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The original Blood is a great game. It’s one of big three classic Build engine games and it’s dark and brooding atmosphere and unique arsenal make it stand out from the pack. But it’s the little things that I love about it. Like when Caleb laughs maniacally after blowing up a mob of enemies resulting in a shower of blood and gibs. And the joy I get out of listening to enemies scream in agony as they burn to death is rarely matched in other games. Shortly before Blood reached its two year anniversary, a sequel was released. Developed by Monolith Productions and published by GT Interactive Software, Blood II: The Chosen was released for PC in November, 1998 and runs on Monolith’s own LithTech engine. I think I played this once before years ago but didn’t get very far. For this review played the Steam version which comes with The Nightmare Levels add-on.
Blood II takes place in the future and The Cabal has gone from cult to a megacorporation called CabalCo. They basically control the world and are lead by a man named Gideon. Caleb, our beloved protagonist from the first game, is now known as the Great Betrayer and Gideon wants him dead. As Caleb hunts him down, he encounters creatures who are invading from another reality as a result of ever growing rifts which can only be sealed by The One That Binds, a being with the power to maintain the walls separating realities. You can play as Caleb or the other members of The Chosen but only Caleb can experience the storyline. The Nightmare Levels add-on is set shortly after the events of Blood II. As the members of The Chosen sit around a campfire telling stories, Caleb is teleported away and ends up in each of the character’s tales. Blood II incorporates cyberpunk and dystopian elements and tries very hard to be funny. The first game was tongue-in-cheek but never went overboard. Blood II is more like a cartoon. Despite some funny lines from Caleb here and there, the voice acting is pretty awful across the board and most of the humor falls flat. Anything that I thought was humorous I encountered in the world and rarely stemmed from the plot or interactions. There are some pop culture references peppered throughout the game and believe it or not, The Nightmare Levels add-on leans even more towards the ridiculous side. It’s also very short.
You can walk, run, crouch, jump, interact with certain things in the environments, and destroy objects which will often reveal pickups. Certain items are stored in your inventory and can be used at any time like medkits, binoculars, a flashlight, night goggles, bombs, and the eye which is like a deployable camera. Sometimes the enemies you kill leave behind health and armor items like life essences and wards. Wards can also be found in the environments along with Necrowards and Life Seeds which increase your armor and health beyond the normal maximum amounts. You will come across powerups that grant you special abilities for a limited time. Stealth makes you invisible, Willpower makes you nearly invincible, and Anger increases the amount of damage you inflict. The Nightmare Levels will force you to play as the different members of The Chosen and they each have their own strengths and weaknesses.
The arsenal is the best thing about Blood II in my opinion. There’s a good variety of weapons but, unfortunately, you can’t hold all of them. You can swap weapons out for others you find and some weapons from the previous game make a return like the flare gun, sawed-off shotgun, Voodoo Doll, and tesla cannon among others. One of my favorite new weapons is the Orb. It attaches to a victim’s head and bores into the skull. It’s not as satisfying as the Cerebral Bore from Turok 2 but it gets the job done. You can kill enemies with an assault rifle, bug spray, mow them down with the vulcan cannon, take them out from long range with the sniper rifle, decimate them with the CabalCo Death Ray, or blow them to bits with a howitzer. The deadliest weapon in the game is the Singluarity Cannon which will open up a vortex that sucks in enemies and inflicts a good amount of damage. The Nightmare Levels include additional weapons like the Combat Shotgun and Flayer which creates portals, out of which comes chains that will hook into enemies. All of the weapons are fun to use, several can be dual wielded, and many have alternate fire modes. I was always eager to try any new weapons I found and sometimes I found it difficult to choose a weapon to swap out because some are better against certain threats and each one has its ups and downs.
