pointless and tiresome it is for anybody who knows what they're doing - but then forces you to complete it anyway, including the bits that have been made even more pointless and annoying. It pulls the same trick with collectibles. Biehn's growled line about collecting flags raises a smirk the first time you hear it, but come the fifteenth you just wish the game was doing something better. It's not amusing, just grating, and coming so soon after Far Cry 3's clumsy approach to race suggests that somebody needs to pop over to Ubisoft Montreal and explain that merely repeating something isn't subversive.

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