Review: “Blood” (Retro Computer Game)

2015 Artwork Blood review sketch

Blood? Blood! Blooood! As horror game titles go, you can’t get more dramatic than this! And I’ll be reviewing an absolute horror classic today.

A classic which, up until recently, I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never really played properly. Sure, I’d found a copy of the shareware version last year and really enjoyed it, but I still somehow didn’t have a copy of the full version.

Luckily, thanks to a website called “GoG” (which sells legal downloads of vintage games ), I was able to get a DRM-free copy of the full version of “Blood” – along with the two official expansion packs that had been released for it (“Plasma Pak” and “Cryptic Passage”) – all for about four quid.

You can also get this game for the same price on Steam too, although I don’t know whether the Steam version is any different (since the GoG version uses “DOSBox” in order to allow the game to run on modern computers).

I’ll probably stick to just reviewing what I’ve played of the main game here and I’ll possibly review “Cryptic Passage” and the extra episode that the “Plasma Pak” adds (called “Post Mortem”) at a later date.

I should also probably point out that, at the time of writing this review, I’m near the end of episode two (and I played the first episode last year) – so this review will only reflect my experiences so far. But, damn, did this game make an impression on me!

Likewise, I should probably warn you that this review will contain some (fairly cartoonish and unrealistic) gory images. Then again, what else would you expect from a game called “Blood”?

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Blood”:

blood title screen

Blood” is a horror-themed FPS game by Monolith Productions that was released in the late 1990s and it is also one of the last games to use Ken Silverman’s “Build” engine (of “Duke Nukem 3D” and “Shadow Warrior” fame).

Unfortunately, because other games with much flashier graphics were released at the same time as “Blood” was, this game ended up being somewhat overlooked and forgotten by gamers.

In “Blood”, you play as an old west gunslinger called Caleb, who has risen from the dead in order to wreak bloody vengeance on the mysterious cult that was responsible for his death.

Yes, there’s more backstory than this, but backstory was never really that important in 1990s FPS games. No, back in the good old days, the emphasis was firmly on level design and gameplay.

 Technically speaking, both you AND the guy behind you are zombies!

Technically speaking, both you AND the guy behind you are zombies!

One of the first things that I will say about “Blood” is that it is one of the most atmospheric FPS games that I have ever played. Even with the vintage graphics, this game oozes creepiness. Yes, this game may not scare you senseless, but it’ll certainly send chills down your spine every now and then.

Not only that, as the title suggests, “Blood” was also one of the most gruesome games to come out of the 1990s. It’s fairly tame by modern standards – but, compared to other games from the time, it was ludicrously gory:

This is about as gruesome as the game gets. Which, in 1997, was a lot more shocking than it probably is today.

This is about as gruesome as the game gets. Which, in 1997, was a lot more shocking than it probably is today.

But, like all “Build” engine games – “Blood” also has something of a sense of humour too. Yes, it’s a very dark and twisted sense of humour, but it’s still there:

Hmmm... The inhabitants of this creepy old mansion only seem to have ONE skeleton in the closet

Hmmm… The inhabitants of this creepy old mansion only seem to have ONE skeleton in the closet

Seriously, one of the many things that makes classic FPS games so brilliant is the fact that they never really took themselves entirely seriously – and “Blood” is no exception to this rule.

Not only will Caleb make the occasional sarcastic remark (in a wonderfully creepy voice) during gameplay, but the game is absolutely crammed with classic horror movie references too:

THERE'S Johnny!

THERE’S Johnny!

But what about the gameplay? Well, it’s as brilliantly fun as you would expect from an old “Build” engine game.

In other words, even on “medium” difficulty, this game is still fiendishly difficult. If you try to play “Blood” like a modern FPS game, then you will die within about five seconds. Repeatedly.

No, in order to survive each level, you will need to actually use your brain. It’s a novel concept but, back in the 1990s, FPS games required the player to actually think strategically rather than to just mindlessly charge through each level with all guns blazing.

Yes, he's laughing at you because you mistook "Blood" for a 'Call Of Duty' game...

Yes, he’s laughing at you because you mistook “Blood” for a ‘Call Of Duty’ game…

To give you an example of what I mean, one of the enemies you encounter during this game are the cultists. These are robed men with tommyguns who scream something that sounds like Latin at you and will riddle you with bullets within a second or two of spotting you.

Crudox Cruo!!!!!!

