Thursday, 31 October 2013

Blood (MS-DOS)

Blood video game title screen
In 1996 a video game called Quake was released that changed first person shooters forever, inspiring the genre's evolution to true texture-mapped polygon 3D graphics.... though it didn't happen right away.

You see, there was another game released in 1996 called Duke Nukem 3D and it sold a whole lot of copies, so developers were keen on getting their own Build Engine powered games onto shelves before 2.5D sprite-based first person shooters disappeared forever. Blood actually began development at Q Studios, an independent developer funded by 3D Realms, but the studio and rights were bought by Monolith, who finished the game themselves after 3D Realms let it go to focus on Shadow Warrior and their big fully 3D super project... Duke Nukem Forever.

I've already played both Duke 3D and Shadow Warrior, but it didn't seem right somehow to leave out the other famous Build Engine game, so I'm giving this quick look as well.

I wouldn't hold your breath waiting to see me play Redneck Rampage though.

Whoa, I was not expecting the game to have a rendered intro video to set up the plot. Duke 3D and Shadow Warrior both just gave me a weapon and a quip and then left me to it.

"Welcome my servants, my slaves." bellows Monolith CEO Jason Hall, playing the role of the demon on the throne.
"What is your bidding master?" inquires one of the people standing before him, a guy with a black cowboy hat and glowing red eyes.
"You have failed me, I disavow you all." replies the demon, instantly dissolving the flesh from one of his minions.

"What the?"

Wow, that's a bit... nasty I reckon. The mid 90's CGI I mean, not the demon's punishment; I'm sure he had his reasons. I mean they failed him (somehow) and you can't let something like that slide when you're commanding an army of malevolent bastards or else they'll sense weakness and start pushing their luck, and then you'll end up with anarchy.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticising the artists. I mean the movie Toy Story came out only a year before this and even the mighty Pixar shied away from showing human characters as the tech just wasn't there yet.

But still, it's a surprise to see Caleb here looking like Mr Potato Head. None of these characters have actually been introduced yet by the way, I knew this one's name already.


One by one each of Caleb's friends are killed or captured by the demon's creatures as they just kind of stand there and look shocked.

"What's happening?" whispers Ophelia so quietly I could barely make it out over the sound of the growling gargoyle dragging her away.

"I've taken your love, now I will take your life." says the demon, blasting Caleb into oblivion. "Consider my power, in a hollow grave."


LEVEL 1: CRADLE TO GRAVE.


"I live, again!"

Well that's handy resurrection; it sure would have been a pretty crappy game if Caleb was dead and buried the whole time. Not entirely sure why he was entombed with a pitchfork in his hands, but I'll see if I can find some use for it.

Nothing much going on in this crypt so I'll open the door and head outside.

Seems like everyone's rising from the dead in this place tonight and I'm not the only one who was buried with a weapon.

It took a good few prods with my stick to de-animate this corpse, giving him a chance to hit me back. Fortunately I was able to get some health back consuming his rotten undead heart and with my life restored I carried on through the graveyard. I'm sure it's breaking zombie etiquette to munch on other zombies, but to be fair I don't think Caleb's that kind of undead monster.

I found this loaded pistol just lying on the ground here, but I gotta say that so far I'm not entirely impressed with its stopping power. It seems to fire little bolts of light that stick to enemies and then do absolutely nothing.

I'm not overly impressed with the game's music either, as it doesn't seem to actually have any. I guess they were going for creepy horror movie ambience, but I could really do with some midi guitars right about now.

Oh there we go! It took a while but the flare eventually exploded, giving my zombie assailant something worth moaning about.

Seems that not all of them drop the healing hearts though, so I can't rely on getting health back every kill. Though I bet I can rely on getting hit every time I get into a fight.

Holy shit things got serious all of a sudden. Some first person shooters are about running into a room, dodging between enemies and weaving through fireballs while blasting everything up close with a shotgun. I'm starting to get the impression that this one isn't.

