|Adrenaline Vault review of Blood on 17.03.1997|
"I live . . . again!" So begins Blood, the latest 3D gore-fest from Monolith Studios, and quite simply the best game of its kind since Doom II. Forget the shareware, my friends. This is the real thing -- the full, registered, complete Blood, with more weapons, monsters, and effects than you can shake a shotgun at. Get ready to lose some serious sleep.
In case you're from another planet and don't already know, Blood puts the player into the boots of Caleb, dark general to an even darker god -- the sinister Tchernobog (known lovingly as "The One That Binds"). As one of the Chosen, you were to stand by your god's side and share in the bounty of a desecrated Earth, but apparently that was not to be. Promises, after all, are made to be broken, and those of the evil Cabal are certainly no exception. Instead of the riches of the netherworld, Caleb instead finds himself once again bound by the earthly constraints of mortal flesh, cast down from his place of power. Only by rejoining with the other fallen members of the Chosen can our anti-hero discover the true secret of the Cabal, and face the horror that is Tchernobog. And so, in keeping with the long-standing tradition begun by Wolfenstein 3D's B.J. Blaskowitz, gamers must take up arms (or disembodied heads) and rampage through all those who stand in his way as he searches for the truth, and the exit buttons to the game's very twisted levels.
So, how good are these levels? Expanding upon the amazingly versatile Build engine used in Duke Nukem 3D, Blood is a 3D gamers' dream come true. While not as technologically advanced as Quake's polygon engine, Build has obviously undergone a major overhaul. The game features floors over floors, transparent water, realistic light-sourcing, multiple video resolutions and the kind of interactivity with its environment that made Duke such as winner. It is the level design itself , however, where the game really shines. As can be guessed, all of the maps are sufficiently creepy. After rising from your own grave in a mausoleum, you must make your way through up to thirty-four different levels, spanning four different episodes. There are so many different level types in Blood, you almost have to feel bad for amateur map designers -- all the best concepts have already been used in the game! You'll venture through a moving locomotive, moldy old haunted houses, mad scientist laboratories, a bomb-blasted European city -- the list goes on and on.
A good example of Blood's chilling, difficult levels is "House Of Horrors," the secret level accessed at the end of "Dark Carnival." A cross between the movie Waxwork and a trip to the world's deadliest haunted house, this map is the perfect example of the power of Blood's sheer scariness. Let's face it, dangling chains and corpses suspended by meathooks are pretty damned frightening. Throw in a bloody pendulum swinging over a table, and you have the first computer game level that will give you nightmares. If this sounds a little like Doom, you're not too far from the mark. Many of the wall textures in "House of Horrors" bring back the good ol' days of creeping through the living flesh of Hell with a plasma gun.
As good as the levels are in the shareware, they get even better in the following episodes. "The Lumber Mill" in episode two is enough to make you run from the room crying for your mommy. I don't want to give anything away, but here's a little hint: think human head, sawblade, and squirting blood. I think you get the idea. Episode three's "The Sick Ward" is, well -- oh, never mind. You'll find out . . . Think of the first episode of Blood as a really great preview of an awesome movie. With the rest of the game, you get the whole, wonderful, bloody show.
All around, Blood's levels manage to recapture Doom's sense of horror without ripping it off. But even better, there is a definite sense of story to the game. The levels lead into each other with a sense of logic that seems strangely absent from most 3D shooters, and as a gamer you really feel like you are actually going somewhere -- getting closer and closer to your destiny, and the inevitable showdown with "The One That Binds." If you were disappointed by Quake's non-story, look no farther.
You said you wanted new and deadlier weapons, and boy oh boy does Blood deliver. The tools of your destructive trade range from the primitive pitchfork to the shotgun, flare gun, three different types of dynamite bundles, tommy gun, voodoo doll, hair spray and lighter, Tesla cannon, and a napalm launcher that makes Duke's RPG look like a bottle rocket. My personal favorite is the life leech -- a skull-headed staff that's the equivalent of a spiritual BFG9000. Most of the weapons also have a secondary fire mode, allowing you to get even more creative in your death-dealing. Why simply shoot your tommy gun, when you can spray the room gangster-style? And did I mention fire? You'll take grotesque pleasure in setting one of the raving cultists aflame, watching as he screams, "It burns! It burns!" before his flesh melts completely from his body. Add to the whole deadly formula the "guns akimbo" powerup (not to mention several others), and for a limited time you will wreak vengeance with two of your selected weapon. Simply put, Blood takes virtual murder to an all time high (or low!).
