Dark Light

The first thing that comes to mind when people think of Monolith Productions is the horror themed FPS F.E.A.R and to a lesser degree, Condemned: Criminal Origins. Many people doesn’t know this, but the horror roots of Monolith can be traced back to the late 90s. Oh and what a wonderful time it was! For every bad idea back then, there were five good ideas. Following in with the success of Duke Nukem 3D and the Build Engine, QStudios, under the supervision of 3D Realms began working on an another FPS using the Build Engine. 3D Realms had too much going for them at that time and QStudios was acquired by Monolith Productions in 1996. With the help of publisher GT Interactive, their hyper-violent FPS known as Blood would see the light of day in March 1997.

Right, so with the obligatory history section out of the way, let me tell you about my personal history with Blood. Blood is without a doubt, one of the most violent and goriest FPS ever made. It’s no surprise that we got along so good. While 90s FPS like Wolfenstein, Doom and Duke Nukem 3D paid homages to 70s and 80s action and sci-fi flicks, Blood was a different beast altogether. Blood is filled to the brim with horror tropes from a wide variety of periods. At times, it’s a genuinely scary experience, and at times, it’s so over-the-top and loud that it parodies horror tropes from the 50s to the 90s. Blood tackles every horror theme in existence, from monster movies to grindhouse horror to slasher and psychological thrillers. The atmosphere, graphics, audio, the story- everything in the game is used to parody, mock and pay homage to classic horror tropes. In fact, I think Blood is only second to Fallout 2 in terms of pop-cultural references.

The above reasons are why Blood is so captivating to play. It’s so familiar to everyone who grew up in the 80s and the 90s. Name a horror movie, and chances are that it will be referenced somewhere in the game. It’s the same reason why a small kid like me was naturally attracted to the game. I grew up watching classic horror flicks in rented DVRs back in the day. Halloween, Friday the 13th, Evil Dead, Jaws, The Shining, The Thing, The Mummy– I was a sucker for these types of films. I remember the first time I saw Blood. My cousin had the shareware version and it scared the living crap out of me. I think I had nightmares for several days about some of the levels in the game, especially Dark Carnival. The haunting soundtrack from the opening level still rings in my ears, and no, it’s not an exaggeration. I was so scared to play it, that I’d call my sister to sit beside me whenever I played. But of course, looking back, the game is more campy than scary these days (it does have its moments however). I mean, I’m that guy who caught a fever just by looking at the localized cover of Bram Stocker’s Dracula. So there’s that.

In Blood, your’e not a lone badass space marine, nor an All-American macho-man. you’re not a hero, your’e just a pissed off undead cowboy. The inconsequential drivel of a story has you play as Caleb, bad dude who kills even more bad dudes. Basically the gist of the story is that you were a member of Cabal, an evil cult that worships the evil god Tchernoboog. Apparently, no one told Caleb that you shouldn’t trust an evil god. Tchernobog and the Cabal murders you and your lover and some loyal followers with the snap of a finger. Caleb awakens sometime later from the grave, and sets forth on a bloody rampage for revenge. That basically means you get to murder hundreds of cultists and monsters per level. The story isn’t that great, in fact it’s barely there. But who needs a well-written story in a game where all you do is kill people in glorious fashion?

If you’ve played any of the mid 90’s FPS, then you’ll feel right at home. You navigate huge (often maze-like) levels killing people and collecting keys to get to the next section.  But it’s the atmosphere, the weaponry, amazing level design and Caleb himself what makes Blood so captivating. Take the opening level for example. The level starts with our sadist hero Caleb rising from his graves with the ever-iconic “I live…again” line by the highly talented Stephan Weyte (this guy is a criminally underrated voice actor). The level is brought to life by the looming sense of dread, the eerie soundtrack and ambient sounds such as manic laughter, cries of agony and the pin-drop silence of death. But one can’t talk about Blood without ever mentioning the Dark Carnival level. This is seriously one of the best levels in any FPS, ever. Taking place in a derelict carnival ground, Caleb murders his way through local attractions, rides, mini-games where you kick decapitated heads into the mouth of a clown, innocent mimes, a frigging snake pit with a tightrope above it and a secret entrance to a house level. Words cannot describe how awesome the level is. The levels seamlessly blends in into this depressing set piece that makes the world come alive, even if all you do is bloody murder cultists and monsters. Easily one of the best atmospheric FPS ever made.