The thing is though, I don't really have the ammo to take on all these enemies from a distance. I definitely don't the ammo to miss, so I need to get myself in a position to clearly identify my target and line up my sights before opening fire, which kinda puts me in their line of fire. Plus did I mention that these cultists throw dynamite as well?

Also they keep yelling "Manamax and spear books!" or something over and over again which is kinda weird.


SEVEN HUNDRED QUICK LOADS LATER.


Oh you've got to be shitting me. I finally clear the room of cultists with a tiny amount of health left and now they're sending rats out after me? I can barely even hit these bastards! It's like the wasps in Shadow Warrior all over again!

You know what would be cool right about now? A health pickup. Maybe even some ammo!


ONE LUCKY ESCAPE LATER.


This door requires the dagger key? Did I wander into the Resident Evil mansion by mistake? Okay fine, I'll go off and look for it.

Shouldn't take much searching, this place isn't exactly huge; the top floor is basically a U shape surrounding and overlooking that room I was in a minute ago. Fortunately rats can't jump so I think I'm safe for now.

Hey there's a room up here above the entrance hallway, that's ambitious for a Build Engine game. If I remember right you can only pull this trick off as long as you can never see into both areas at once.

That guy over there's got my key, I'm sure of it, I'm just having a little trouble acquiring it from him as he's wielding that shotgun with surgical precision, while I can't seem to hit anything even remotely obscured by a wall or a table. Not with this gun anyway.

I'm sure they never meant for players to take this many quick loads to get past the first level; maybe I should've started on an easier difficulty. This is on the third of the five difficulty settings, so I assumed it'd wouldn't be so bad for me seeing as I've been playing games like Shadow Warrior and Doom recently. Seems I might have been a little too confident in my skills.

Blood level stats screen
Eleven secrets? No wonder I was doing so badly if they hid all the bloody ammo away.

At least I've finally got some music though, and by music I mean horrific wailing. I kind of know how they feel.


LEVEL 2: WRONG SIDE OF THE TRACKS.


Ah, this is better. It sure is an ugly looking boomstick but it gets the job done (eventually). These zombies like to play dead after being shot and then pick themselves up again to attack me when I've got my back turned, but the shotgun's got two fire modes so I can give them both barrels at once by hitting the right mouse button. There's a feature Doom could have used.

Here's some good old-fashioned Build Engine level design for you by the way. I hit the switch and the track rotates to reveal a door previously blocked by the train car.

Well I've found a use for the flare gun. It may have delayed effect shots and a tendency to fizzle out if the target's making even the slightest effort to make use of cover, but it's awesome against enemies standing in the open half a level away. It even lights up the floor as it goes.

Crap, just when I have a chance to feel smug for a moment a cultist sneaks up and shoots me in the back! Man they take off a ton of health, especially considering I'm pretty much relying on eating their hearts to recover my life and the bastards rarely ever drop them.

Actually, you know what, I've been playing this all wrong. Why am I trying to take out the enemies I can see one at a time at a distance like this? I *know* there'll be more of them gathered around that corner, there always is, so let's be proactive for once.

There we go! Dynamite isn't just fun, it's practically required to make any progress at all in the game, at least on this difficulty. Oh shit I just realised that the cultist over there has thrown a stick of his own over at me.

Boom.

Crap, my brilliant scheme to run in and take out all three cultists with rapid fire shotgun blasts has failed yet again. Partially because there's another one hidden behind the bloody fence that I can't survive long enough to hit.

Plus it turns that that it's a locked fence, so I'm not supposed to be coming through this way yet. Right then, I'm gonna go off, find that key, get some more health and ammo (somehow), then come back and utterly destroy these assholes.

You know, I bet that 'Miskatonic Station' sign up there is a reference to something. Because what in this game isn't?


SOON.


Well my plan to get more health and ammo is going about as well as any of my plans. But on the plus side, I've found that key (rendered in 3D using revolutionary voxel technology, unlike that ropey looking 2 dimensional lamp next to it.)

