Video games came of age in the 1980s, a decade that was also the heyday of cheesy Hollywood action movies. Thirty years later, you don’t have to look hard to see the influence of one medium on the other.
The ultraviolent power fantasies that seem so corny today — movies like Rambo, Commando and The Delta Force — pretty much provided the template for popular games like Call of Duty and Gears of War.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (Ubisoft, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, $15) makes that connection more explicit. It’s an affectionate tribute to a cinematic era in which one guy with a lot of guns could solve all the world’s problems.
The musclehead here is Rex “Power” Colt, a cybernetically enhanced supersoldier who’s sent to a remote island to prevent a madman from building an unstoppable army. Rex is voiced by Michael Biehn, a veteran of genuine ’80s classics such as The Terminator and Aliens, and his growly one-liners contribute as much to the atmosphere as the game’s pulsing synth-heavy soundtrack.
The story has everything you could want from the genre, including a painfully awkward sex scene, a montage of Rex training and a flamboyantly over-the-top climax. The plot is laid out in pixelated, minimally animated cut scenes, although most of the action takes place in the fully up-to-date engine Ubisoft created for last year’s Far Cry 3.
You don’t need that game to play Blood Dragon. Instead, your $15 buys you a scaled-down version of FC3 with a smaller map, fewer weapons and a streamlined leveling-up system. It takes just six hours or so to play through, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you felt FC3 dragged on too long.
Blood Dragon is an intriguing experiment in downloadable content from a big publisher like Ubisoft. If you loved the parent game, you get a fresh new adventure using the same mechanics. If you didn’t play Far Cry 3, you get a solid sample for one-quarter of the price. Either way, it’s hard to resist. Three stars out of four.
Here are a few more inexpensive, downloadable releases that evoke memories of gaming in the ’80s:
— Guacamelee! (Drinkbox Studios, PS3, Vita, $15) combines the two-dimensional fisticuffs of, say, Double Dragon with the exploration of Metroid. It’s a fast-paced romp with gorgeous graphics drawn from Mexican mythology.
— Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine (Pocketwatch Games, Xbox, PC, $15) takes the top-down perspective of early maze games like "Robotron: 2084’’ and applies it to a nerve-racking heist caper. You can play solo, but it’s much livelier when you cooperate online with three other thieves.
— Thomas Was Alone (Curve Studios, PS3, Vita, PC, Mac, $10) boils down the running-and-jumping
platform game to simple visuals that could have worked on an Atari 2600. Its heroes are simply colored rectangles — but as the game proceeds, they develop distinctive, endearing personalities.