Satire or celebration? It's difficult to know what standalone Far Cry 3 DLC Blood Dragon really feels about the 80s movies and games it's built upon references to. One minute it'll seem to ooze snark about the macho excess of the unrefined action hero era; in the next it'll be strongly implying that big, dumb, implausible action is far more honest than more contemporary games' attempts to add meaning and analysis to their own odysseys of ultra-violence.
One thing it's easier to decide upon is that Blood Dragon isn't particularly interested in being taken seriously. It's set in 2007, as that year might have seemed to low-brow sci-fi creators back in the 1980s - so cyborgs, deathrays, mutants and nuclear wars all abound without shame. As does an almost gruesome amount of neon, overlaying a world set in perma-darkness and forever seen through VHS-style scanlines.
Michael Beihn, that 'I know that face from somewhere' supporting star of Terminator and Aliens, is perfectly cast as the foul-mouthed, blood-crazed, impatient cyborg 'hero' of the piece, his growling voice and persona almost the prototypical 80s grunting angel of death/personality vacuum.
He, his enormous arsenal and his robot hand have been sent in to stop an android army up to no good on a secret island. There is a plot and there are supporting characters, but all of it exists purely as a framework for running around shooting things with ludicrously overwpowered guns on in a small but open-world setting full of robots, angry wildlife and the titular, dinosaurian Blood Dragons.
It is designed to be enjoyed as utterly unrepentant violence. It's caustic and excessive and it absolutely means to be. The only attempts to temper this are in the humour, which is a barrage of 80s references and fourth-wall-breaking sneering at the tropes and restrictions of games (for instance, Biehn swears in frustrated outrage as the tutorial agonisingly tells him/you how to jump, aim, run and so forth).
This stuff makes it clear the game is a farce, but it's a thin line between knowing and obnoxious, and Blood Dragon repeatedly crosses it. There are giggles to be had, but much of the time you're better off just tuning out the snark and just enjoy firing a weapon which could level a city at something which looks like Jurassic Park and TRON had a baby.
Despite revelling in superficiality, there's a sense that Blood Dragon is, underneath the noise, trying to pass some comment on how absurd and gratuitous videogames are. The writer of parent game Far Cry 3 has tried, in interviews, that that game's tale of a white, spoilt student gradually becoming a superman who's idolised by island natives was a pastiche of game tropes, but the fact that it came off so earnest and that the action was so well-implemented meant that commentary wasn't obvious, let alone convincing.
Blood Dragon, though, perhaps makes the point better - so much of it simply changes the names and graphics of the enemies, items and features in Far Cry 3, and that's enough to make it openly satirical. If that's really all it takes to turn a game about repeatedly shooting people from serious to silly, to what degree should we really think the likes of Spec Ops and BioShock Infinite have something to say about virtual violence? From that spawns a certain sense that anyone playing and getting anything out of Blood Dragon becomes the butt of its' authors' joke about how stupid and bloodthirsty gamers are.
Still, any such arguments will fly over most players' heads, because they'll be too busy shooting enormous neon dinosaurs with dog-sized miniguns. Really, Blood Dragon is just the same gag over and over again. It's a passingly funny gag, and for the £12 price it doesn't seem like bad value. The map is significantly smaller than Far Cry 3's, there aren't all that many missions or enemy types and while the art style successfully evokes 80s sci-fi it's also pretty damn ugly, but it'll while a weekend agreeably thoughtlessly. It's hard not to come away with a faint sense that the game's been mocking you for enjoying it, though.