Oh, right! It’s October. Usually that means having some kind of “spooky” game to write about. Under normal circumstances I would find some fairly obscure Halloween-themed action game and write about that. But it’s been quite a busy month for me, combined with there not being many spooky games that aren’t just horror clones ripping off Amnesia: The Dark Descent or SOMA. This makes actively seeking out something like that a challenge for me.
So instead I’ll probably dip more into the side of spooky games I can deal with. A spooky shooter game that thanks to recently replaying it again, has gotten me to appreciate it in a way I hadn’t done so before.
I replayed Monolith Productions classic horror-humor FPS Blood. Released in early 1997, it’s been labeled one of “the Holy Trinity” of Ken Silverman’s Build Engine, the others being Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior, a game I wrote about way back in 2012. Of course, there’s other games that use that engine, though most of them are mediocre-to-bad, like Redneck Rampage or NAM. But that’s only a small blemish on an otherwise good game engine. After all, you haven’t truly made it as a game engine if you didn’t have a stinker or two using said engine.
A Discord server that I’m on has a monthly event where folks play a randomly determined game by poll. Blood ended up being the themed game for October, and that gave me enough of an incentive to jump back in and toss dynamite with the best of them. The last time I went through the game was 2019, so let’s see if I remember how this classic FPS plays.
The story goes something like this: Tchernobog ran an organization called the Cabal, of which a group called the Chosen want to support the Cabal. However, Tchernobog decides to disavow the Cabal, forcing them to be separated by his minions, and the leader of said Cabal, some guy named Caleb, was banished. Caleb has to make his fight against the Cabal to get back to Tchernobog and end his tyranny.
Granted, the story of this isn’t really explained well, I had to gleam a fair bit of this from the Blood Wiki, arguably the go-to place for anything about this cult classic shooter. (and a bit about Shogo: Mobile Armored Division if that fits your fancy.) After all, this is 1990s-era FPS storytelling that I expect.
If you’ve played any of the 90s FPSes of the era like Doom, Duke Nukem 3D and others, it shouldn’t take much to get acclimated to Blood. Granted, Caleb starts off with only a pitchfork melee weapon, but it doesn’t take much to find TNT, which becomes your new best friend throughout the journey. Eventually Caleb gets a mix of conventional 1920s weaponry – flare guns, sawed off shotguns, tommy guns – to very fantasy-like items such as the napalm launcher, the tesla cannon and even a voodoo doll. All of these weapons will actually have purpose throughout the campaign, as opposed to some games where you could get away with using only one weapon the whole time.
For this playthrough, I used BuildGDX, a source port for Build engine games, and opted to try a custom difficulty feature initially unique to this source port. In it you can adjust the amount of enemies per level, the damage the enemies can do, and how much health they have. Through my playthrough of Blood and its two expansions, I opted to put Enemy Count at its highest – the equivalent of the co-op focused Extra Crispy skill level; enemy damage at the second-to-last placement – equivalent to Well Done in terms of damage; and enemy health at the absolute lowest – identical to their health on Still Kicking, the lowest skill.
The added enemies for Extra Crispy difficulty means areas would be outright swarmed with hitscanning enemies and thrown bundles of dynamite. This meant if I wasn’t being careful they’d decimate me quick. Yet, they could also go down fairly quickly with the right amount of damage. This custom difficulty makes everyone a glass cannon – even Caleb. Because Extra Crispy difficulty is built for co-op play, that meant I was fighting multiple instances of the same boss, which made Episode 1, The Way of All Flesh, a bit tricky as I didn’t quite hone in on the difficulty sliders a bit, but somehow I did pull it off. In essence, I’ve created abject chaos by choosing this custom skill to play.
I wouldn’t recommend this difficulty on a first playthrough – I’d recommend Still Kicking if you’re inexperienced with FPS games or Lightly Broiled if you have some basic understanding of classic Doom or Duke Nukem 3D – but it was a fun, new way to experience Blood.
The overall design of the game seems to bounce between 1920s-themed locales from churches and ships to snowy mountains and brimstone. Yet, there’s a lot of macabre, surreal looking imagery in some levels that look like the inside of a human body. This doesn’t get to H.R. Giger levels of grotesque, but it may be offputting for those who aren’t prepared for it, so a bit of fair warning if you decide to play it.
If there’s any protip I can give for this game, it would be to “crouch.” Before you scoff at that tip, I get it: in most FPS games, crouching is either a superfluous feature to flex the abilities of the game engine, or used it to crawl into human-sized vent shafts like in Half-Life. But in Blood it actually helps: hitscanners like the brown-robed cultists and black-robed fanatics will have a harder time hitting you. In some cases, enemies like Stone Gargoyles can be neutralized easily by crouching to avoid their attacks. This is one of the few games where it helps to learn to crouch, especially if you’re fairly hesitant in checking areas.
