For all its faux-eighties foolishness, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was a very clever game. It took an established franchise, gave it a splash of visual variety, and then injected it with some bizarre characters and mechanics. Above all, it was silly, fun, and endearing. Unfortunately, Trials of the Blood Dragon is none of those things.
You play as erstwhile protagonist Rex Colt's two children on a mission to save America from the evil communist Viet Cong. This task sees you charging through locations as varied as Vietnam, an ancient Incan temple, and Hell. There's even one section which seems to be a parody of Hotline Miami, of all things.
The levels are tied together by beautifully animated sequences which expound the story. These sections are just as eclectic and silly as the list of locations above, and are replete with the expected jingoistic war room speeches and stirring dramatic monologues. They're also often punctuated by fake period advertisements and other inexplicable visual popups.
And herein lies one of the title's main problems: it's incredibly unclear what it's attempting to lampoon. Is it parodying 80s action movies, 80s kids movies, or 80s Saturday morning cartoons? Perhaps it's poking fun at vaporwave, and the romanticized way we remember all of these things? The lack of clarity means that the experience is often uncomfortable, and most of its big jokes fall flat.
This isn't helped by truly abysmal writing and voice acting. It's clear that the story is intended to be as campy as possible. However, there's a very distinct difference between 'so bad it's good' and 'just bad', and this game falls firmly in the latter camp.
This confusion also carries over to the title's gameplay. Trials of the Blood Dragon doesn't know what genre it is, so it tries to be all of them at once, and ultimately doesn't do a very good job of any of them.
The standard biking mechanics return, and they're as tight and satisfying as ever. You'll steer your motorbike through increasingly tricky levels, ensuring that you pitch and lean enough to compensate for the hilly terrain.
But despite it being the title's strongest system, you don't actually spend all that much time in a two-wheeler. Instead, several other novelty vehicles are littered throughout the experience. Some of them – like the 8-wheel tank and Turbo Flip R/C – make great diversions from the usual format.
However, the addition of on-foot sections is utterly incomprehensible. The platforming is, in a word, abysmal. In several words, it's floaty, imprecise, repetitive, and never enjoyable. You'll slide into levels, often surrounded by a horde of enemies which you're tasked with gunning down. But with no dodge ability or cover system to speak of, you simply have to fire in the vague direction of the baddies and hope that your bullets hit first.
Even more egregious is the late-game addition of jetpack levels, which feature controls so maddeningly imprecise as to be ulcer-inducing. Then, in arguably the most excruciating test of this writer's patience since Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, the jetpack is strapped to a bomb which detonates if it shakes too much. Infuriating.
In a main series Trials game, these sorts of experimental levels would be silly one-offs, but in this title they make up the majority of the experience. It is inexplicable that Ubisoft decided to forego the strongest mechanic in the series in order to focus on so many new types of gameplay, none of which are particularly interesting or fun.
Thankfully, the BMX-'em-up's visual presentation lives up to its pedigree, providing increasingly outlandish and hilarious neon-soaked backdrops, as well as a constant subtle visual call-backs to the days of VCRs and CRT screens. At the same time, its soundtrack bubbles and hisses like a John Carpenter synth symphony, acting as both an instant mood-setter, and the perfect sonic pastiche.
Trials of the Blood Dragon is massively disappointing. Its story is muddled and confusing, its jokes fall flat, and its gameplay is frustrating. Fantastic presentation and well-tuned motorbike physics don't make up for what is ultimately a failed experiment.