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Blood is one of the big three classic Build engine games I didn’t know existed until years after it released. People rave about it and I tried getting into it a few times but always gave up because I kept dying in the first few levels. When the Fresh Supply version came out I figured I would give it another shot and this time I beat it. Developed by Monolith Productions and published by GT Interactive Software, the shareware version of Blood released for PC in March, 1997. Two expansion packs were released, The Plasma Pak which was developed in-house by Monolith, and Cryptic Passage which was developed by Sunstorm Interactive. Blood: Fresh Supply is like a remaster of the game and was released for PC in May, 2019. It was developed by Nightdive Studios, the same developer that brought us updated versions of Doom 64, Turok, Turok 2, SiN, Strife, System Shock, and several others. Just like the those games, Fresh Supply is designed to run on modern systems and contains numerous improvements. It also comes with both expansion packs. I should mention the GoG version of Fresh Supply does come with the original DOS game. As of this review, the source code for Blood has not officially been released but I know there were several projects over the years that have attempted to enhance the game. For this review, I played Fresh Supply.
The story centers on Caleb, a gunfighter and member of a cult known as “The Cabal”. It is implied that he and a woman named Ophelia became lovers and they rose to the highest circle of the cult and became known as “The Chosen” before being betrayed and killed. Years later, Caleb rises from the grave and seeks vengeance. There are cut scenes that will give you a basic idea of what’s going on but I had to read a plot summary for more context. In the Cryptic Passage expansion, Caleb sets out to retrieve a powerful ancient scroll. There is some voice acting and Caleb will spout off one-liners and sometimes laugh during gameplay. From what I researched, the story is set in the 1920’s and it does contain a mix of different themes while maintaining a dark and creepy atmosphere throughout. There are pop culture references peppered throughout the game including nods to movies like The Shining, The Fugitive, and Friday the 13th.
You can walk, run, crouch, jump, and swim and store specific items in your inventory to be used at any time. You can use a doctor’s bag to heal yourself, use beast vision to see enemies more clearly, and jump higher with the boots of jumping. You’ll also come across pickups or powerups that can make your life easier. You can swim underwater for longer without losing health if you have the diving suit. Guns Akimbo will let you dual wield weapons. If you pick up the reflective shots item, you can deflect certain attacks. The Death Mask makes you temporarily invincible and the Cloak turns you invisible for a limited time. There are different types of armor you can find that provide resistance to different types of attacks and sometimes enemies will leave behind life essences which restore some of your health upon pickup. Then there’s life seeds which will grant you up to two hundred maximum health.
Blood plays out in episodes and the Plasma Pak added a sixth episode called Post Mortem along with some new enemies. Cryptic Passage can also be seen as an additional episode but it’s launched separately. There are multiple difficulty modes and I played through each episode on Lightly Broiled. As mentioned before, I’ve played this before several times and gave up because I always got my ass kicked. Now that I’ve beaten this, I think I can safely say the first episode is definitely the most difficult. At least in my opinion. And I would say it’s because ammo is hard to come by unless you know where all the secrets are. I felt like I was scrounging for ammo in the first two or three levels. Once I got further into the episode, things started getting easier and I didn’t have nearly as much trouble in any other episode. It doesn’t help that you’ll have to engage hitscan enemy types which are prevalent throughout the entire game and can destroy you if you just stroll into an area without being careful. Maybe it’s just me but my word of advice to newcomers is to take your time and look for secrets because they house resources which you’ll need in the early levels. There are lower difficulties but I thought Lightly Broiled put up a decent and consistent challenge for most of the game and expansions.
Killing enemies in Blood is a blast thanks to its unique and fun arsenal. You can poke them with a pitchfork, set them on fire with a flare gun or aerosol can and lighter, and use a Voodoo Doll to bring them down from long range. The weapons I used most were the tommy gun, sawed-off shotgun, and bundles of TNT. TNT is actually great against most threats and mobs. You’ll also get to use remote and proximity detonators. The deadlier firepower includes the napalm launcher, tesla cannon, and the Life Leech. The napalm launcher is similar to a rocket launcher and the tesla cannon fires electric bolts. The Life Leech or Hell Staff can unleash energy that causes an explosion on impact. You can also place it on the ground and it will act like a sentry gun which is awesome. Some weapons have alternate fire modes. For example, you can spray left and right with the tommy gun and fire the shotgun from each barrel individually or both simultaneously. All weapons remain useful throughout the entire game, including the pitchfork which I used primarily against zombies. I found myself using the deadlier weapons more often in the later episodes.
