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River City Retro: Blood... just blood


Just a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon this top ten bloodiest games list on gametrailers. I was amazed. Amazed at how they could leave out the most obvious game of all. Blood! It had gallons more than many of the games they covered and it's named after the red goo for crying out loud. After giving the website the meanest look I could come up with for a while, I figured I'd just celebrate this unholy black humour ridden gorefest in my own blog. Strap yourselves in. This ride gets a little bloody.

The story concerns a cult called the Cabal which worships the demon god Tchernobog. The protagonist Caleb is a skilled but above all merciless and sadistic gunfighter from Texas. He basically takes pleasure in killing anything that moves and displays a gritty dark sense of humour while he does it. One day Caleb encounters Ophelia Price, a member of the Cabal whose house has been burnt down by the cult killing both her husband and son in the process. Uncharacteristically, Caleb nurses her back to health and she introduces him to the cult. The two become lovers and work themselves up through the ranks to become part of the Chosen, Tchernobog's most trusted generals. As the intro to the game unfolds, Tchernobog summons to four chosen to tell them they failed him. Without taking much time to respond to their startled faces, he summons 3 demons that drag off Ophelia and the remaining two chosen, Ishmael and Gabriel. The dark god then takes Caleb's own life himself. After this the game begins. Caleb rises from his grave determined to slay the demons that took his lover and two friends.

Though Blood has a pretty decent fanbase of its own, I can't help but feel like it's always been in the shadow of the much more successful Duke Nukem 3D. This isn't without reason as both games are very similar. For starters they both run on the Build engine. Blood's version is a bit more advanced though. It has a lot of eye candy that Duke didn't like 3D weapons/powerups and transparent water. Even the gameplay is incredibly close to Duke Nukem. It's a one against the world kind of shooter with entertaining levels, out of this world weapons, more cultural references than you can count and a smart mouthed badass holding the gun.

In fact the creators of Duke Nukem had started this game under the title Horror3D. They eventually sold the rights to Monolith so they could focus on Shadow Warrior, another Build game featuring a stereotypical Asian martial artist. Horror3D was a fitting title since that's basically what the game is: a horror version of Duke Nukem 3D. The immensely dark tone becomes apparent as soon as you start the first level. Caleb opens his eyes and sees the concrete grave slide open above him. Grabbing himself a bloody pitchfork, he climbs out of the tomb and immediately quotes Army of Darkness as he screeches "I live ... again!".

As Caleb you explore the graveyard to find brutally mutilated torture victims, axe wielding zombies and cultists shouting gibberish as they unload their shotguns. When the game unfolds more you get access to an equally occult arsenal. Zombies, cultists, gargoyles and mansharks are dispatched by flare guns, spraying deodorant through a lighter, a magic wand and even... are you ready for this? Stabbing them in the balls with a voodoo doll! How can you not love this game?

Even more fun than the weapons though, are the levels. There's a certain magic to them that so many of these oldschool shooters have and has been completely lost in recent games. They're actually fun to explore! The greatest strength of these games isn't in challenging battles, excessive gore or complicated mechanics... It's the simple joy of wondering what kind of crazy situation you are going to encounter next. In fact, me and all of my friends never even bothered with the challenge of beating the game properly. No, we just typed in that infinite health code as soon as we got our hands on it and went on to find every little secret, every interactive little trinket and every last witty quote we could get out of our gunslinger. I'll talk about some of my favourite levels here in illustration.

E1M3: Phantom Express

For starters there's the moving train in the first episode. The objectives themselves are pretty simple. First you watch how the train runs over some helpless civilians and one cultist, then you move to the back, pick up a key that unlocks the engine room, blow some shit up and the level ends with another witty comment. On your way to the back, you just cross the hallways and the storage. Nothing out of the ordinary. Just zombies and cultists for you to mutilate. It's when you backtrack to the engine room that things really pick up.

All of the previously locked compartments now open and Cabal members jump out firing at you... Unless you do it first that is. It's so satisfying to kick open a door and smirk as the cultist behind it releases a terrifying scream finding himself at the receiving end of your shotgun blast. A closer look at the compartments themselves reveal mutilated corpses hanging from chains, a kitchen that's cooking things I hope never to eat and a toilet with a severed foot lying besides it, leaving what happened to the rest of the body to your imagination. Really makes you wonder if they tried to flush him whole doesn't it?