Of course if I pick it up I'll be totally screwed. It was way too easy getting to it, so that means that the real fight will be getting back out again.

Well this is certainly a surprise! As soon as I picked up the key zombies burst in through the walls to attack me. Why there were zombies sealed up in the walls I have no idea, but they don't seem any happier about it than I am.

Man, this flare gun really is the wrong weapon for this job. Not only do the flares take a few seconds to explode afterwards, but you know what the things are like when it comes to obstructions: I can't shoot the enemies in the back because my shots will all hit the guys in front instead, no matter how much of a gap there is. Looks like my best option here is some close range dynamite blasting. Seriously.


SOON.


Blood Elvira calendar
Hey it's an Elvira calendar... except she's got brown hair for some reason. Wait, isn't this game supposed to be set around about 1928? But this calendar would've been from the 80s at the earliest! My immersion is ruined!

It's definitely less weird than Shadow Warrior's anime girls though that's for sure.

Well I finally made it through the locked fence and found the exit switch on the front of a train, but I couldn't help but notice that they haven't blocked off the tracks with a wall like these games usually do.

I think I'ma gonna go exploring!


TIME PASSES.


The original image didn't have my text all over it, in case you were wondering.
You know as well as I do this is only going to end with me getting hit by a train, but here's my progress in the train tunnel so far. I've circled around the sneaky monster closet key room, gone past the track turntable, I've just gone beyond the start point of the level and in a few more seconds I'll have finished my first lap of the entire map. They're really dragging this out.

Incidentally, auto-maps are cool. I've said it before and I'll hopefully have opportunity to say it again, because I always appreciate having them around. Especially in a game like this which involves backtracking.

Hey, I can see a light at the end of the tun...


LEVEL 3: PHANTOM EXPRESS.


I reloaded and left the level the traditional way this time, and I gotta say that I'm enjoying this map a lot more than the last two. I'm on a train and these (relatively) tight enclosed spaces are making combat a lot more manageable for me. I'm not getting sniped at by cultists hiding behind pillars on balconies for one thing.

What I'm doing here is dumb though and got Caleb annihilated in seconds. One reload later and I was poking my head around the doorway to throw bundles of dynamite into the room like a sensible undead gunslinger. Dynamite is always the answer.

Speaking of undead gunslingers, here's the man himself in a mirror, apparently packing two flare pistols despite the fact that I'm holding a pitchfork. I can actually hold two pistols (or two of anything else for that matter), but I need to collect a temporary power up first, so it's cruel that Mirror Caleb gets to have them indefinitely.

I guess I should just be grateful that the game even has mirrors, seeing as they're a rare treat these days.


LEVEL 4: DARK CARNIVAL.


Well I broke the train. I'm not sure why we did that or what we were even doing on the train in the first place, but I'm sure Caleb knows where he's going.

It's funny seeing stuff like this rendered in the Build Engine; rooms and objects have to be sculpted by raising sections of the floor and lowering pieces of the ceiling, so you end up with very boxy looking wreckage. The top of the train is actually defined by the height of the sky, so you could never see the top of it.

I should've known that a Dark Carnival would have mimes in it. As if the creepy circus music with distorted voices and laughter wasn't bad enough. I can't even kill the mimes because they're entirely harmless, they're just here to distract me so that a zombie can implant his axe in my spinal column.

Well I mean I can kill them, I'm playing as a guy whose only redeeming trait is that he hates his old Cabal slightly more than he hates innocent bystanders after all and I can't help but notice that the zombies aren't slaughtering them either, but I try to not to be indiscriminate with my retribution.

After all I can always load up No One Lives Forever 2 again if I feel like engaging in a bit of righteous mimeslaughter.

Blood help screen mime
Incidentally the game itself doesn't seem too fond of the mimes either. Yeah, it'd probably be fair to say the game's as much about comedy as it is about horror.

Speaking of comedy and horror, even as late as 1997 games were still defaulting to using the comma and full stop keys for strafing. So by remapping the keys I'm basically playing this on easy mode. Damn.