Blood will throw a good variety of enemies at you including axe wielding zombies, cultists, gargoyles, rats, bats, spiders, and other monsters. Cultists and Fanatics are hitscan types and make getting through some areas a pain in the ass. They’re often placed around corners, on high ground, and/or in distant locations so it’s a good idea to enter rooms and areas cautiously and quicksave often. Different weapons are better against specific enemies so the roster will encourage you to switch between weapons often. Some enemies can sometimes be a pain to engage and others can be exploited. For example, when Gargoyles fly around they can be hard to shoot but they’ll often just stay in the air making it easy to run passed them. Small enemies like rats and hell hands can easily sneak up on you if you don’t notice them. One of my favorite enemies is the Phantasm because he likes to get in your personal space and scream. He’s the definition of rude. He can fire projectiles and I like how his eyes kind of pop out of his head when he goes down. The Plasma Pak added some new enemies like pods that unleash projectiles and Acolytes and Zealots. The latter two are variants of the Cultists. Acolytes will lob TNT and Zealots wield tesla cannons making them quite dangerous. You will engage bosses at the end of each episode and some of them will appear in other episodes.
As expected, Blood allows you to interact with the environments. Explosive barrels are littered around and can be blown up to kill enemies or destroy specific parts of the environments. Sometimes you’ll blow open shortcuts back to previous areas. Most of the levels are non-linear and you will be doing a lot of key hunting. You will have to backtrack here and there and it can be easy to get lost. You’ll have to locate buttons and switches, some of which are not easy to spot, and even keys can be easy to miss. You’ll have to solve some puzzles from time to time but much of the challenge for me was finding what I missed in order to proceed. The objective of every level is to simply get to the exit and you can be granted access to secret levels by finding tomes. You will have to watch out for lava, turrets, traps, and ambushes. You need to be aware of your surroundings. The game takes you to numerous locations, some of which are outright nods to movies like the levels The Overlooked Hotel and Crystal Lake. You’ll run around a lumber mill, steamboat, carnival, dungeon, and temple, among others and you’ll want to be on the lookout for secrets. There will be branching paths, rooms and areas off to the sides, and often times there are multiple ways to get to a destination so the environments do encourage exploration. Overall, the levels are very well crafted.
Despite Fresh Supply running on the Kex engine, Blood is a Build engine game and has the visual charm of one, too. From the sprite-work to the stock explosions, Blood still holds up, visually in my opinion. The game does use voxels for certain things and the enemy sprites are well animated. The environments are detailed and some areas are populated with NPC’s running around. Blood will fly through the air, enemies can explode into gibs, you can melt certain foes with the Voodoo Doll, and you can knock the heads off zombies. Any Cultists or their variants on fire will run around in a panic screaming in agony and it’s awesome, satisfying, and funny every time. Blood contains some of the greatest screams I’ve ever heard in a video game. Explosions are booming and enemies will shout, growl, and screech during combat. A mix of ambient and moody tunes plays as you annihilate your enemies and the entire audiovisual presentation nails the dark atmosphere the game is going for. Blood also adds in a nice mix of pop-culture references and humor to lighten up the mood every now and then. On the technical side, the frame rate was smooth throughout my entire experience and the only bug I encountered was clipping through certain walls and objects.
I struggled getting into Blood mainly because of the difficulty in the beginning but once I got over the hurdle, I had a blast. The arsenal is fun and interesting, the combat is satisfying, and exploration is rewarding. I often found myself retracing my steps to find what I may have missed so I could progress but I expected as much from a nineties shooter such as Blood. I also expected hitscan enemy types which can make several encounters a tedious trial and error process. But, ultimately, Blood is a product of its time and a great shooter from beginning to end and that includes the expansions. Its dark and brooding atmosphere make it stand out from the pack. It’s got a gritty style and doesn’t shy away from humor. The game encourages you to utilize all of the tools at your disposal and ensures that all of those tools are fun to use. Whether you knock the head off a zombie using the pitchfork or melt it with the Voodoo Doll, each kill feels satisfying. I want to mention that Blood does come with a multiplayer mode which I didn’t get to try and the Fresh Supply version supports split screen multiplayer.
I would absolutely recommend Blood to fans of shooters and other Build engine games. It’s got the excellent sprite-based action just like the others of its kind and its mix of darkness, humor, violence, and unique arsenal of weapons make it a very memorable game. I think Fresh Supply is a solid package and it ran great in my experience. Not only does it include the base game and expansions but also supports fan-made content. If you’re looking for a dark and humorous action-packed romp, definitely check out Blood.