Blood has an interesting mix of horror and action. While it does have horror themes in it, Caleb moves around like the typical FPS hero of the day, but also with a bit of momentum to his movement, which can be troubling when there’s platforming in some of the later stages. But this works to an advantage, as combining the fast movement with crouching and some practice with throwing dynamite can make you become this powerful action hero, and it’s oh-so-satisfying when successfully pulled off. Especially if you hear Caleb’s cackling if you pull off a rather explosive result, the voice of the talented Stephan Weyte making him cooler than your Duke Nukems or Lo Wangs of the world.
I will say there’s some particularly annoying parts of this game. A fair share of crusher traps, surprise hellhounds that can zap one’s health pretty quickly even with fire protection, and too many tiny enemies to fight that are best dispatched while crouching – rats, spiders and even tiny hands as an homage to Evil Dead 2. Basically one has to be on their toes while playing, which may be tough if one doesn’t have those twitchy FPS reflexes.
This gets a bit more challenging when getting to the expansions. Cryptic Passage was made by Sunstorm Interactive, makers of Duke: Caribbean – Life’s a Beach and Shadow Warrior: Wanton Destruction. Gameplay’s identical but the overall feel tends to be a lot more like those games in terms of enemy and weapon placement. Though, a lot of the same rules apply here: use dynamite, crouch when you can, try not to die.
Meanwhile, Monolith themselves made a new expansion called Plasma Pak, which comes with its own new episode, Post Mortem. This episode will introduce you to green-robed Acolytes who only throw dynamite and blue-robed Zealots who wield Tesla Cannons. While the latter’s easy to dispatch, the former might throw you off with surprise explosive deaths, especially in the first level of “episode six,” Welcome To Your Life. I actually enjoyed this episode the most, as the levels felt tighter and compact, which made it a bit harder to get potshotted by fanatics at long range. Though don’t be fooled, these levels are just as hard as the others, if not harder.
After I finished all of Blood for the first time in three years, it made me think about a lot of the games I played and wrote about. Way back in 2012 I wrote about this game’s sequel, Blood II: The Chosen, and at the time I was going at it with nostalgia goggles and saying it wasn’t that bad. Even when updating that post in 2019, I still held that belief.
After finishing Blood this year, that’s changed. Playing Blood has made me really appreciate the first game a lot more and Blood II: The Chosen a lot less. There’s a lot of good game decisions Blood does that I haven’t seen many other retro FPS throwbacks get right: The movement, the momentum, the action. Blood II just seems drastically inferior in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Blood II is an okay game, but it’s drastically inferior to its predecessor. I wonder if the “Extra Crispy” mod for Blood II improves some of that game’s flaws.
At some point I need to dabble into the custom level community for Blood. While it probably isn’t as big as Doom or even Duke Nukem 3D, I bet there’s some cool levels made for it. Hell, I’ve heard people sing the praises of Death Wish, but I’m kinda holding out for the 2.0 release with its fourth episode before diving into that one. Honestly I wonder what the level design community’s like.
If you want to play Blood, you’re kinda stuck with only one option. Blood Fresh Supply is a port of Blood made by Nightdive Studios, made on their proprietary KEX engine. While it’s not 100% accurate to the original DOS game, it’s good enough if you wanna get a good idea on how fun the game was. Fresh Supply does have its own version of the custom difficulty like BuildGDX has, if you wanna give a new flavor to the core gameplay. It’s available on Steam, though I’d recommend getting the GOG version as that comes with the original DOS version and its executables, of which you can take the files into a source port like nBlood and go to town.
Through a chain of acquisitions, Atari owns the license to Blood and its sequel, and for the most part have done diddly squat with it outside of meager support for Fresh Supply. While I don’t know if I’d want a new Blood game – especially since Monolith Productions is kinda chained to the Warner Brothers mines thanks to the popularity of Shadow of Mordor – but something has to be better than what we got now. If only Nightdive could do what they did with System Shock and buy the franchise outright from Atari. At least then it would be in the hands of someone who cares. Would be better than the several times Jason Hall – formerly Monolith’s CEO – teased a new Blood game over the years with nothing ever coming from it.
While I’m definitely not the first person to talk about how great this game is, I definitely won’t be the last. Blood is fun. You should play it. Also, the Build Engine is cool and deserves a bit more love.
This was available on Patreon one week early. If you wanna see these articles before they go live for everyone, just use some dynamite and jump on over to my Patreon here. Just a buck is all you need to see
JoJoI mean, my stuff. Check it out here.