Critical opinion of games can vary wildly. Some games are universally praised, such as the major AAA entries, while others are universally slammed for their absolute badness. Though in all honesty, the games that are merely okay are the most interesting.
As time goes on, some games have stood the test of time and are still praised to this very day. Others have not aged as well and thus have a more negative reception now than they did back then. Despite that, there’s some games that are old enough that while the game is universally disliked now, there’s some people that have fondness for the game because of the time they played it. For me, that’s Blood II: The Chosen.
Taking place in the far-flung future of 2028, the protagonist Caleb from the original Blood is brought back from the dead to stop Gideon from unleashing the Cabal and causing hell on earth. While Caleb goes through darkened alleys, desolate hotels and the obligatory sewer level, he bumps into a few supporting characters who spout goofy tidbits of advice. All this culminates in Caleb having to destroy “The Chosen One” in a dark parallel world. It’s typical late 1990s first-person shooter fare: Little story, strange levels to roam around in, baddies to shoot, and the occasional jumping puzzle. Because hey, people LOVED jumping puzzles back in the day! (/sarcasm)
Blood II was one of the first games to use Monolith’s new Lithtech engine. When it was released in late 1998, the game had very mixed opinions. GameSpot gave it a respectable 7.8 in its heyday, IGN gave it a slightly weaker 6.8, and GamePro was the most critical of the game, giving it a 2/5. The general opinion seems to be that Blood II wasn’t as good, giving Blood considerably more praise. This opinion is agreed upon with most of my friends, regardless of playing it when it was new back in 1998, or when replaying it today.
I should explain why I’m writing something about this dinky old shooter. See, back when I was a goofy little preteen boy finding dumb amusement in trolling Usenet groups (don’t ask), I had found a site called Home of the Underdogs, a now-defunct site for abandonware games. Both Blood games were featured on the site, along with a bunch of other old various games. I decided to download the supposedly “abandonware” Blood II: The Chosen, because it looked like a cool game at the time.
So I gave it a whirl, starting shooting through the various worlds as Caleb, and I died. A lot. I died so much in that game that God mode was my best friend and I almost never turned it off. I was really bad at games back then. Still kinda am. Despite constant death, I still found enjoyment out of Monolith’s little shooter. Once I finished it, I had not played the game again.
Cut to several years later. GOG.com, “the place for DRM-free gaming,” was having a sale on some old games by Atari, the publisher who owns the rights a fair share of games, including both Blood titles. I was able to buy the original One Unit Whole Blood and Blood II: The Chosen for a cool $3 each.
Friends told me not to waste my money on Blood II, including a friend of mine who swayed me away from buying Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold just one week earlier. (I would later buy the Blake Stone games from GOG, and surprisingly enjoyed both installments.)
I was convinced they were wrong, that the game wasn’t that bad. After all, it had been about ten years since I last played as Caleb. I was hoping that was not the nostalgia talking and that Blood II was still good. Well, unfortunately, I realized they were right. Mostly, anyway.
Most of Blood II‘s criticism seems to boil down to the same few things: the humor isn’t as good as the first, the gameplay feels mindless and not challenging, and the unique old-timey feel of the game’s various levels are replaced with generic office buildings and uninteresting sewer levels – all of which are valid complaints. However, for every negative spot, there’s at least something positive going for it.
Some of Blood‘s weapons reappear in Blood II like the sawed-off shotgun, the flare gun and the voodoo doll, along with a few modern guns like Berettas, MAC-10s and an Assault Rifle. Granted, it makes the game feel uninspired due to fewer unusual weapons such as the life leech and the napalm launcher, but I don’t think that’s a major knock against it.
Most enemies are stiff figures who barely move around while absorbing lots of bullets, with most fights result in spamming them with bullets or circle-strafing around them with more powerful weaponry, taking out of most of the fun and challenge that was present in the original. I wholly agree with everyone’s sentiment about this. There’s barely even strategy to it, which even for a shooter of the time is inexcusable.
