Halloween is a great time of the year–not just for costume parties, trick or treating, girls wearing underwear and calling it a cat costume–but it's a special time in every gamer's life where s/he gets to play something spooky! My friends at PlayTheNES.com introduced me to a great idea, a Halloween horror game challenge. The idea is simple: on or around October 1st, you pick several horror-themed games. You then rage on 'em for a good month and see how many can be bested by the end of Halloween. I'd like to introduce you to a new favorite of mine, Blood.
(Skip a few paragraphs if you don't want a bit of Blood history – I won't be offended!)
Blood is an old First-Person shooterthat got pretty overlooked in its day. It's a Build game (the engine behind Duke Nukem 3d). For those who don't remember, Duke 3d was released about six months before Quake, in January of '96. After the release of Doom (more than two years prior to Duke), the gaming market didn't have a FPS really take hold until Duke came along. Quake's release quickly overshadowed Duke, and then Blood was released a full year after Quake. Blood, being based on Duke's engine, looked very dated at the time, and it never captured much of a market share. (View a timeline of these releases here.)
Oh, how the gamers that overlooked Blood missed out! I can't blame 'em, I was one of them! My Duke 3d CD had a Blood preview, which was nothing more than a series of screenshots. (I dug up my old disk and pasted them at the bottom for your viewing pleasure!). It looked neat, but without even having a demo to play, it was quickly forgotten. So, needing something for a horror challenge, I picked it up on sale this month. And oh how I've been kicking myself for not getting it sooner!
The game plays quite a bit like Duke3d. A lot of big guns, explosions, pop-culture references, and hilariously
inappropriate gore. I can see how critics would chide the game for being too derivative, but from a 2011 perspective, it's different enough to feel fresh. The game itself has a hybrid fantasy/western feel to it; you're a gunslinger in a modern, magical world.
The plot? The dark god Tchernobog stole your girlfriend, and you're out to get her back (and take some revenge on the way). You're dead, but that's no problem for you. The game starts with your resurrection, the first level demanding you fight your way through a graveyard. It's a great opening. I won't spoil the rest of the plot, but you'll be surprised at how well it holds your interest.
The game shines in two ways: first, the levels are fantastic. They're intelligently laid out, built with puzzles that keep you thinking. They have immersive themes that enrich the plot, which is pretty atypical for older FPS's. They'll throw more enemies at you than you can shake a stick [of dynamite] at. The levels are brimming to the teeth with secrets, and even offer super-secrets, filled with treasure troves of weaponry and Easter eggs. They're hard to get but worth it.
The second shining point is the weapons! You rise from the grave with a pitchfork, a bare-minimum tool for forking zombies back into the grave. You then get a flaregun, an excellent first ranged weapon that can light your enemies on fire. You shoot, and if you're lucky enough to hit, you have to duck out of the way while the flare slowly sets the bad guy on fire. It's simple and limited, but has so much strategic value you'll use it for the entire game. It's not a throw-away like most first ranged weapons. Blood features an array of other simple and macabre weapons, including dynamite, a flame thrower, and even a Voodoo doll that will wretch your enemy into pieces from a long distance. As if the weapons weren't great enough, they each offer an alternate fire. The flare gun becomes a fire bomb. The Voodoo doll will snuff out your enemy in a single hit (if you're willing to throw it away). I could go on, but I'd rather you experience them all for yourself!
If you like spooky music, you'll really renjoy the soundtrack.
All in all, I can't recommend the game enough. I watched an interview with one of the Amnityville Horror directors, who said that the best scary films are frightening, yet borderline campy at all times. They just can't cross the line. That is well-said, and I feel that Blood really captures that same cinematic horror feel. With a spooky atmosphere and goofy jokes, Blood walks the line perfectly. I think the intentionality of the campy humor keeps the scary elements scary. I'm serious when I recommend you play this one at night, with the lights out, and your headphones cranked. It's scary, hilarious, and pulse-pounding white-knuckle fun the whole way. Battles are heavy with firepower, yet you always have to think strategic. You too will see why the game has such a cult following (pun intended).
And, if you really like it, it has a lot of great user-mods, as well as two commercial expansion episodes. It's a great value considering its low cost on direct-download sites, auction sites, and flea markets.