Entertaining, but a bit stale
The first and most striking thing about Blade is that its light and shadow effects are way ahead of its time; in fact, they evoke games such as Doom 3 released four years later, an eternity in gaming. Not only do the player character and his enemies cast realistic, detailed shadows that spread across every surface, but objects as small as fragments of wood and hunks of meat also do. This real-time shadowing is merged almost seamlessly with the lightmaps (pre-determined light and shadow), and at times the game looks almost as fancy as Doom 3 or Thief: Deadly Shadows.
Of course, 80% of the game is combat, and Blade could have visual effects decades ahead of its time but still fail if the combat wasn't entertaining. Luckily, it is; not so much because it's fluid or intuitive, but because it's so visceral. Blood sprays over surfaces when you strike an enemy in close combat or throw a weapon at them, splattering over walls and dripping on the floor, and whole limbs will fly off, spraying blood around them; if you strike right an enemy's head will topple from his body as he dies. Gratuitous? definitely. Entertaining? Hell yes. There are plenty of weapons to perform these attacks with, which can be used in conjunction with an assortment of shields. Also sprucing up the game's combat is a wide variety of combo moves and special attacks, although they don't play as large a role in the game as it seems the developers aimed at.
Another thing the game had ahead of its time was physics effects. In most games when you break a barrel apart it will splinter into little shards that will explode into the air, fall to the ground while clipping into each other, and slowly fade into nothing; in Blade, a barrel breaks into properly sized pieces which fall naturally to the ground, rolling and knocking into one another realistically. Modern games have far better physics, but Blade was definitely ahead of its time. This comes into play in combat when throwing weapons, where it's actually possible to bank shots and do other fun tricks once you're skilled enough.
Some other high points include a few rare colorful game environments, and some of the game's generally bland sound.
Ironically Blade's two strongest points are also its two greatest failings. While it has great visual effects, it lacks great art to showcase it. The four player characters and the enemies you will face are mediocre, lacking in detail; and while the game world is filled with fairly detailed textures, the level designers failed to really show this off, keeping ninety percent of the game confined to close spaces and chains of identical rooms. The character animation was supposedly motion captured, and at times it seems to work, but generally character movement is jerky and uneven. Worst of all, the mediocre animations often impose upon the gameplay, as the sluggish movement of the player puts him at unnecessary vulnerability during a fight.
Which leads us to the game's second great failing, its combat. While it is extremely fun at times, it's ridiculously frustrating at others - do to the aforementioned slow and stuttering animations, simply stepping forward at the wrong time can cost you your life in a fight. A third-person action game's combat should be smooth and focused on timing and combinations, but in Blade you end up thinking about your footwork and dumb luck more.
Finally, the game is just quite repetitive. Its major innovations, in the fields of lighting and physics, don't really affect the game at all. While the copious quantities of blood and guts keep the combat interesting enough for third-person combat fans, anyone looking for a complex or even fair gameplay experience will be disappointed.
The Bottom Line
Blade is worth playing for action-RPG and combat fans, especially those who like games in a fantasy environment. It's not really worth picking up for anyone else, despite its high points; the clunky combat and dull gameplay hold it back from being anything great.