Blood II still has that tongue-in-cheek approach to everything. It’s kind of being serious, but there are times where it’s clear Monolith was joking around. Lots of jokey satirical billboards, a couple ads for other Monolith games like Get Medieval and Shogo: Mobile Armored Division, along with the obligatory jokes that reference popular TV shows at the time like The Simpsons. Monolith even poked fun at a few of their rivals, mentioning a “Dissertation on a Ritual’s crime of Sin” and a “Minor symposium on a Valve’s incredibly onerous Half-Life.”
But what I really find funny about Blood II are the lines spoken by the fanatics in the game. The way they say lines like “YOU WILL DIE A SLOW, SMALL DEATH!”, “YOU DON’T STAND A CHANCE!” and “You’re dead! Do you hear me?! DEAD!!” makes the enemies more hilarious than any of the baddies in the original Blood, which mostly consisted of shrieks, grunts, and random faux-Latin phrases.
It also helps that Caleb was still the same wisecracking smartass he was in the first game, thanks to Stephan Weyte’s delivery. It was also surprising to hear Michael Shapiro, better known as the voice of Barney and the G-Man in Half-Life voice a handful of supporting characters. It’s weird playing as Ishmael in single player and hearing him talk, it’s like almost playing as the G-Man.
I will say that much like the original, Blood II is a nightmare to play on any difficulty higher than Genocide difficulty (easy). Much like the young version of me, half the time I had to turn on God mode. Once I kicked it down to Genocide difficulty, the game was much easier to tolerate. I was never in big danger outside of major boss fights. Is the extreme challenge the reason people don’t like it? I can’t say for sure.
Perhaps since it came out around the same time as Valve’s Half-Life, a more critically acclaimed game — and my favorite game of all time — it had little to no chance. It likely suffered the same way SiN did, being rushed out to release in time to beat Gordon Freeman to the punch, and lost. There’s a comprehensive history of the game’s development at the incredibly exhaustive Blood Wiki, it’s worth a read.
After playing the sequel, I played the original Blood for the first time to compare and contrast the two. I can now totally understand why the first is so beloved. Blood uses the Build engine that Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior ran on, where those games had that classic first-person shooter philosophy of hunting down keys, having loads of secrets and spewing large amounts of gore everywhere. It’s unique and timeless, whereas Blood II feels kinda dated and stale in comparison.
Though, some games tend to age better than others. Blood II was a byproduct of a new era of 3D gaming, it was gonna be hard for such a game to compete and still be at the same level as the 2.5D FPS era that preceded it. Despite that, I still found some amusement and entertainment out of Blood II. It’s a diamond in the rough surely, but I still found enjoyment in it here and there. I guess I still have a soft nostalgic spot for this game despite the general consensus being less-than-positive.
If you’re interested in the Blood games yourself, GOG.com has both One Unit Whole Blood and Blood II plus The Nightmare Levels expansion for $6 each. If you have to choose only one, go for the original; but give The Chosen a shot. It’s not really as bad as people say it is, but temper your expectations.
Also, since it’s one of the first Lithtech engine games, you might need to do some tweaking to get it to work well on modern machines. I recommend using dgvoodoo2, as well as some other changes mentioned on the PC Gaming Wiki article for Blood II, such as locking the frame rate to 60 frames per second so the game doesn’t act strangely. Unlike other engines like Doom or Quake where there’s source ports, Lithtech is still closed-source. It would be nice for older versions of Lithtech to go open-source, so people can make improved versions of their engines for these kind of games, but oh well.
Sequels often don’t live up to the original, and Blood II just had too much stacked against it at the time. While the general opinion hasn’t changed much in the 20+ years since it came out, I don’t think it’s nearly as bad as people make it out to be. Disappointing, yes, but I wouldn’t say bad.
(Updated on April 19, 2019: Rewrote parts of this post for clarity, and added a few more images for flavor.)