Almost every single PC gamer in the world remembers DOOM. Almost every single PC gamer in the world remembers Quake. If you’re a champion, however, you go a little bit deeper than that. You remember Blood. It’s an old school first-person-shooter with one-syllable name, but this little game wasn’t quite the same as such titles produced by the mainstream powerhouse that was id Software. Instead, this came from Monolith Productions, would would later go on to produce another one-syllable game in F.E.A.R. Oh, and it was absolutely brilliant.
Blood tells the story of Caleb, a sociopathic cultist who was betrayed by his order and murdered (along with his lover) at the behest of his god, Tchernobog. He’s alive again, naturally, and out for revenge. As anachronistic as a game can get, Blood’s world features a Wild West gunslinger in a World War II-era retrofuturistic Hellhole, full of slavering demons, mad cultists, and a protagonist who may be more blackhearted than any of the actual villains. While DOOM was certainly gory, and Quake had some disturbing artistic designs, Blood is quite possibly the most demented game to come from the nineties FPS boom. Its grotesque visual imagery is married to a perversely dark humor and some moments of pure psychological horror. Just listen to the innocent, unarmed civilians who run around in terror and clutch at their bleeding throats upon death. Listen as they mutter, “There’s no place like home,” and marvel at how long they must have been trapped in this grisly dimension. It’s all played for laughs on the surface, but it’s genuinely unsettling at times.
That’s how this game was sold to me, many years ago. One of my best friends introduced me to the game and he, like me, is possessed of a very macabre sense of humor. It was he who took me on a tour of Blood’s world, introduce me to the delights of setting a room full of cultists on fire with an aerosol can and a lighter. He who encouraged hearty laughter as a half-naked man got stabbed in the face with a pitchfork. He who detailed how Caleb would sing, “Strangers in the night” to himself if left idle for too long. I realize this is beginning to sound like he and I were some sort of prototype Columbine killers, but rest assured it was all in good fun. Nobody found the body, anyway.
In any case, thanks to my chum Leo, I was introduced to this marvelous game, one that still holds up today. The graphics are sprite-based and fairly rudimentary, but the fantastic graphical design keeps it looking just as fresh now as it did back then. The enemies, with their exaggerated facial features, bugging eyes, and gaping maws, are all clearly inspired by the Evil Dead series — a point hammered home by several vocal references to the films. The environments are full of deliciously delirious decorations — posters for monkey wrestling, skewered bodies, fairground games that have been twisted to serve dark ends. The game is dripping with fantastic, hideous, imagery. Half the fun is simply in absorbing the sights and sounds.
The gameplay is still pretty solid, too. There’s a variety of weapons, ranging from traditional shotguns and machine guns to more sadistic items. The aforementioned can o’ fire can turn opponents into screaming funeral pyres (that run toward you at all times, because heaven forbid you miss out on witnessing every second of their excruciating torment). There’s a voodoo doll that damages anything you look at once stabbed. There’s even a mystical staff with a skull fixed to it, which can spray out pillars of explosive light and damage everything on the screen. Each weapon has an alternate fire — Blood was among the first games to do this — that encouraged all manner of experimentation. The potential for dealing death in a number of hilarious ways is pretty impressive.
Blood’s certainly a tough game, though, and Monolith wasn’t shy about limiting the player’s resources. I personally think Blood is best played with a few naughty cheats activated, and would suggest at least using the the “all weapons” code. The game will mock you for it at the end of each level, but you get to actually play around with the ridiculous arsenal of arcane destruction, which is really a huge part of the appeal. Otherwise, expect to live off a pittance, as enemies tote machine guns and scream “CRUDUX CRUO” at you. They’re buggers for cruo, those cultists.
I must confess I have not played the sequel, but popular opinion suggests I’m missing nothing. Allegedly, the game dropped its sardonic humor for gross-out comedy fluff, while the level design is atrocious. It’s a shame, because I’m hungry for more Blood and it seems unlikely we’ll see a new game anytime soon.
Still, the original is available on GOG.com for $5.99 (it’s actually on a promo for $2.99 right now!), and it’s well worth the purchase for anybody with a sick sense of humor and a penchant for gratifying, brutal, murder. So, most of you!