Growing up, I was a console gamer through and through. Honestly, I still am, primarily. I got a Nintendo 64 for my birthday one year, and never looked back.
Given this start, however, shooters were harder to get into. I absolutely did, don’t get me wrong. Games like GoldenEye, Black, and Halo 2 eventually managed to drag me into the genre, but I wasn’t able to witness the birth, the heyday of first-person shooters.
Engines came and went. The Wolfenstein engine, Doom, the Quake engine; basically everything made by id-based neurological marvel John Carmack. Between Doom and Quake, however, another organic computer named Ken Silverman made the giant-killing Build engine.
Supporting room over room level design, and allowing creators to mimic real environments for the first time in a shooter, the Build engine gave shape to some of the finest (and most 90’s) shooters ever. Most well-known among those is likely Duke Nukem 3D, probably followed by Shadow Warrior. While Duke and Lo Wang have certainly not aged well, they still remain memorable characters, and Shadow Warrior even saw a revival recently.
However, a third title stood amongst these titans. Made by a little studio called Monolith and adored by a very dedicated fanbase was a Gothic horror shooter named simply Blood.
In Blood, you fill the boots of Caleb, a gunslinger in service of the dark god Chernobog. Together with his girlfriend and two of their friends, he is a Chosen acolyte, their quartet being the strongest of the devout. However, Chernobog is unhappy with them, it seems. He has his minions kidnap three of them and kills Caleb himself. Caleb awakens in a shallow grave, digs himself out, and begins what can only be described as the most violent roving rampage of revenge seen on the other side of John Wick.
I never got to play the original DOS version of the title, as per my original points. However, thanks to Steam (as well as a video series from my favourite YouTuber Civvie11), I recently came across the updated release from Atari and NightDive Studios, called Blood: Fresh Supply.
So, how is it?
“I Live… Again…”
Coming in fresh means that there very well could be nuances that have changed since the DOS days that I just am unaware of entirely. The original source code for Blood is famously missing, so NightDive had to do the best they could to rebuild much of the game for the Blood: Fresh Supply release. Not the levels, mind you, but the gameplay itself is likely affected by this.
That being said, I still have quite a lot to say about this landmark shooter from the team that would go on to create my favorite horror-shooter of all time, F.E.A.R.
There’s only one place to start when talking about Blood: Fresh Supply, in my opinion: the undead gunslinger himself, Caleb.
It may seem surprising that I’m starting with the main character in an old shooter. Blood comes from the era of Carmack and Romero, the former of which famously (or perhaps infamously) said that story in a game is “like story in a porn movie; it’s expected to be there, but it’s not important.”
However, Build engine game protagonists were also famously talkative. Duke and Lo Wang spoke constantly. Caleb was not an exception.
Voiced by the gravel-toned legend Stephan Weyte, Caleb is a solid third of the draw of the game for me. His dark humor and bassy intonation turns the game from a good shooter to a great GAME, an important distinction. He stumbles upon a graveyard filled with coffins, and offhandedly comments “They’re gonna need a lot more of these.” He cackles madly while bits and pieces of cultists scatter around him from thrown dynamite. He enters the lair of a giant demonic spider shouting, “Hey, She-Bitch! Let’s do this!”
This absolutely psychopathic streak adds color to the game, as your avatar revels in painting the world crimson on his path to revenge. There are no atrocities that he doesn’t revel in, no dark jokes too dark for him. His off-color commentary makes him a CHARACTER, not just a pair of hands.
The Danse Macabre
Caleb is strong, and plenty of games have survived on the strength of their characters alone, but Blood doesn’t have that problem. Not only is Caleb more than hands, he’s also a whirlwind of violence that you get to captain.
Shooters of the 90’s are often notable for being hard. Fast, unforgiving, and hard to control at times, they often are the subject of challenging playthroughs by some of the best of the best. You maneuver as though you’re a carhop on her roller skates, and the addition of jumping to the Build engine only added to the complexity of positioning.
I won’t pretend that Blood: Fresh Supply is easy. In fact, it’s perhaps one of the most brutal games I’ve ever played. Death comes easy, and the most common enemies are hit scanners with reflexes that could catch a cheetah off-guard. By the time you realize they’re there, you’ve already taken damage. Other enemies are large and tanky, soaking up damage like they get paid to do it.
With all of that said, Blood: Fresh Supply‘s gameplay FEELS good. It’s not hard to use, but you have to truly master it to become the killing machine you have to be to survive. The jumping, the swaying of the camera, the thump of firing off both barrels of one of the greatest shotguns to ever grace your computer screen; it all combines into the smoothest and most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had, rivaling even the modern gloss of Doom Eternal.
Once you start getting the hang of Blood: Fresh Supply, you start to really feel like an action star. You start to jump, spin, and duck your way through every engagement, becoming a human blender. John Woo mode kicks in when you pick up a Guns Akimbo power-up, a gun in each fist. As Caleb quips, “I’ve got two guns. That should be enough for all of ya!”
Soaked In Crimson
True to its era, there’s not much story going on in Blood: Fresh Supply. There’s a clear progression, and each chapter has a theme to it, but the truth is, you’re just slaughtering hordes of enemies in all kinds of interesting environs as Caleb giggles his head off.
Regardless, seeing Caleb to the end of his viscera-soaked spree is cathartic. Seeing the ultimate fate of your fellow Chosen is a good enough driving force, as well as finally getting delivering Chernobog’s last rites a la Ash Williams: “Good… Bad… I’m the guy with the gun”.
Timeless and Tortuous
While the 90’s shooters would eventually give way to narrative-heavy epics like Half-Life and Halo, the simplicity and pure violence on display in Blood has the benefit of being truly immune to the test of time. Put a gun in your hand and get to killing. No frills, no tutorial, no excuses.
I’m not a purist or a tryhard in any sense. That being said, there’s something to be said about the purity of a difficult experience. Coming out of a fight broken but alive is a gaming thrill that can’t really be beat.
Final Thoughts on Blood: Fresh Supply
Blood: Fresh Supply is a dark, Gothic experience with touches of horror and gallons of scarlet, and I cannot recommend it enough.
Shrug off your ego and become an undead, lead-slinging killing machine; it’s good for the soul.