(Review from 1997) Blood isn't for the squeamish, but it's devilishly fun.
(Like my Hexen
review, this is an old review I've restored. It was written for a college mag a friend and I started in '96, so please don't go WTF when I make dated references.)
1997 has been a slow year for us gamers, maybe because we're all hotly anticipating ID's Quake II
and other big names such as StarCraft
. Yet I finally have a shooter to sink my teeth into, and be prepared for a shock: I like it better than Quake
and I think its easily the best shoot 'em up since the legendary Doom.
What interested me in Doom was its setting, I love horror and I love my blood and guts, so blasting hellish monsters appealed. Blood attracted my attention while walking through the game store because of its dark cover, simply showing a classic bloody hand print and a simple enough name.
That simple name tells you all you need to know about the game, there is blood. Lots and lots of Blood. This is easily the bloodiest game I've played, and while that means it isn't for the squeamish, it brings a lot of catharsis and excitement for someone who wants to blow off stress. In many ways the premise is similar to Doom, shooting zombies and hellish minions, but whats different is instead of being set in space, Blood is set in a strange, somewhat surreal version of the 1920's owned by an evil cult. The setting is awesome, and so is the main character, Caleb. Caleb is an undead cowboy who wants to kill a demon god. So yeah, basically his level of awesomeness is on that of Bruce Campbell. This makes him a compelling protagonist and his sick sense of humour is refreshing for those who like bleak and morbid humour.
Gameplay is much like Doom, but enhanced. I actually decided to pass up on Duke Nukem
so I'm new to the Build engine. Many of the restraints of Doom are gone, rooms are more realistic with multiple levels, special walls that can be blown apart, and interactivity with objects. Various dark jokes can be found, but even better than the dark jokes, are various references and tributes to H.P. Lovecraft. As a fan of his writings and owing him thanks for my namesake "The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath," I always get a smile on my face when I find a tribute to his writings. The game also has various references to horror movies, and has a tributes and references to movies such as "The Evil Dead" and "The Exorcist." Finding these references are a joy for literature fans as well as horror movie fans.
Weapons range from dynamite, flare guns, Tommy guns (!), and my favourite, the voodoo doll. Did I mention this game was gory? Each weapon makes minced meat out of your foes in different ways, the flare gun will set them on fire and burn their flesh off. The Tommy guns will leave you with something resembling Swiss cheese. There are power ups that let you dual wield weapons and more. This adds for a lot of variety and fun with the weapons. The engine is great, and while I'm sure there have been games like this before, this is my first exposure to a shooter with such variety and interactive environments.
Each episode gets better and better, but that's what one would expect. The game is for hardcore shooter fans only, the difficulty is insane even on "Easy" mode for some. Blood brings back memories of the difficulty of playing "Thy Flesh Consumed" from Ultimate Doom on Ultra Violence. The games AI is also fierce and smart, as well as having great variety. Zombies are great at tricking you, they'll go down but sometimes get back up and follow you. On the harder difficulty levels, you'll learn to make sure to take their head off, that's the only way next to burning them or gibbing them to keep them down. The developers put great thought into the demonic enemies, and this spices up the encounters.
While not as intense as Quake, the multiplayer is fun. What makes it above average is simply the games twisted weapons and the fact that this has to be the only game where you can twist your foes head off with a voodoo doll, and some of the maps have traps that will give you a shock and an upper hand once you figure them out. If you have the game, feel free to set up a game with me.
The soundtrack is very moody. It sounds creepy and despite the dark humour that keeps the game from truly being 100% horror, the soundtrack has some very unique CD music that will send chills. The soundtrack stands out amongst other games like this, and some of the instruments used will raise an eyebrow, but in a good way. The rest of the game sounds great as well, there are tons of great screams and sound effects that compliment the brutal setting and make levels feel realistic. Monsters make various noises, both funny and scary. Much like "Evil Dead," the game is both scary and utterly hysterical. The developers have set up a great soundscape here.
The level design is great, and levels will take you through many dark and strange places. From a hilariously twisted carnival to a Frankenstein like laboratory filled with sick, acid vomiting zombies and severed and possessed hands seeking the first undead cowboys neck they can get a hold of. The soundscapes have sound effects that will keep you in the settings and they feel like real locations.
The graphics, while not "bad," feel dated compared to Quake. The game uses sprites, and while the sprites are often detailed it can be jarring to switch from the smooth 3D world of Quake to the rough, heavily pixelated world of Blood. There are a few 3D models used for various objects in the world, but you'll sadly never see any 3D characters or weapons other than pickups. The upside however, assuming you can run it, is that Blood will run at massive resolutions. I played the game at 1024 x 768 and some of the games more impressive effects looked great.
As I said, the game is difficult. While I like this difficulty, there are times that it can be frustrating and sometimes I forgot to make a save and ended up returning halfway through a level. Others won't like this difficulty and if you aren't up for a brutish challenge, then you might want to avoid Blood.
Some of the level designs are somewhat obtuse and annoying. The heavy scripting usually works in the games favor, but other times it brings the game down. The game doesn't always tell you what to do or give you a clue of how to continue, and you'll be annoyed when you find out that you had to trigger some script or place dynamite in some strange place. Sometimes I got bored running in circles trying to trigger some stupid and needlessly cryptic event.
Sound Blaster fans beware, although the game supports the Sound Blaster line, there are various crashes that happened because of poor Sound Blaster integration. There's also stuttering at some times if you have a sound blaster and decide to use stereo sound or high number of voices. Hopefully this will be remedied, but only time will tell. Speaking of hardware issues, the year is 1997 and the game has no Windows 95 executable out of the box nor on the net. Anyone who is a long term gamer shouldn't have any trouble tinkering in Dos, and I know not everyone uses Windows, but I've gotten used to having Windows support and I felt that the game could've been optimized better for it.
The multiplayer only supports 8 players with no co-op. Maybe I've been spoiled by Quake, but I think that they could've upped the player cap to 16. 8 players is still great fun though, but those spoiled on Quake might like to double the player limit.
The music is good, but it does sometimes feel slow paced, and without the CD music it feels somewhat bland.
The Bottom Line
Blood is one of my favourite games of this year and easily the best shooter in years. I doubt it will replace Quake and the upcoming Quake II will likely muffle Blood, which is sad because the game is extremely fun. It is funny, it's creepy, and it pays great tribute to horror movies and literature as well as using a unique setting. If you like your guts, Blood delivers on that too. The unique weapons make multiplayer good enough to hold its own with Quake, and as always, Chie, Mike & I are always up for a good deathmatch on Saturdays, so feel free to bring your copy and play us. Blood isn't for the squeamish, but it's devilishly fun.