Blood also features one of the most original arsenal ever seen in a 90’s FPS. Desperate times calls for desperate measures I guess. You start the game armed with nothing but a pitchfork, but instead of lifting hay, Caleb uses it to separate zombie heads from their undead body. Eagle-eyed players can soon find themselves picking up a bundle of dynamite, because who doesn’t love the smell of fresh dynamite in the morning? Then there is the flare gun which can be used to set enemies ablaze, a trusty sawed off shotgun straight from The Army of Darkness, a tommy gun, a frigging napalm launcher, an aersosol spray, a voodoo doll, because why not, and a skeleton staff looking thingy that can obliterate foes in seconds. Oh why can’t games of today have these? Pretty much all weapons feature an alternative fire mode which trades ammo for increased damage output. For example, the alternate firemode of the sawed-off has Caleb unloading two barrels at once, and spray n’ pray for the tommy gun. There’s also ‘guns akimbo’, an item pick-up which lets you dual wield guns, Honk Kong movie style. You need all the firepower you can get as the enemies in Blood are crackshots and can eat away your HP in a matter of seconds (especially in the higher difficulties). In my opinion, it’s the hardest build engine game to exist.

Then there is Caleb. He’s a sadist and bloodthirsty murderer with a sarcastic sense of humor, and yeah, he’s a frigging badass. While he may not be as vocal as Duke or Lo Wang, the iconic voiceover by Stephan Weyte more than makes up for it. Every line he delivers is nothing short of legendary, even his comic scream when lit on fire is bloody brilliant. Weyte’s manic laughter, taunts and scripted dialogues defines Caleb’s character. Several notable lines include

  • “When you get to hell, tell them I sent you. You will get a group discount.”
  • “I’m here to donate some blood. Somebody else’s…”
  • “I want JoJo! I want JoJo! JOJO! JOJO!”
  • “How do you like your flesh cooked?””
  • “I’ll have a BLT, that’s a lettuce, tomato, and blood sandwich. Hold the mayo, huh? HA HA HA!”

Not to mention Caleb’s scripted lines when he encounters an easter egg or a pop-cultural reference, like how he says “nevermore” when coming upon the grave of Edgar Allan Poe, or “here’s Johnny!” when discovering the frozen corpse of Jack Nicholson from The Shining. It’s just great stuff man.

While Blood didn’t enjoy as much commercial success as Duke 3D or Shadow Warrior, it did sell well enough to warrant two expansion packs and a sequel; Blood II: The Chosen (a story for another day). The Blood license now sits with Atatri. That reason, combined with many of the original team leaving Monolith prevents Blood 3 from happening. That didn’t stop some of the devs from expressing their interest in working on a sequel however. Only time will tell whether we’ll be graced with another Blood (sometime before I die please?).

You can grab Blood and its expansion Cryptic Passage as One Unit whole Blood from Steam and GOG.  Blood is the only major Build engine game whose source code is still proprietary. That means it has fewer sourceports when compared to its brothers. That didn’t stop fans from trying to develop sourceports however. I recommend downloading BloodGDX (based on parts of the Alpha code) for a more modern-friendly experience. Whether you’re playing vanilla or with BloodGDX, I’m happy to say that the game still holds up perfectly. Blood is a one of a kind experience that is often overlooked and forgotten in the annals of time.

5 months and 25 episodes…we’ve sure come a long way. Nothing pleases me more than writing about my childhood favorites and how the part they played in shaping the video game industry. But doing the same thing for too long can result in fatigue and in my case, being burnt out on this series. So I’ve decided to take a little break from Retro Saturdays for a while. That doesn’t mean the series is dead and gone however. It just means that I’m willing to try something new and different in the following weeks. So til then, enjoy the weekend and happy gaming.

Thanks goes to Gamesomniac and retroAGEfan for the respectable videos.

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