A Doom clone, but a very good one
It's probably immediately obvious from the game's title that this isn't exactly a game for the sensitive, but I'll go through the usual caveat anyway. Blood is one of the most violent games ever made, certainly the most violent I've ever played. There's so much red stuff in this game you wonder if it affected the developers' vision. You can shoot limbs off bodies, aim at heads and watch them explode like cans of tomato soup, and splatter gore over the walls when you blast enemies to their component parts with the sawed-off shotgun. Along the way of your blood-soaked journey you'll frequently encounter mutilated human bodies nailed to the walls: some of them are still twitching. The game's violence is so over-the-top and campy it isn't really scary or disturbing -- quite the opposite -- but it's still the reason many people should avoid this game. But those who can handle the ultra violence will find a fun and memorable shooter.
The story: at the age of 18, Caleb already has a reputation as a merciless gunfighter in the mid-1840s American West. He comes across a destroyed homestead and a weeping woman, who tells him that her name is Ophelia and her husband and everything she had was destroyed by a cult of demon-worshippers called the Cabal. Her husband had been a member of the Cabal, but had tried to escape from it, and retaliation had been swift. Tearfully, she asks him if he wants to join the Cabal, and for some damned reason he accepts. The demon the Cabal serves, Tchernobog: The One That Binds; The Sleeping God; yadda yadda, invites a select few of his followers to a secret ceremony. There, he kills everyone, (including Caleb and Ophelia) and uses their power to augment his own. But Caleb survives (well, not really, he dies and gets resurrected. The game never tells us how), and from there on the plot unfolds along fairly familiar lines. Caleb sets out for revenge on Tchernobog and his army of followers, and hopefully I don't have to explain anything else about Blood's story.
The first thing that struck me about Blood was its incredible detail. Get up close to the walls, and you can actually see small details like fungus and slime in the brickwork. Your enemies have several death animations each (one from getting shot dead-on, another from getting shot from the side, another from getting burned alive, etc.), and, true to Ken Silverman's Build engine, you can destroy, move, or interact with almost everything. It's one thing shooting exploding barrels in Doom, but in Blood you can do things like crush enemies by pushing a wooden crate off a ledge on to them, and kick decapitated enemy heads around like footballs. Blood is an insidiously fun, destructive game.
Blood is technologically adept, featuring things such as transparent water, realistic lighting, and great physics. The Build engine is probably the most advanced 2.5D engine ever developed, and Blood takes full advantage of this with things like rooms above rooms (the game's most tense moment is when you're walking a treacherously narrow causeway across a pit of snakes). As far as visual appeal goes the game falls a bit flat, the sprites get pixely and blurred when you get up close (but that's true of every raycast game) and the colours seem a bit bland and washed out. The game is using very old technology and it shows. But the game's system requirements are certainly modest, and I haven't encountered a single bug or glitch while playing -- not even on Windows XP, which apparently is the bane of Build games.
The game's levels (for the most part) are simply awesome. I really pity anyone who is trying to create a mod of Blood 2, all the good ideas have already been used in the game. Rather than just endless levels that take place in a dungeon or building, you'll blast enemies to shreds in locales such as on board a ship, in an abandoned amusement park, and in a snow-covered forest. The design of the levels is top notch, with a good balance of puzzles that require thinking and areas that you can just blast your way through, there are blessfully few "fetch the silver key" style puzzles, although completing some levels usually entails unlocking a secret area somewhere. The weapons are diverse and satisfying. Some enemies are resistant to certain weapon types, so you'll have to be prepared to switch around a lot. Of course, there's the requisite shotgun and pistol, and a few more unusual things like the aerasol spray can and the voodoo doll. I liked it how you could dual wield, with a weapon in each hand. The monsters, I'll admit, are unremarkable, mostly just copies of those from Doom and Quake, with a few rats, bats and spiders thrown in for good measure. But in all fairness they are extremely detailed and have so many different animations that it almost makes up for the fact that Monolith is firing creative blanks.
Blood's multiplayer, I think, deserves its own section. The server Monolith had set up for the game (games.lith.com) was taken down years ago, but as with almost all popular titles that have been abandoned by their developers new servers have been set up elsewhere by fans. Bloodbath (as multiplayer mode is affectionately known) is as exciting as multiplayer FPS games can get. There are just so many varied weapons and powerups, (not to mention Blood's naturally flexible engine that allows for things like bouncing grenades off walls to kill enemy players that are hiding behind corners) that Bloodbath mode kept me entertained for weeks after beating the game in single player mode. The game comes with 9 excellent multiplayer levels, and there's even a utility on the install CD that allows you to create your own.
And of course, there's the humour. There are the obligatory wisecracks from our protagonist (when entering a hospital Caleb will remark "hmmm...a hospital. I might donate someone elses blood.") and things such as the "No Zombies Allowed" sign at the amusement park. There are so many references to H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe novels that the game's trivia section would probably be twice as large if someone went and documented them all. The game has a morbid "gallows humour" attitude that I quite liked, cue being able to kick zombie heads around. And there are those annoying people that run around incessantly screaming as zombies chase them. They're cute at first, but after a few levels I started ventilating their skulls with a bullet whenever I saw them just to shut them up.
here are few things I can really fault Blood on. It aims at providing Doom-style action and succeeds very well at that. The excessive gore is probably nothing more than an attempt to distinguish it from the crowd (there's no such thing as bad press, so the saying goes.) One thing I didn't like was that the game often falls back on jumping puzzles. Jumping puzzles shouldn't really be in FPS games, you can't see your feet and it's little more than an exercise in frustration because of that. A lot of E4L2 is just jumping from wooden pylon to wooden pylon over a pit of lava, and I believe I died more times in that part than in all the other parts of the game put together. That was the only time I was genuinely frustrated with Blood.
The Bottom Line
Other than the violence hook, Blood is a neat little game and a good example of the genre. Recommended if you've got a high gore tolerance and you can find it.