Blood (DOS)

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Written by  :  Oleg Roschin (174057)
Written on  :  May 08, 2010
Rating  :  4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars

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Good, bad... I'm the guy with the gun

The Good

Blood was the debut of Monolith, the company who later brought us several famous first-person shooters, including the outstanding No One Lives Forever. It used the Build engine, which was earlier implemented in Duke Nukem 3D. It is remarkable how a company with no prior experience in gaming-making has instantly succeeded in creating a classic. By all accounts, Blood is a fantastic game that surpasses nearly everything that was achieved in the genre before it.

Not exactly revolutionary in gameplay, Blood perfected and refined the old formula. The gameplay is still pretty much the same as before, involving running around and killing everyone, with the "puzzles" being simple key-hunts and occasional jumping. But the creators of Blood made all those simple activities exciting by paying attention to everything, every single aspect of the game, working hard to make them all serve a purpose. They also weren't afraid of being radical, going all the way with gore and violence, turning it into an inseparable, essential part of the game. Blood is very homogeneous in style, and there is no dissonance between any of its aspects. Gameplay, graphics, sounds, story are done in such a way that they fit each other perfectly.

The enemies in Blood are scary, great-looking (in that uglier-than-death way), and so fun to kill that you won't mind fighting the same ones over and over again. I'll never get tired of setting those cultists on fire or blowing up some gargoyles with dynamite. The weapons are imaginative and fun to use. Along with the standard (and very satisfying) shotgun and machine gun, the game has such pearls as a flame gun (guess what it does), pitchfork as a melee weapon, and the genius voodoo doll, which can be used in a variety of ways to cause damage to your enemies. Some weapons have primary and secondary fire, and it's interesting to discover their strengths and weaknesses. Everything is perfectly balanced. You'll never feel that you are overpowered, sometimes you'll have to hunt for weapons in secret areas, but overall you get weapons just when you need them, and all of them feel great. There are also some really cool power-ups, including jump boots that allow you to make short-cuts in levels and reach otherwise inaccessible secret areas, or "guns akimbo", which gives you an extra gun in the other hand, causing double damage.

Blood is one of the most atmospheric games I have ever played. It is dripping with atmosphere; from the design of the main menu to the sound effects, everything in this game serves the purpose of immersing the player through it. The moment you step into the world of Blood, you don't want to leave. Blood can get genuinely scary and disturbing. The ongoing carnage has a bizarre aesthetic value, as if the designers of the game deliberately wanted to emphasize the macabre beauty of death. Blood is the title, the theme, and the soul of the game. Blood is everywhere, it is all-consuming, and it pulls you in with its dark magic.

Blood has outstanding level design. Much like Duke Nukem 3D, its scenarios include many familiar real-world locations, twisted to match its dark style. City streets, train, hospital, carnival, hotel co-exist with mysterious temples and caverns. This mixture of the banal and the exotic is one of the reasons for the power of the game's atmosphere. Horror grips you tighter when it comes to you in a familiar place. It is scarier to wander through a monster-infested railway station than an equally monster-infested medieval tomb. That is not to say that all those crypts and dark lairs are not scary; but what is needed is the contrast, the mixture of known and unknown, and that's exactly what Blood offers.

The world of Blood is interactive. Beside blowing to pieces pretty much every object you can think of, there are regular items that can be turned on and off, or manipulated in other ways. I love it when designers include in their games stuff you don't have to do, which is there simply because they cared for their game enough to make it as interesting and detailed as possible. Again like in Duke Nukem 3D, the levels of Blood are full of secret areas, and the game keeps track of how many of them you have found. The locations are extremely detailed, and the game encourages exploration despite the rather simple layout of its levels. I absolutely love this approach to level design. I wanted to replay every level and find all this stuff I missed the first time around.

