Few games have titles that are as to-the-point as Monolith Studios’ Blood. This ultra-visceral shooter from 1998 was built within the same game engine as the legendary Duke Nukem 3D, which was known for its action-packed gameplay, high level of interactivity, and its lewd adult content. Blood may be in the same vein (ha) as Duke, though it was more about extreme violence, gothic tropes and horror-themed pop culture references. It’s bloomin’ tough, but oodles of fun.
You play as the sadistic gunslinger known as Caleb. This mad lad is a lieutenant of The Cabal, a cult of fanatical murderers. Their unholy deity and dark god, Tchernobog, has killed Caleb’s chums without explanation, before him to a hollow grave. Years later (roughly in the late 1920s), Caleb rises from his slumber and embarks on a journey of revenge. While it seems like a cool premise, the cutscenes that you’ll find in the game are really ugly and are cursed with janky animations, but they’re still worth a watch, considering some of the badass things that the anti-hero gets up to.
Even if the cutscenes look pretty grotesque, Blood has some brilliant visuals, from the detailed textures to the grotesque enemies. While the game is a sprite-based shooter, weapon and item pick-ups come in the form of three-dimensional voxels, helping them stand-out from the props and enemies. The soundtrack comes in MIDI and CD-format, the latter being most suited to the game on account of how creepy and atmospheric it is. Plus, Caleb is such a badass character, and quips some brilliant one-liners.
Blood is certainly no easy game. You’ll be up against frantic gargoyles, nasty bonefish and both scrawny and fat zombies, for starters. Human enemies like the shotgun-wielding, TNT-tossing Cultists, and the machine gun-wielding Fanatics, have pinpoint accuracy and chew away at your hit-points seamlessly. Hellhounds set you alight, phantasms can only be damaged when attacking, and severed hands will strangle the life out of you. In short, many of the enemies you’ll come across are awfully quick, strong and accurate, but that only makes killing them all the more enjoyable.
Plenty of diabolical weapons are at your disposal. The pitchfork is not especially useful, but the sawn-off shotgun hits hard, the tommy gun is accurate, and the numerous TNT variants are very handy for flanking foes or laying down traps. Fire-based weapons like the aerosol can and napalm launcher can melt enemies. Plus, there’s a Tesla cannon (akin to the plasma gun from DOOM), a staff that drains health, and a voodoo doll for jabbing at enemies from afar. It’s a very satisfying armory.
There are some truly fantastic levels in Blood. Most of these maps have things to interact with, traps to dodge, and oodles of secret areas to explore (as well as the occasional, prestigious ‘super secret’, which are near-impossible to find unless it’s out of pure chance or via cheats). The first chapter, ‘The Way of All Flesh’ is a tough one due to how stingy it is when it comes to handing out ammo and weapons, making the experience more akin to a survival-horror game. However, you’ll be treated to some of the game’s best levels set on a moving train and in a carnival. Episode 2, ‘Even Death May Die’,contains some excellent missions ranging from frozen hedge mazes and mansions to a shipwrecked boat.
The last two chapters inconsistent in quality and begin introducing some of the more irritating enemies, like the hellhounds. Highlights include fighting through a bombed city, a hospital, and even within the flesh of a giant creature. Hunting for up to six keys is tricky, but considering the threat you’ll be up against, this should be the least of your worries. The boss battles are a mixed bag, some of which lack ammo. Running away from the king of gargoyles is tense, but battling a giant spider whose only means of attack is to fart out baby arachnids is a pathetic excuse of a final level.
Multiplayer is chaotic and addictive. A handful of exclusive maps are tossed into the mix, perfect for BloodBath (deathmatch), its team-variant, or capture the flag. Traps can be used to humiliate enemies with, and the announcer will often spout some graphic and lewd comments about each kill. Servers are operated by fan-made mods these days, so getting a game to work is tricky, yet worth it.
Blood is a ball-buster of a cult-classic shooter. It would have benefited if it had some more memorable boss battles and a few stat tweaks that didn’t make enemies such a pain at times. Tough as it may be, the combat is solid, the tone and atmosphere is unsetting, there are many great levels, and the multiplayer is a real treat. Blood would be a title only recommended to hardcore (or cocky) shooter fans who’s had their fair share of Quake, or want something a bit tougher than Duke. It’s relentless, yet oh so exciting.