With a name like Blood, one would anticipate this game to be some kind of vulgar, obscene atrocity with the mere intent of attracting the attention of mindless 13 year old boys who have nothing better to do with their lives. The one who would make that prediction would be right for the most part—Blood is pretty low-brow in execution. Unfortunately, I was one of those "mindless 13 (actually 10) year old boys" who, during my youth, saw this game hanging around the average computer retail store. The front cover, which depicted the image of a bloody handprint amidst a pitch-black background, captivated me. What the hell was this game about? Why did it have the nerve to simply call itself Blood? Was it a horror game or an action game? Being a nervous 10 year old boy, I didn't press the inquiry any further to satisfy my curiosity…I knew better than to pay attention to obscenely violent "adult" games.
Come 13 years later and my curiosity was still there and unsatiated. Blood…Blood…what a name…a game would have to have real guts to call itself that in the post-Columbine age. Well, I did a little research, found out the game was an old fashioned FPS of the post-Doom kind and was crafted by same naughty geniuses who brought us Duke Nukem. Upon further research, I discovered something even more shocking…the game was available for free over the internet! I weighed the consequences of downloading free software, initially thinking it unethical and "not the way of the collector". However, I checked the prices for an existing retail copy of the game, and they were soaring from $20--$100. I concluded that I wasn't much of a serious collector anyways (my collection is made up of a hodgepodge of copies, random titles from assorted franchises, etc.) and thought it would be more fiscal to just accept the free copy.
Released on May 31, 1997; Blood is an straightforward no-nonsense FPS riding high on the heels of Doom. It was developed by Monolith, a company just beginning at the point, but who would later be known through such titles as Aliens vs. Predator 2. Actually, during the time of its release, the Doom craze was starting to die down a bit. A year before Blood came onto the scene, Quake had been introduced into the market and proved to be another sensation. Now, gamers didn't just want FPS games; they wanted FPS games rendered in the most technically sophisticated manner using the most advanced graphic engines possible. Blood didn't hit that mark, and although it was relatively popular during its release, it hasn't earned much more than a side-note cult classic status in PC gaming media. Blood owes pretty much all its visual inspiration to Doom and its successors. Just as Duke Nukem was mocking the Doom genre, Blood aimed to take it to the next level and deliver a gorier and more outrageous experience than Doom or Nukem could ever have conceived. The game works because its just crazy fun in the most primal way—extremely entertaining gunplay and miraculously detailed and haunting levels all make it stand out from the rest of ridiculous number of Doom clones on the market.
The thread-bare premise of the game is that the player is a vampire, a servant of Hell, has been betrayed by the Devil himself. Furious, the undead one sets out to exact vengeance on his malefactor. Finding himself in the Old West, he encounters all the legions of hell and horror-dom, as well as the generals of Hades and other big baddies while he marches his way to his ultimate target. For the most part, it's the same old stuff…but strangely enough, the developers actually put some effort into the story. The vampiric protagonist himself, complete with a black trenchcoat and a cowboy hat, seriously foreshadows the vampiric protagonist of Darkwatch, a much later Old West-themed horror FPS. The game opens and ends each chapter with a detailed FMV. The FMV's presented are some of the most primitive cinematics I've seen in a long time, and make the FMV's in Fallout look practically like a Hollywood production by comparison. The characters presented within the films are not even fully detailed—the vampiric protagonist is missing his hair and his lips don't do much moving at all when he's speaking. The dialogue is also laughable ("I have taken your love…now I will take your life"), but I suppose that's intentional given the absurd subject matter. The gory precedings that go on during the course of these short movies are probably the only things that make them worth watching. While these little films are pretty terrible in execution, they do show that the developers were convinced that adding a proper narrative would help the experience—for some reason, it's just a cheap prize to receive a cheesy little cinematic after beating a winding number of levels. I guess the infamous anti-climax of Quake was a mistake that Monolith didn't want to repeat.
The weapons of Blood are for the most part, unique, and help the game stand out from the crowd. Even though the protagonist is a vampire, he certainly doesn't show it up front. The only way the player could even guess he's a vampire is the fact that he uses "life essences" (which are really just monster hearts from enemies he's slain) to replenish his health. Anyways, for the most part, the weapons selection follows the "bigger is better" mindset, but there are some particular instances of ingenuity that caught me by surprise. The protagonist starts off with a pitchfork, which is a basic melee weapon. His next weapon is a Flare Gun, which was unexpected. The Flare Gun is quite an unusual weapon because it doesn't kill the enemy through successive bullets; it's designed to fire one shot at the enemy which will slowly burn him to a crisp. Thus, it's a powerful timed weapon compared to the average pistol so common in an FPS, and it can be useful extremely late because of its accuracy and damage potential. This shows that the developers might have been thinking of making the player's arsenal balanced at the beginning of the development process, but that doesn't last long. The player next receives a shotgun and a tommygun, which work exactly as they sound. The napalm launcher is basically a rocket launcher (and overpowered). There are dynamite sticks, which basically works like a grenade. Then the player receives the Tesla Coil, which basically functions like the Tommy Gun, with the exception of being much more powerful.
