McMillan’s Codex 31 By C.T. McMillan
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
In entertainment, nostalgia is dead. For about five years the Internet, pop culture, and Hollywood milked the past to the point of saturation. The remakes, reboots, sequels, and merchandise compounded my frustration in a vain search for originality until I could not take it anymore. This was before Adam Sandler’s Pixels, a cynical abortion that cemented my decision to abandon nostalgia all together. As a film critic, I have made a conscious effort to avoid remakes and sequels lest I contribute to the problem. But for Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, I am willing to let my guard down.
Built on the graphics and gameplay of Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon is a spinoff you can play without owning the previous game. Far Cry is a shooter series with an emphasis on open-world stealth and roleplaying with upgradable abilities, equipment, and weapons. Blood Dragon is much the same with skill enhancements to your total health and reload speed. Weapon attachments give your small arsenal an added punch like exploding rounds for the sniper rifle, extra shotgun barrels, and laser rounds for the assault rifle.
One element from 3 that is missing is the crafting system. In the previous game, you were in a tropical environment with a variety of animals you could hunt for skins to craft pouches for items and weapons. There are animals in Blood Dragon, but all you get is money for killing them. Instead of pouches, you start out with the ability to carry all the weapons and items.
Being a small game, the lack of content is reasonable, and I would say such streamlining makes the experience better. The game gives you just enough to leave a good impression. Even after you complete the main story, you have a whole island dotted with enemy outposts to liberate and test your improved weapons and abilities. There are also superfluous hunting missions where you track down impossibly rare 1980s animals like neon eels and robosharks.
Blood Dragon bills itself as a trip down memory lane with an opening cinematic of still frames over hammy narration. The frames are small with a thick black border and white subtitles, not unlike cut-scenes from before the rise of 3-D animation. In gameplay, the screen is striped with scan lines from an old TV and the color scheme is entirely neon with a heavy use of black and bright light. The soundtrack is synth by a group called Power Glove that fits well with the retro aesthetic.
Since the game is trying to be a campy grindhouse feature, the narrative and dialog is a treasure trove of 80s tropes and clichés. In the year 2007, you play Rex Power Colt, a cyborg soldier sent on a mission to take out Sloan, a rogue colonel who wants to send humanity back to the Stone Age with a biological weapon. There are also allusions to the world at large with talk about the nuking of Canada, an invasion of Australia, and Vietnam War 2. Voiced by Michael Biehn, Rex grunts and growls one-liners, hamming it up as much as possible when shouting or breaking the fourth wall to complain about videogame tutorials. He epitomizes Reagan Era ideals of heroism as he denies the use of performance enhancing drugs and screams his head off when firing a machine gun at full blast.
The references in Blood Dragon are too numerous to count. Some are obscure while others are blatantly obvious and I will share just a handful. The shotgun is a Winchester 1887 called the Galleria 1991, a call back to the arcade in Terminator 2 from 1991. The pistol is a Beretta 93R called the A.J.M. 9, the initials of Alex J. Murphy from Robocop who used the same gun. The main enemy Omega Force is from Warrior of the Lost World. Following the opening intro is a turret sequence where “Long Tall Sally” plays in the background, followed by a still frame of Rex and his partner Spider grasping hands, two references to Predator. And the ending track is from Miami Connection, a good-bad movie about karate, friendship, and ninjas.
So, why is Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon the exception to the over-exploitation of nostalgia? Why is this ultra-homage so gratifying? Far Cry 3 is devoid of self-awareness and takes itself seriously, its use of references feels earnest without the cynicism of entertainment media using a familiar name for profit. The game is an honest experience that knows how to have fun and it is even more fun to play. Nostalgia may be dead, but the adventures of Rex Power Colt gives me hope we will learn how to make good creative use of the past.