Some encounters can be very trial and error because certain enemies have pinpoint accuracy like the Cultists and Fanatics. CabalCo enemies will patrol and stand around but the creatures from the other reality will often come spawning in through rifts or teleporters. In The Nightmare Levels, Robed Cultists are introduced and resemble their classic counterparts. The expansion also introduces Gremlins and Clown Guards. I absolutely despise the Bone Leeches and Thieves in this game. Both of them will attach themselves to you and drain your health while disorienting you. They’re just a nuisance and I hate them. Some of the common creatures you’ll engage include Soul Drudges which are like zombies, Shikaris which are insectoids that spit acid, Zealots which can teleport around, and Drudge Lords which unleash fireballs. More dangerous enemies appear as you progress and most of the challenge comes from having to deal with multiple enemies at the same time. Most of them are not very challenging on their own and their pathfinding is often terrible. I witnessed enemies running in place behind objects and Shikaris would often get stuck on my head.
Blood II plays out in chapters with multiple levels or areas per chapter separated by loading points. I think the levels within a chapter in the base game are supposed to be interconnected because you’ll revisit previously explored areas as you progress. But there are times when I felt like I was repeating the same areas and encounters over and over again. You start the campaign by shooting your way out of a train and you’re going to do this again two more times with little differences. You’ll blast your way through a lot of diverse locations in Blood II but the level design is little more than average. You’re going to run through many of the same looking rooms and corridors which can make some levels confusing. You’ll have to interact with things to access new areas, there will be some backtracking from time to time, there will often be multiple ways to a destination, and some levels require you to find keys and blow shit up to progress. And what you need to blow up isn’t always obvious. You’ll navigate through a museum, offices, steam tunnels, and airship among other locations. In The Nightmare Levels, you’ll traverse through a hedge maze, sorority house, circus, haunted mansion, and ghost town. These are all very short, though, and if it wasn’t for the unique locations, it would be a very forgettable expansion.
Visually, Blood II doesn’t hold up amazingly well in my opinion but for the time this released, the amount of detail in the levels was impressive. You’ll come across NPC’s and funny shit from time to time, dead bodies will be peppered about, and many parts of the environments can be destroyed. The enemy designs are decent (I like the special-ops look of the Fanatics) and the weapons look good. I think the gore effects were awesome for the time this released and the visual effects aren’t bad. Kills often result in blood and gibs flying through the air. Muzzle flashes look okay, smoke fills the air as a result of an explosion, and particles fly and scatter when things explode. Enemies will shout, screech, and growl during combat and the weapons sound decent. NPCs will often repeat the same lines frequently making you want to kill them just to shut them up and as for the music, I know I heard the same rocking tune repeated over and over again. There’s some ambient tunes here and there but most of the soundtrack doesn’t stand out as anything special. On the technical side, the frame rate dipped in a few places and the game is not without bugs. Objects, weapons, and body parts are often found floating in the air. I had trouble getting through some doorways and I once saw enemies running in mid-air.
Honestly, I don’t like Blood II. I really tried getting into it but eventually I had to admit to myself before even reaching the half way point that I was not having fun. The atmosphere and tone feel so disconnected from the first game that if it wasn’t for both games using the same Blood terminology, I would never know this was a sequel. And you know what’s funny? The Nightmare Levels feel disconnected from the main campaign. That’s how ridiculous the add-on is. I don’t take issue with developers trying new things or taking a series in a different direction but Blood II is a mess. It’s not as humorous as it aims to be and the forced wackiness make it feel more like a failed comedic effort than anything else. But that’s not even the biggest problem. The gameplay is. The arsenal is cool but everything else is lackluster or average at best. It’s buggy with piss-poor AI and lacks creativity. Blood II feels like it was rushed out the door.
I really can’t recommend Blood II. It’s a disappointing sequel and a generic shooter. I did not play this back when it released and at first I thought maybe it just hasn’t aged well. So I did a little research and discovered that even in 1998 Blood II was, at best, an average game. It was the same year Half-Life, Unreal, and Turok 2 came out. I think more development time could have resulted in a more polished experience but more polish wouldn’t have saved the gameplay from mediocrity.