Blood Dark Carnival Duke Nukem secret room
Hey look who I found hanging out in the carnival, looking a little worse for wear. Caleb seems less than bothered about his virtual cousin's death, quipping "Shake it baby!" as he gives Duke a shove. Still I'm pretty sure he doesn't need this ammo anymore, so I'll just help myself.


LEVEL 5: HALLOWED GROUNDS.


Here's an interesting conundrum. Only one of these doors leads to the exit, the other two will lead only to certain death. But how is the player supposed to know which door to pick?

Well you see... actually I haven't got a bloody clue. Best I can tell you're supposed to use trial and error, quick loading every time you choose the wrong door and get blown up. If that's true then I ain't impressed.


LEVEL 7: ALTAR OF STONE.


Hey, it's Ophelia and that gargoyle from the intro (and the HUD bar I guess)! Damn, I guess Caleb really did know where he was going the whole time! Ophelia is long dead, but it's never too late to get revenge.

I was able to stay one step ahead of the gargoyle just by circling the stone altar, so this battle was actually very easy. At least until my ammo ran out. Yes, I managed to keep circling for so long that I was able to unload every single flare, shotgun shell, bullet and missile on this thing and he still kept coming. By the time I tried throwing dynamite at him I was pretty much screwed.

So I looked up how I was supposed to beat him in a walkthrough. Turns out out that he really is supposed to take forever to kill, I guess I'd just missed a few more times than I could get away with. Yay for tedious bullet-sponge boss fights!

Okay then, let's try this again.


MUCH LATER.


With the gargoyle finally dead, Caleb is free to start a pyre for his fallen comrade and... man what is up with his eyes? That really isn't a good look for him, he's like an alien in a cowboy hat. Not that he looks any better without the hat (somehow I wasn't expecting him to be entirely bald.)

That's the end of episode one then. Plenty more of them left, but this seems like a good place to stop playing.


Anyway, I should probably get around to mentioning what I thought about Blood overall. I thought it was a pain in the ass, requiring either superhuman reflexes or trial and error to make any progress at all. Enemies seem to open fire with unerring accuracy the second you enter the room and they cut through your health in seconds. Which is made worse by the fact that recovering your health isn't all that easy in the game.

But then I decided to give it another try with the difficulty just one notch below the default, and had a much better time with it. Suddenly enemies seemed to hesitate before opening fire, I was getting as much health back as I was losing, I didn't struggle with ammo quite so much and I could even slaughter that room full of enemies on the train with a pair of Tommy guns properly this time without being punished for my audacity. Basically it meant I was able to make mistakes occasionally, which worked a lot better for me as mistakes are my speciality. Give me a game where I'm allowed to charge in like a maniac and make heroic recoveries from my dumb decisions over games I have to play like I'm a robot any day.

So I guess I have to give it a star after all.

(Also I looked it up and apparently the cultists weren't saying "Manamax and spear books!" They were actually yelling "Marana infirnux" which in the made up language of the game basically translates into 'Death to the outsider' I believe. So the mystery is finally solved; I have closure at last.)


Well I've ran out of words to say about Blood, but you can always add some words of your own using the message box below. Tell people what you think about the game, or what you think about what I think about the game. Either's good.

3 comments:

  1. For the three doors puzzle, you get a clue earlier on when a wall morphs into a set of teeth and a voice says, "You will know what to do when the time comes." Easy to forget in the heat of battle, though.

    Sorry, Blood is one of my favourite-est FPSes ever so I had to be all pedantic about it ;)

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  2. GREATING BLOG!
    Blood is my favorite game!
    Thanx for a brazilian fan!

    Sorry my bad english

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  3. Found this text by accident as I wanted to show Duke Secret to someone, awesome read.

    That final thought, about picking lower difficulty - IMO that's the difference between FPS then and now. Then normal could be too hard for me, now I mostly play highest diffs and I'm still bored, mostly because easy fights on normal change into dumb bullet-soak-fests that still don't require any kind of skills :(

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