This is where the balance starts to fall apart. Why would the player even bother with the Tommy Gun when the Tesla Coil does so much more damage? Eventually, the player receives a voodoo doll and some evil staff which functions like a rapid-fire rocket launcher and might as well replace the Napalm Launcher. The voodoo doll is intriguing—it does exactly what one would expect it to do, but only has so much power before it dissipates. But overall, none of the other weapons seem to rise up to the innovation of the Flare Gun, even if they are fun to utilize.
Like in Doom, I personally find the double barreled shotgun to be the most effective all-around weapon. Unlike Doom, the weapon can be fired with one barrel or both barrels through primary attack and 2ndary attack respectively, almost exactly like the same weapon in Undying. The range is satisfyingly medium and even long range shots (absurdly enough) will hit the opponent. When used with both barrels, this sucker can knock back practically every enemy in the game. This proves that the most effective FPS tools rarely have to be creative, they just have to be simple, and once again, the shotgun proves to be my mainstay weapon.
Graphically, Blood is way behind the times. I mean, this game came out a year after Quake and its employing very primitive 2-D sprites to render its enemies. Obviously, this makes the game look much more like Doom than Quake; way too much like Doom from a generic standpoint. Strangely enough, a great portion of the environment and the items the player collects are all rendered with voxel units, which gives them a 3-D appearance that add sort of a 3-D layer to the game that Doom doesn't have. This is apparently a feature of the "Build" engine, the FPS graphics engine that this game and Duke Nukem 3D were based on. As neat as the voxel rendering may be, the rest of the graphics are so pixelated and archaic that they might have come from ANY number of Doom clones from 1994. Nonetheless, the detail present in the voxel objects is impressive…especially when it's used to render such massive objects as a towering skyscraper. The scope of these levels, combined with the "mouse-aiming" function (which hadn't been perfected yet) provides a unique visual experience that reminds me of one of my personal favorite FPS games, Dark Forces.
At least the gore is outrageously rendered—the fuzzy splatterings of blood that jet from the enemies shoot out in all directions and paint the rooms red. The death animations are varied and exceedingly violent to boot. For example, killing the enemy with the flare gun will result in him spontaneously combusting, and after a bit of running and screaming, his flesh will explode off his charred skeletal remains, which collapse in a neat pile. The level of artistic liscence present here could not be realized with the age-old Doom engine, and this superfluous bloodletting is what makes Blood stand out despite its archaic appearance. Indeed, it does live up to its title…
Blood is not an easy game. Attacks do major damage to the character's health and some enemies (such as the Cerberus) have the capacity to destroy the player in a single hit. With the challenge level this high, I realized I wasn't going to get very far on "Normal" and thus I set the challenge to "Easy" to alleviate things a bit. Believe me…"Easy" here just about equates to Doom's "Normal" or "Hard" modes. With that all taken into account, it's apparent that this was definitely a game for the veteran Doom crowd.
When the shooting gets mellow, then the puzzles always prove to be a pain in the ass. If there's one thing I hate about Doom-style FPS, it's getting through the damn labyrinthian levels, solving the right puzzles, and and finding the right doors without going insane. Blood replicates this setup almost identically, and as a result can be just as maddening, if not more maddening than Doom. I hate it when I've plowed down about 30 enemies and am very near the end of a level only to realize that I don't have the key, and have to retrace the entire level again to find it. Although the levels are entertaining to look at, it's not fun to have absolutely no idea where to go, and to be searching every nook and cranny for something that might be under your nose. It's tedious and nauseating after awhile, not to mention (obviously) boring. I played the game to go around blasting the hell out of unholy monsters, not to spend it looking for needles in a haystack.
If nothing else, the individual level maps are awesome, showing thought and care in their design as well as being filled to the brim with references to classic horror cinema. The first level of the game, with its "Morningside Mortuary" abundant with hooded freaks, is basically one big homage to the Phantasm series of films. Later on, the player encounters the disembodied hands from Evil Dead II, several name references to Lovecraft, and one entire level which takes place in "Camp Crystal Lake" where a certain masked serial killer tread years ago…Even if the basic narrative doesn't encompass these ideas (aside from mutterings of the hero), the fact that all the levels have a unique theme to them and so ingeniously designed shows that the development staff really put some care into the artistic qualities of the game. They knew that, as a technical product, it had absolutely no way of competing with Quake; but in terms creative wildness, they could easily be a contender. And that's what the game delivers—a carefully crafted experience that may be technically backwards, but is so obviously filled with enthusiasm for the subject matter that one can't help but be amused by it. Like a Sam Raimi flick, the game is obviously low budget schmuck in which every moment (or level) is entertaining and it just mercilessly delivers on the thrills and the wildness.
All in all, I would say that Blood is like the original Painkiller in many ways. Both games originate from low-budget backgrounds, both feature protagonists descending into the depths of hell to fight the Devil, both games feature extremely diverse levels each with unique themes and settings, and both games are notorious for being gory "shoot-em-ups". Painkiller has to shove these facts in the player's face when it landed on the market, but when Blood came out; this genre was still popular, although getting more stale by the month. Man, to think that after all these years, I would finally get to be playing this frightening and obscure game that struck me with a morbid awe as a child. I suppose history repeats itself, and our childhood fascinations become our adult passions.