With more and more 3D games relying on the immense popularity of their multiplayer abilities, it is easy for game developers to skimp on the single-player aspects of gameplay, giving gamers poor AI and mediocre enemies. Even Duke3D's flying kitty cats are less than memorable. Thankfully, Blood does not follow this trend. Your virtual opponents are just as smart as they are deadly. Axe-wielding zombies will attempt to surround you, psychotic cultists will hurl sticks of dynamite if you stay within range long enough, and gargoyles will use their wings with deadly efficiency, often swooping over you and attacking from behind. You will also be faced with tommy gun-toting fanatics, piranha-like bone eels, scythe-swinging phantasms, huge-mawed gill beasts, and on and on. Blood has more monster types than any 3D game in recent memory, including Duke Nukem 3D and Quake.
The enemies of Blood are also pleasantly Doom-like in that they will think nothing of attacking each other if they accidentally stray into the line of fire. It was very satisfying to see (even from my vantage point of lying dead on the ground . . .) an angry gargoyle rip the entrails from a hapless cultist. And let's not forget Blood's innocents -- those characters that are there simply for the killing. Imagine my delight when I found a secret room full of mimes! Time for some valuable pitchfork practice. Oh, and feel free to blow away those malnourished men that keep running around everywhere, flailing their arms. They're almost asking for the receiving end of your double-barreled shotgun.
"Let the BloodBath begin!" No, Caleb has not taken a wrong turn at the gates of Hell and ended up at a monster-truck rally. You have now entered BloodBath, the Blood multiplayer equivalent of DeathMatch or DukeMatch -- and your life will never be the same. BloodBath adds the one element missing from other multiplayer frag fests -- an otherworldly commentator, a la Mortal Kombat -- who happily announces when a contestant gets diced, and orders players to "finish off" opponents who have fallen to their knees, an inch away from death.
You heard it here first, folks. You will not find a more enjoyable 3D multiplayer experience. Period. Simply writing about a BloodBath session does not do it justice. You have to hear the screams of your opponents as you set them on fire with a barrage of flares, and experience the joy of booting your decimated friend's head through the smashed window of a moving train. And just imagine the look of surprise on your opponent's face as you, armed with powerups that have made you invisible and invulnerable, pitchfork him into a perforated mess. Total bliss. If you're afraid the maps of Blood's four episodes may be a bit too big for multiplayer, don't worry. The game also comes with a fifth, BloodBath only episode of nine specially designed maps. Be prepared for a special treat, too. BloodBath also supports team play, so now you can use the buddy system to wreak havoc on other multiplayers.
As an added multiplayer feature, Blood also comes fully ready to be played on just about every Internet service available, including TEN, Engage, and Kali, so subscribers to these services can BloodBath with up to seven other Cabalists. So far, I have only played the shareware version of Blood in modem-to-modem, one-on-one mode. That in itself was an incredible experience. With weapons like the Tesla Cannon and Voodoo doll, I can't even imagine how awesome BloodBath is going to be. Looks like it's time to add my name to TEN's thousands.
Monolith has also done an admirable job of cleaning up the game stopping bugs that were noticeable in the Blood shareware. While my early copy of Blood still needs a little tweaking, all of the big glitches have been fixed. Activating the gargoyles and starting the train level will no longer cause the game to crash, and bone eels no longer jump out of the water and continue swimming in mid-air. In fact, the code of the full version of Blood seems distinctly optimized over that of the demo. The game runs silky smooth in SVGA, and I even had a good framerate while playing in Windows 95, which is crucial for playing online.
Blood is everything it has promised to be, and more. One can only wonder if 3D Realms was under the dark influence of the Cabal when it sold the full rights of the game to Monolith. To give up a claim to Blood seems more like the behavior of a brain-washed cultist than that of a major game developer. We'll just have to wait and see what Shadow Warrior's Lo Wang has to say. But there are more important matters to deal with at the moment. I have reservations at the Overlooked Hotel, and it's not wise to keep Jack waiting . . .