Blood is a gorgeous game. It's like the swan song of the famed Build engine. Well, actually, it's not, since Shadow Warrior was released afterwards; but I think Blood looks better. Artistic inspiration is more important than technology, and Blood proves it. Quake used superior technology, but would anyone say it was more beautiful than Blood?.. The amount of detail, the meticulously crafted textures, the incredible atmosphere they convey - this is what makes the graphics of Blood so great.

In sound department, Blood has no equals. The sounds of this game scared me. Heavy moaning of the zombies behind your back, strange language of the cult followers, sickly sound of the pitchfork cutting into the flesh, ominous "whoosh" of gargoyle wings, sounds of guns, wind, water, fire - all this must be listened to in order to be believed. I'll never forget how I turned on that jukebox in the railway station bar, only to hear a cacophony of blood-chilling screams coming out of there. The sound effects are dynamic and never fail to change according to the scenery. Wherever you are, the sounds help to immerse you into the location. As in other aspects of this game, attention to detail is astounding. For example, while on the train, you can hear the clattering of the wheels; break a window and you'll hear them more distinctly. On top of that, Blood has fantastic CD audio music. Strange, other-worldly melodies with exotic instrumentation help immerse the player even more.

One of the biggest surprises for me was the story. True, there wasn't much of it, but the few FMVs (including a very cool intro) pushed it ahead nicely and certainly helped me connect better to Caleb, the mysterious protagonist. Basically, the entire story is a quest for revenge, but it's done in very dark colors that makes it more unusual and intriguing than most other FPS stories of the time. The protagonist of the game is probably the first true "anti-hero" in the history of the genre, an insane cultist who was betrayed by his own deity and has now risen from the dead, turning against his former master. Even though the story is simple and very straight-forward, I found it strangely satisfying, and I loved the interesting premise.

There is also humor in Blood. Like Duke, Caleb likes to comment upon his actions, and there are many funny one-liners you'll hear from him during the course of the game. The humor can get pretty grotesque. Everybody know you can play football with zombie heads in this game, but one time I shot a zombie's head off, it fell under the feet of a scared innocent guy, and he started "playing football" with it... If you can appreciate this kind of humor, I'm sure Blood will please you. But don't expect it to be as humorous as Duke Nukem 3D; it is a much darker game, and the humor plays a lesser role in it.

Speaking of Caleb, I think it is a bit strange that Blood gained fame as a controversial product that endangers our morality. Beside the exceedingly violent way in which Caleb disposes of his enemies, I didn't find him any more cruel or immoral than most other action game protagonists. In many shooters the protagonist has to kill other human beings, while I don't even think there were human enemies in Blood (are those cultists human?..). Caleb kills monsters who viciously attack him. Sure, there are innocents you can kill in this game, but you don't have to. I honestly think that, for all purposes of ethical analysis, whom to kill and why to kill are more important criteria than how to kill. Games like Dreamweb, God of War or GTA are certainly more morally problematic than Blood.

The Bad

I guess we had to wait for Half-Life to make key-hunting a little bit more versatile. Instead of colored cards there are object-shaped keys in Blood (moon, skull, spider, etc.), which are slightly more interesting, but are still essentially the same. The puzzles rarely go beyond "find a sun key that opens a door that contains a moon key that opens a door that... etc., etc.", and this gets old pretty quickly.

Like most old shooters, Blood is no walk in the park. However, on Easy difficulty level I found most of the game acceptable - except certain bosses. Oh, boy. Some of the bosses had so many hitpoints that I started doubting whether it was possible to defeat them at all. Particularly nasty was the first one, Cheogh, since at that point I still couldn't get access to the really powerful weapons and barely scratched him with those I had. In the end, frenetic quick-saving/loading and exploiting the beast's dumb AI did the trick, but it was really exhausting.

The Bottom Line

Blood was a great surprise to me. I expected a cheap Doom clone with gore as the selling factor; instead, I found a masterpiece. Beautiful, gripping, intensely atmospheric, lovingly designed, Blood has everything a fan of action and horror games could wish for. It is entertaining, immersive, and scary, and fourteen years later, it hasn't lost its appeal. They simply don't make games like this any more.