I just recently jumped into Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon and it made me realize how much I love these types of games. No not open-world 80s-inspired shooters though those seem like a good idea too. These pieces of standalone downloadable content (I don’t know what I should call them, but I’m desperately trying to refer to stuff that clearly feels like DLC of a game, but does not require the original release to launch it… I think you guys get it).
I believe my first experience with something like these on consoles was Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty. It felt like a piece of DLC for Tools of Destruction, but it didn’t require the that game to play it. It was also like some digital games I was playing at the time in the way it was delivered (downloadable and lower priced), but with the full production values I’d come to expect from a full retail disc release. Just in a smaller package from both a playtime and price perspective. I recall because it was one of the first games of this ilk, reviewers weren’t sure how to react to Quest for Booty. It wasn’t without its problems, a lack of new weapons and replay value being the big ones, but it did a lot of things I liked. For one, it gave me a chance between big releases to play as my favorite Lombax. I think it also gave the developers a chance to experiment with some gameplay ideas they might not have in a full release. Quest for Booty had a bit more of a platforming focus and Ratchet’s new wrench abilities were a neat wrinkle. His ability to move platforms added a small twist to navigating worlds and I got a kick out of the heliogrubs Ratchet could pick up to use as makeshift torches. And finally it (and other games like it) can act as a way for someone to give the series a try without plopping down $60 for a full retail release. If you make it standalone as opposed to DLC requiring the original release to launch, you might find some newcomers to the series giving it a try.
While this was the first game I really recall trying something like this, I’ve played some others since. I remember watching Gamescom online one year and hearing about Infamous: Festival of Blood and thinking it was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard of. “Why is Cole a vampire?” I asked. But along rolled a sale on the title and I figured I’d give it a try. And it really did tick a lot of boxes that made me like Quest for Booty with some advantages of its own. It allowed the developer to experiement with some new abilities. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cole’s vampire flight maneuver found its way into the next-gen Infamous game Second Son in some manner. I couldn’t help but be reminded of it when I saw the new protagonist, Delsin, transporting around in a trail of smoke. Festival of Blood brought new enemy types as well and while I still think the story was a little silly, it was fun to return to a series I enjoyed. I think where this game had an advantage over Ratchet is not so much for me as the people who made it. Whereas Ratchet had to craft all new linear levels, Infamous could resuse some of its open world with some tweaks and new areas which I imagine helped make producing this a bit easier on them. And I think that is why these types of affairs are best suited to open-world or sandbox games.
And coming back around to the game that spawned this blog in the first place, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is exactly what I love about these types of releases. I have only played a couple of hours of it so far, but it does all the things these others I mentioned do, plus some other cool stuff. I loved Far Cry 3 and after doing just about everything there was to do in the original release, I was looking for a reason to play some Far Cry 3 again. I’m still getting that core gameplay experience here with Blood Dragon, but a new take on it. The developers are getting a chance to experiment. Sure there are little tweaks to the gameplay and giant dinosaurs that shoot laser beams out of their eyes (!), but it is the aesthetic that is the experiment here. That cheesy 80’s action movie vibe with the neon colors and radical soundtrack is something that they could probably never sell as a full release, but it works great here. And finally it acts as a cheap way for people to get into the franchise since it is standalone. I’ve seen people say that while Far Cry 3 didn’t interest them, the 80’s look of this one made them jump in. And then I’ve heard people try it and go, “Wait does Far Cry 3 play like this? Because I need to get that game too then.” And Blood Dragon even gets some bonus points for not just re-using its FC3 maps and instead from what I can tell giving us a whole new island to explore. I’ll talk more about Blood Dragon in a review next week (I hope), but it really does represent everything that is great about this type of release.
And I hope we see more games like this. I didn’t mention them because I haven’t played much of them and they technically started as traditional DLC (at least in one of the cases), but obviously Rockstar has had a hand in this too. Regardless of your feelings about GTA IV, the episodes packed a lot of value and I imagine Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare influenced some of the wackier spins on games we’ve seen recently. And while it may work better for open-world games, I hope we see it from linear games too. Even if they can’t pack the content of a sandbox-style game, they can still give you a nice relative slice of value when compared to a similar full retail game of a similar style. Alan Wake: American Nightmare comes to mind as a game that tried a little of both styles of level design with its own drawbacks, but it still acted as a way for me to reconnect with the franchise during the long wait between the original release and its inevitable sequel. I think a lot of good can come from these type of games that can benefit both gamers and developers and it is something I really hope devs continue to try and experiment with in the future.
Have you played any of these standalone downloadable titles that maintain the full production values of their retail counterparts? Is it a trend you enjoy? What titles in this vein standout to you? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!