How it measures up:
Graphics:How good are the graphics in Blood? Let's put it this way -- if you own the shareware CD, you might as well use it as a coaster. The SVGA graphics in the full version are even more incredible, and add several visual enhancements. Decapitated heads blink at you, enemies now become awash in flame before they get completely engulfed, blood squirts and splatters everywhere, and empty shells from your tommy gun pile up on the ground. The most pleasant surprise in Blood is the number of death animations each monster has. Depending on what weapon you use, you'll get a different scene every time. Using the secondary fire of the Voodoo doll causes zombies to melt into ash before your very eyes, and the electric charge of the Tesla cannon will illuminate your human enemies, revealing their skeletons. For a really good laugh, use the lighter and hair spray on a rat! The framerate in Blood has also been significantly improved, so not only will get you see beautiful SVGA graphics, but the game is lightning fast as well. Graphically, Blood is the most stunning Build engine game to date, with the best looking levels and effects you'll find in any 3D game on the market.
Interface & Gameplay: Installing Blood in Windows 95 or DOS is a snap. The game uses the same setup menu and completely customizable interface as Duke Nukem 3D, so in this respect it's almost perfect. It's hard to describe just how much fun Blood is. If you've played through the first episode of the shareware a thousand times, and you're tempted to skip right to the second episode, do yourself a favor and play it again. You'll get a good indication of things to come. The defenseless innocents add a whole new feel to the standard 3D gameplay, and they've also been included in the first episode. Oftentimes, the monsters are so busy hacking away at these poor bastards that you can sneak up on them and nail them from behind. Playing Blood is as exciting as you would expect, but it is often much more. At times, the game had me freaked out, nauseous, and even scared me out of my wits. Seeing a guy lowered into a meat grinder will have that effect on you. It's not every day that a computer game can stimulate your fears or emotions. For this reason alone, Blood is in a class by itself.
Sound FX: Blood has the most audio-rich, totally-immersive 3D environment I've encountered in a game so far. In fact, there are so many sounds, you stop noticing them after awhile, because they come together to create a total environment. Whistling wind, creaking chains, the sound of your shotgun cartridges ejecting, the shattering of glass -- the sound in Blood is superb. Caleb's comments never stop, and if you leave the keyboard unattended for a few seconds, you'll get a sample of his love of show tunes. There is also extensive speech for just about every creature in the game. Innocents scream and cry, bloated butchers moan "Join us . . ." and cultists yell in their ancient tongue, "Peroshay, bebachs mala!" Sound is just as much a part of our world as sight, but for some reason many 3D game developers take a minimalist approach in this area. Monolith deserves credit for breaking this trend, and offering gamers a full, total audio experience.
Musical Score: The music in Blood is not of the standard, fast-paced 3D action game variety, and this is actually what makes it so great. Yes folks, even the music is horror themed. Let the demo of "House of Horrors" run and you'll hear what I mean. Just make sure there aren't any little kids nearby, or you might find them sitting in the corner rocking back and forth, their eyes wide with horror. Even better is the fact that the game uses CD Redbook Audio in addition to MIDI. The music in Blood wonderfully fits the different levels, and sets the mood for the killing to come.
Intelligence: The AI in Blood is a monumental achievement, and makes huge strides over that used in Duke Nukem 3D. Humans actually act and think like humans. The cultists and fanatics will crouch or run if they start taking fire, and even strafe left and right to avoid your shots! Innocents will desperately try to protect themselves, but monsters will pursue them 'til the bloody end. On one occasion, a raving civilian ran right past me, chased by a determined zombie. The monster was oblivious to my presence, and wouldn't stop pursuing the guy until his axe cleaved him in two. Blood's game world is one that thinks and acts on its own, without merely reacting to the player. It is a model for all other 3D games to follow, and makes for the best single-person gameplay around.
Overall: Blood has the distinction of being the first game I've reviewed to receive the coveted Adrenaline Vault five-star rating. I know I'm not going to make any friends by saying this, but in my opinion Blood is everything Quake should have been. It offers unparalleled single player gameplay, dozens of beautiful visual effects, tons of new weapons, and killer multiplay. I've had more fun playing Blood in the past day than I have playing any other game in the past year. I waited a very long time for this game, and it was worth every second. And so, on that note, I offer these items to my fellow gamers: one fully charged holoduke, one slightly battered shrinker, and a full box of pipebombs. They can't help me where I'm going.