Before the press could sit down and play Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Dean Evans, creative director on the project, wanted to make one thing clear: the script is terrible, the characters are one dimensional, and make no mistake, "the game is stupid." He said this proudly; the approach was a bullet point.
Not every game has to take itself seriously of course, and one could definitely make the argument that the dramatic narrative of many modern shooters betrays the mindlessness of what the player spends most of their time doing: blowing heads off. Even so, Blood Dragon's ethos feels shocking when you consider it's a spin-off of a game that took itself really, really seriously. So seriously that people mock the lead writer of Far Cry 3, Jeffrey Yohalem.
After spending an hour playing Blood Dragon, yesterday 've determined that it feels like the polar opposite of Far Cry 3 even though they both mostly play in the same way: they are first-person shooters with an open world and the freedom to approach an objective in a variety of ways. Maybe you sneak through. Maybe you go in guns blazing. Maybe you rip out a soldier's cybernetic heart and throw it into a garrison (this game's version of an outpost) as blood dragon bait, leading the dragon to fight against your enemies. Oh wait, Far Cry 3 didn't have that. Blood Dragon does. Everyone wants a pet dinosaur, right?
Still, If you've played Far Cry 3, you already know what Blood Dragon feels like; Blood Dragon is Far Cry 3 with a much more ridiculous neon skin and a much better soundtrack. It's Far Cry 3 if Jason Brody was a badass Cyber Commando, which means that your character, Rex Colt, doesn't take any falling damage and can breathe underwater indefinitely. I'd say that's Cyber Commando 1, Jason Brody 0.
The game is Far Cry 3 with cyber ninjas, cybersharks, cyborgs, and dragons.
Blood Dragon is Far Cry 3 if Far Cry 3 didn't take itself seriously, which might explain why the player has the option to flip the bird mid firefight ("It's player expression," Evans says), or why your character curses repeatedly at the tutorial section for getting in the way. It's a belligerent game like that. If this makes it sound as if Far Cry 3 jumped the shark, that's intentional. "A lot of shooters take themselves way too seriously," Evans lamented.
The thing is, I think this approach works better than what Far Cry 3 did; I'm not convinced that Far Cry 3 was successful with creating a meaningful or subversive narrative. I'm glad there are games out there that try, yes—I don't want developers to stop trying—but after the circus surrounding Far Cry 3, I began feeling insulted at the assertion that players who didn't think it was deep simply didn't get it. In the face of that, Blood Dragon feels fresh even though, mechanically at least, it's not.
Ubisoft could have made a more direct follow up to Far Cry 3, something that is in the same vein as the main game. "Fuck that, that's safe. Screw it, we're in a risk-adverse business right now and it fucking sucks. So, we're having that opportunity, to take a bit of a risk, and so far, feedback wise, it seems people are kind of into it," Evans explained. "This shit was like a dime a dozen back in the day, it just goes to show how much we've forgotten our roots from an aesthetic point of view."
For a game that Ubisoft considers a risk, Blood Dragon's marketing could be considered strange. Prior to today, and excluding the recent gameplay leak, the public hadn't seen much of Blood Dragon, and what little was public could've been a joke in the public's eye for all they knew. Was this a game? A movie? Just a joke? Ubisoft was aware of the reaction, and for Evans in particular, that reaction was baffling (even though yes, the game was revealed on April's Fools): people don't believe that a cool idea would get made into a game by a big publisher?
"When we announced it on April 1st, I think one of the most interesting aspects of that was how sad it was, you had so many people going, oh this would never get made!...and what the fuck, you know? We're at that point...any form of idea of a game, and especially one where people go 'oh this is awesome,' that people would also think it would also never get made."
Given the whole spiel about how seriously games take themselves I had to ask—did Evans think Far Cry 3 took itself too seriously? Earlier in the interview, when I initially invoked Yohalem's name to Evans, he seemed to say "Joffrey" as almost a scowl. Maybe I imagined that. When I asked him about Far Cry 3, Evans seemed to compose himself a little, seemed to be more deliberate about his words. This is what he said.
"Oh, I don't know…we have this slight issue in the industry at the moment, when it comes to shooters in particular, when it comes to narrative intentions and gameplay realities clashing, and it kind of doesn't work. If your narrative intentions for a video game are to create an incredibly realistic kind of style, it's a bit fucking weird if I shoot you in the knee cap and you kind of go, 'oww!' ….but no, I thoroughly enjoyed Far Cry 3, it was a ton of fun, especially murdering countless pirates."
But then, at the end, when I turned my recorder off, Yohalem came up again. Evans couldn't decide if what he wanted to tell me was on or off the record, but he told me that I should try bumping into the scientists in Blood Dragon and see what happens. It sounds like—and this is just my conjecture—that they sneaked in some dialogue in there that pokes fun at Far Cry 3. Who knows.
Whatever it is, players will be able to see for themselves on May 1st, when the game drops on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and PC.