There’s always a game that everybody usually finds to be an absolute crock of shit, yet a few could look past some of the flaws and find a pretty decent game that doesn’t get appreciated. There are some who like frustratingly difficult games like the 2009 Bionic Commando remake – I’m not one of them – or just have a soft spot for the absolutely mediocre stuff, like any Cabela video game, for instance. Of course, the opposite case of hating something everybody likes is more prevalent these days – just go to any forum and look at how many Call of Duty/Modern Warfare bashing threads there are – but there’s always one game that people dislike yet somebody found some enjoyment out of it. I think that game for me is Monolith’s 1998 FPS Blood II: The Chosen.
Taking place in the far-flung future of 2028, the protagonist Caleb from the original Blood is brought back from the dead to stop Gideon from unleashing the Cabal and causing hell on earth. While Caleb goes through darkened alleys, desolate hotels and freakin’ sewer levels, he bumps into a few supporting characters who spout goofy tidbits of advice. All this culminates in Caleb having to destroy “The Chosen One” in a dark parallel world. It’s typical late 1990s first-person shooter fare: Little story, strange levels to roam around in, baddies to shoot, and the occasional jumping puzzle. Because hey, people LOVED jumping puzzles back in the day! </sarcasm>
Blood II was one of the first games to use Monolith’s new Lithtech engine. When it was released in Halloween 1998, the game had very mixed opinions. GameSpot gave it a respectable 7.8 in its heyday, IGN gave it a slightly weaker 6.8, and GamePro was the most critical of the game, giving it a 2/5. Most people I know who played Blood II didn’t like it as much compared to the original, giving Blood considerably more praise. This opinion is agreed upon most of the gamers I know, regardless of playing it when it was new back in 1998, or when replaying it today.
I should explain why I’m writing something about this dinky old shooter. See, back when I was a goofy little preteen boy finding dumb amusement in trolling Usenet groups (don’t ask), I had found a site called Home of the Underdogs, a now-defunct site for abandonware games. Both Blood games were featured on the site, along with a bunch of other old various games. I decided to download the supposedly “abandonware” Blood II: The Chosen, because it looked like a cool game at the time. So I gave it a whirl, starting shooting through the various worlds as Caleb, and I died. A lot. I died so much in that game that God mode was my best friend and I almost never turned it off. I was really bad at games back then. I still kinda am. Despite that issue of constant death, I still found enjoyment out of Monolith’s little shooter. Once I finished it, I had not played the game again.
Cut to today. GOG.com, now better known as “The website formerly known as Good Old Games,” was having a sale on some old games by Atari, the publisher who owns all of GT Interactive’s back catalog. I was able to buy the original Blood – complete with expansion packs – and Blood II: The Chosen for a cool $3 each. It had been ten years since I last played as Caleb and fought through the futuristic world of Blood II. People told me not to buy it or play it, including a friend of mine who writes for Hardcore Gaming 101 and swayed me away from buying Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold just one week earlier. (You can read his retrospective on Blake Stone here.) I was convinced they were wrong, that the game wasn’t that bad. I was hoping that was not the nostalgia talking and that Blood II was still good. Well, unfortunately, I realized they were right. Mostly, anyway.
Most of Blood II‘s criticism stems mostly from multiple factors – the humor isn’t as good as the original game’s, the gameplay doesn’t feel as solid, the gothic themes are replaced with typical office buildings and freakin’ sewer levels – all of which are valid complaints. Some of Blood‘s weapons reappear in Blood II like the sawed-off shotgun, the flare gun and the voodoo doll, along with a few modern guns like Berettas, MAC-10s and anAssault Rifle. Granted, it makes the game feel more generic due to the lack of unusual weapons like the dynamite and the Tommy Gun, but I don’t think that’s a major knock against it. Sadly, most enemies are basically bullet sponges and most fights result in spamming them with bullets or circle-strafing around them with more powerful weaponry, taking out of most of the challenge that was present in the original.
One thing I do love about Blood II is that it has a tongue-in-cheek approach to everything. It’s kind of serious, but there are times where it’s clear Monolith was joking around. Lots of billboards with a few jokes here and there, a couple ads for other Monolith games like Get Medieval and Shogo Mobile Armored Division, along with a few jokes that reference popular TV shows at the time like The Simpsons. Monolith even poked fun at Valve’s Half-Life as well as Ritual’s SiN in one of the load screen texts, mentioning a “Dissertation on a Ritual’s crime of Sin” and a “Minor symposium on a Valve’s incredibly onerous Half-Life.” But what I really find funny about Blood II are the lines spoken by the fanatics in the game. The way they say lines like “YOU WILL DIE A SLOW, SMALL DEATH!” and “YOU DON’T STAND A CHANCE!” sound hilarious, as well as the Cultists shouting “You’re dead! Do you hear me?! DEAD!!” make them come off funnier than any of the baddies in the original Blood, which mostly consists of shrieks, groans and grunts, and random Latin phrases. It also helps that Caleb was still the same wisecracking smartass he was in the first game, mostly thanks to Stephan Weyte’s delivery. Also, Ishmael, one of the supporting characters, is voiced by Michael Shapiro, who would later be known to gamers for voicing Barney and the G-Man in the Half-Life games. It’s weird playing as Ishmael in single player and hearing him talk, it’s like almost playing as the G-Man.
I will say though that much like the original, Blood II is a nightmare to play on any difficulty higher than Genocide difficulty (easy). Much like the young version of me, half the time I had to turn on God mode. Once I kicked it down to Genocide difficulty, the game was much easier to bear with, despite I was never in big danger outside of boss fights. Is that that reason people don’t like it? Who knows. Perhaps since it came out around the same time as Valve’s Half-Life, a more critically acclaimed game (and my favorite game of all time), it had little to no chance. Perhaps it suffered the same way SiN did, being rushed out to release in time for the holidays. We may never really know the true story of this game.
After playing the sequel, I decided to play the original Blood to compare and contrast the two. After playing through most of the original, I can totally understand why the first is so beloved now, especially when I played the games out of order. It uses the Build engine that Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior ran on, the old-timey atmosphere made it feel different compared to other games at the time, and the levels seemed to have that classic first-person shooter philosophy of hunting down keys, having loads of secrets and spewing large amounts of gore everywhere. It’s unique and timeless, Blood II feels kinda dated and stale in comparison. Though, some games tend to age better than others. Blood II was a byproduct of a burgeoning era of 3D gaming, it was gonna be hard for such a game to compete and still be at the same level as the 2.5D FPS era that preceded it. Despite that, I still found some amusement and entertainment out of Blood II.
If you’re interested in the Blood games yourself, GOG.com has both One Unit Whole Blood and Blood II plus The Nightmare Levels expansion for $6 each. If you can choose only one, go for the original, but don’t hesitate on giving The Chosen a shot. The second game is a diamond in the rough, surely, but as I found enjoyment in it here and there. I guess I have a soft nostalgic spot for a game with where grunts said gibberish when you attacked them. If you have a copy of Doom II kicking around, you can also give ZBlood a try, but it’s not as good as the original. Hella fun in Brutal Doom, though. Speaking of Brutal Doom…