Crudox Cruo!!!!!!

Not only that, the cultists also tend to hang out in groups too. What this means is that if you want to stand a reasonable chance of defeating them, then it’s usually best to hide behind a nearby wall and throw dynamite at them rather than to just charge at them with your shotgun.

Other enemies in the game also require you to use strategy too. For example, one of the monsters is a really cool-looking ghost who bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain well-known man in a black robe that everyone eventually meets.

Hi there!

Hi there!

Anyway, when you first encounter these ghosts, they are translucent and cannot be harmed by any of your weapons. However, in order to attack you, they must briefly take physical form.

So, as you may have guessed, you can only actually fight them when they’re attacking you. What this means is that you have to get close enough for them to start swinging their scythes at you and then back away as fast as possible whilst shooting whatever weapon you are holding at the time.

It’s little things like this that make old FPS games from the 1990s so much better than modern ones. So, if you want a game that actually challenges you and makes you think, then you can’t go wrong with “Blood”

Another great thing about “Blood” is the creatively interesting array of weapons on offer to you throughout the game.

Unlike in modern shooters, where the weapons have to be drearily “realistic”, in “Blood” – you can shoot zombies with flare guns, strafe hordes of monsters with a tommygun, curse a cultist with a voodoo doll or incinerate the undead with nothing more than a spray can and a zippo lighter:

Don't try this at home!

Don’t try this at home!

Not only that, each weapon has an alternate fire mode too. For something made in the 1990s, this was extremely innovative. Many of these alternate fire modes are fairly inventive too and they can be extremely useful (since it means that you essentially have twice as many weapons as you are carrying).

However, I would warn against using the alternate fire for the tommygun. Since this gun chews through ammunition at a fairly quick rate, every shot has to count. So, I fail to see the point of an alternate fire mode where Caleb just swings the gun around randomly whilst firing. It looks cool, I guess?

As for the level design, it’s as brilliant as you would expect from a classic 1990s FPS game. In other words, the levels are large and they will require you to actually explore them in order to progress to the next level.

 Remember when levels used to look like this?  Remember when FPS games actually had level maps? I miss those days...

Remember when levels used to look like this? Remember when FPS games actually had level maps? I miss those days…

Even though this means that you will occasionally end up getting stuck until you find the right key, it also means that this game has a longer lifespan and more replay value than most modern games do.

In other words, each 7-9 level episode of the game is pretty much an entire game in it’s own right. Seriously, each episode contains at least 8-10 hours of gameplay. So, this game is absolutely excellent value for money too.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve only played the first episode and most of the second episode at the time of writing this review. Personally, I prefer the first episode for the simple reason that it contains a much wider variety of different settings (a funeral home, a train, an evil carnival etc..) than the second episode does.

Would YOU buy a carnival ticket from this guy?

Would YOU buy a carnival ticket from this guy?

The second episode is really good, but most of the settings in it are either desolate icy wastelands, creepy gardens, old mansions or underground caverns.

Because Monolith never released the source code for “Blood”, there are no modern source ports for this game. Although it runs really well in DOSbox, what this means is that there are no additional features that you would expect from a modern source port. In other words, you can’t really use modern FPS controls with this game.

So, you’ll probably be playing this game using nothing more than the keyboard (eg: you will have to use the num pad to look up and down etc..). Yes, you can activate mouse aiming, but it isn’t that great and it’s little more accurate than keyboard aiming. So, you’re probably better off with the keyboard controls.

If you played “Duke Nukem 3D” back in the day, then this will be a fun trip down memory lane – but, if you’ve only played modern FPS games then this will take a bit of getting used to.

All in all, “Blood” is one of the best 1990s FPS games that I’ve ever played. It’s challenging, it’s innovative, it’s hilarious, it’s creepy and it’s absolutely huge. My only regret is that I never discovered this game when I was a kid, because I’d have probably thought that it was ten times cooler if I’d played it back then.

So, if you like horror and if you’re one of the few people who believes that playing FPS games shouldn’t require you to leave your brain at the door, then get thee to GoG or Steam and pick up a copy of “Blood”!

If I had to give “Blood” a rating out of five, it would get five and a half.

One comment on “Review: “Blood” (Retro Computer Game)

  1. […] level set within a large castle and it reminded me a lot of an old FPS game called “Blood“, which is never a bad thing. However, it’s very easy to get lost or stuck in some […]

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