E1M4: Dark Carnival

As soon as the horrifying train ride ends, another one of my favourite levels starts: Dark Carnival. Caleb emerges from the train wreckage and soon finds a sign showing directions to a nearby carnival. Of course this carnival is conveniently run by the Cabal providing a bunch of cannon fodder for our Texan friend. You cross a bridge to the ticket booth and find a Cabal member inside. This brings the first of many smirks on my face. This is so politically incorrect and I love it! The game is actually inviting you to do what a homicidal maniac would do when he visits a amusement park. He'd blow the guy's face off, drop a witty line and enter the park... and that's exactly what you get to do here. Lovely! :)

Once inside the park you discover that all attractions are actually playable. You get to shoot bottles for a prize, administer a bullet to the punching machine and even kick severed heads into a moving mouth. Later in the level you visit a freak show supported by creepy voices going "One of us" in reference to the 1930s movie Freaks. The cherry on the cake however, is a reference to the Duke himself. :) In one portion of the level, it's possible to access a secret room where Duke Nukem's dismembered body hangs on a chain.

E2M2: The Lumber Mill

I could go on and on about this game's levels but let's keep it short and just mention two more favourites of mine. One would be the lumber mill. You need a strong stomach for this one. One point in the level actually requires you to jump down a toilet and dive down into the cesspit below to find a key. It doesn't end there either. What really made it my favourite is its graphic depiction of torture victims that the Cabal runs through the wood cutting- machines. Of course this wouldn't be complete without the ability to give the Cabal a taste of their own medicine. Since we played on god mode anyway, we didn't care about getting shot once or twice and me and my friends had endless fun setting the enemies up perfectly to push them into their own sawmills.

E3M4: The Sick Ward

The other was a hospital. I don't know, there's just something extra scary about a hospital in a horror setting. The start of the level greets you with a decapitated body lying on an operation table and the machinery lets you know that somehow its hearth is still beating. Other than that... Well, there's corpses suspended from the lobby ceiling, ritual torture chambers in the basement, a monstrous baby and well... I'll just let you take a look at the place yourself. ;)

Monolith attempted a sequel with a quake-like true 3d engine but somewhere along the way, they lost everything that made Blood so great in the first place. The dark gimmicky levels were nowhere to be found and nearly every one liner fell flat on its face. Sure, the enemies were quite intelligent for their time as they actually ducked behind cover but who really cared about that? I know I didn't. I just wanted another Blood! I wanted to hear Caleb's sadistic comments as I dismembered my enemies and I wanted to find grotesque scenes ridden with horror movie references. I guess the guy stuck in the dryer was a little funny but somehow his polygon legs hanging out of it didn't have quite the impact that the old sprites did.

Anyway I often wonder if a game like this would still work today. Nowadays most games have a much more serious tone. We find our joys in challenging battles, graphical eye candy and enemies that are made into a threat by their AI rather than their sheer numbers. That new HD Serious Sam might be a stab at the past but it's still different from Blood, Duke, Shadow Warrior and the other games of that time. It has one liners, health packs and hordes of charging monsters but no gimmicky interactive levels or cultural references as far as I know. Of course if a game in the style of Blood would come out today, it would have to incorporate a fair deal of these new standards. At least the enemies will have to do more than just stand there waiting to be shot.

I wonder if we would still be able to enjoy this style of gameplay while not ignoring these progressions. I personally believe that this will be Duke Nukem Forever's greatest challenge if it ever comes out. Until then, I feel like the closest we have gotten might be Half-Life 2. It's got the great variety in levels that each looks like they tell a story of their own. We've got the boat ride, Ravenholm, the citadel at the end and much more. Physics were new at the time just like the interaction with the environment was in these games in their time. Until now this made me feel closest to what a new incarnation of the old Build shooters would be like but I'm still hoping (but not expecting) Duke Forever to one day blow my mind.

To close things off, let's have a word about Blood's cultural legacy. As I mentioned before, Blood never really had the success that Duke Nukem 3D did but it did leave a bit behind. Most of all there's a comic called Priest from South Korea, a country known for their professional gaming scene. Just like blood, the comic's undead protagonist uses dynamite and double barrel shotguns to waste the assholes he holds responsible for killing his lover.

The first volume features a scene in a train which seriously reminds me of the level I discussed above. In an interview in the third volume, the author confirms that Blood was the major inspiration for his work. I have only read a couple of the comics and I can't say I was THAT much of a fan but I'm still looking forward to the movie coming out this year.

Bonus feature: A bunch of homages Blood makes.

Specials thanks to Forsete on youtube for his highly useful blood playthroughs. Pay him a visit some time if you enjoyed it.
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About Metallionone of us since 4:11 AM on 10.14.2009

I'm a dude that used to write cblogs regularly but doesn't do that any more.