Save the day, freedom and the world from retro sci-fi threats.
PC Release: June 13, 2016
By Ian Coppock
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon delighted players with its 80’s vibe and the endless one-liners of point man Rex Power Colt; so much so that it’s regarded as one of the best standalone expansions ever made. Understandably, Far Cry fans have spent years clamoring for a sequel. What many of those fans might not know is that there is a sequel to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon… it’s just not very well-known. UNTIL NOW! (Dun dun dunnnnn).
Trials of the Blood Dragon erupted from Ubisoft’s glitched-out nether regions in June of 2016 with little more than a whisper. The title was developed as a collaboration between Ubisoft and another studio called Redlynx. The game is indeed a sequel to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, but it’s presented in one of the last formats any Blood Dragon fan would ever suspect: a Trials game.
Anyone remember the Trials games? Those side-scrolling stunt bike games with floaty physics and absurdly obstacle-ridden race courses? That’s what Trials of the Blood Dragon is: a sequel that sheds Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon‘s open-world FPS format in favor of side-scrolling motorcycles. Bit of a disconnect, right? Just wait: there’s more. A lot more.
In addition to being produced in a format that no one asked for, Trials of the Blood Dragon trades in Rex Power Colt for two new protagonists that no one asked for: his kids. Like their father, teenagers Roxanne and Slayter are cyborg agents who fight to defend a retro-futuristic America. Unlike their father, Roxanne and Slayter are insufferably bland characters who lack both Rex’s wisecracks and his humorously overboard patriotism. Neither character creeps even an inch out of his or her ho-hum niche.
It’s a bit strange that Ubisoft decided to let two unfunny teenagers stand in for a much funnier action hero. Rex Power Colt was a big reason Blood Dragon fans wanted a sequel, so to remove him from star billing in Trials of the Blood Dragon is a slap in the face. The comedic writing that fueled so much of Blood Dragon is but a shadow of its former self in Trials of the Blood Dragon. Few of the jokes land and the protagonists are barely memorable. Indeed, the teens’ commanding officer is the only funny one in the production… and that’s mostly because he’s a lot like Rex!
With Rex Power Colt down for the count, only his children can defend America from a wide swath of futuristic threats. These threats exist as only the 80’s could imagine them. Whether it’s fighting drug dealers in Miami or taking one for the team in Vietnam War IV, all of Trials of the Blood Dragon‘s scenarios are straight out of the 80’s sci-fi playbook. Each threat takes about 3-4 missions to contain and is even more ludicrous than the preceding one. Trials of the Blood Dragon, at least, managed to preserve that part of Blood Dragon‘s storytelling.
What Trials didn’t manage to preserve was its predecessor’s attention to an overarching plot. There is a shell of a story tying all of these disparate levels together, but it’s weak at best and the ending payoff is pretty lame. The story’s implication that Rex might be alive after spending years listed as MIA serves only as a framing device for fighting bug-men one second and Vietnamese cyborgs the next. Players who are invested in Blood Dragon‘s retro-80’s lore are all but damned to disappointment with this title’s storytelling.
Fortunately, Trials of the Blood Dragon‘s gameplay is more fun than its story. Even though no one asked Blood Dragon‘s sequel to come in the form of a stunt racer, the game does a good job of providing challenging, multilayered levels for players to race across. Most challenges in Trials of the Blood Dragon consist of jumping over ravines or traversing trap-laden lairs. Though some of these sections are teeth-gnashingly frustrating, Trials‘ physics are very forgiving and make the game accessible to novices.
Trials of the Blood Dragon also dips its toes in platforming. Every so often, Roxanne and Slayter have to ditch their bikes and take the fight to the enemy on foot. These sections are made up of side-scrolling, cover-based shooting. Despite being fast-paced, the on-foot sections of Trials of the Blood Dragon suffer for shallow controls and being far too easy. Get off the bike, shoot a bad guy, press a button, and bingo! It’s back to the track!
Trials of the Blood Dragon also scores points for its artwork. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying the game’s fealty to low-fi retro-futurism. The entire game is saturated in neon from start to finish and utilizes VHS visual effects to convey that 80’s vibe. The object and detail placement in this game are excellent, as are the character animations. What’s more, players can run all of this visual goodness on machines new and old thanks to Trials of the Blood Dragon‘s competent optimization. The options menu ain’t half bad.
Even better than Trials‘ fondness for 80’s visuals is its lockstep adherence to 80’s music. With hazy synths, pulsing beats, fast-paced drums and warped vocals, there are few better game soundtracks out there for players who are fond of the 80’s. The only problem is that the soundtrack isn’t available on Steam; the only way to buy it is directly from Ubisoft, and that version is missing some of the game’s best tracks.
Even though Trials‘ visuals are fun to look at and its music great to dance to, its mediocre storytelling seeps into even those facets of its design. A few readers might’ve noticed that that screenshot two images ago looks an awful lot like a 3D Hotline Miami. The one posted a paragraph and-a-half from now’ll look just like DOOM. See a pattern here? Trials‘ various threats aren’t just kooky 80’s pipe dreams: they’re actually shallow ripoffs of other popular video games.
Taking out drug dealers in Miami? Hotline Miami. Fighting demons on Mars? DOOM. Retrieving a chalice from an old temple? Indiana Jones. Trials of the Blood Dragon isn’t afraid to borrow all but the names of these media. What the game tries to present as loving homages instead come off as blatant ripoffs. This strategy would make more sense if Trials of the Blood Dragon was attempting to parody specific 80’s media, but its copycatting of recent video games makes it clear that it’s just trying to ride its contemporaries. This strategy makes the game feel cynical and derivative.
The question of why Trials of the Blood Dragon ripped other games’ settings off is rhetorical, but the larger question behind this entire game is… why Trials? Ubisoft’s decision to follow an open-world FPS up with a side-scrolling stunt racer is (to put it politely), conspicuous. If Trials of the Blood Dragon is any indication, it’s better for publishers like Ubisoft to admit that they’re too busy with other projects than to attempt a half-assed sequel set in another genre.
At the end of the day, there’s little more to say about Trials of the Blood Dragon. Some players will enjoy its stunt bike platforming and gorgeous soundtrack, but far more will be unimpressed with its uninteresting characters and a plot that shamelessly borrows from other, better games. There’s no doubt that even if Trials of the Blood Dragon is a decent stunt game, it’s patently unworthy of the 80’s sci-fi badassery from whence it spawned. Approach this game’s Steam store page with caution.
You can buy Trials of the Blood Dragon here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at email@example.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.