Rising from an untimely end, Blood West’s gunslinger is sent into a haunted frontier, where death lurks around every corner.
A bloody end
I have to admit, right off the bat, that I did not have a good idea as to what Blood West really was before I started it. When you first see Hyperstrange’s FPS in trailers, you might assume it’s a straightforward ‘retro’ first-person shooter. That’d be understandable since it has a 90s aesthetic, lots of weapons, and plenty of creepy monsters to shoot. Here’s the thing though, it’s not that.
Instead Blood West has a lot more going for it, and from a few different angles. It’s a tough game for one thing, and quite deep as well, with plenty of quests and things to do. You will not be able to blast your way through though, and I mean that in the strictest sense, since Blood West lives and dies on stealth.
Taking out creatures without being seen is paramount, and not engaging in shadowy tactics is a recipe for disaster. But if you’re patient and enjoy making the shadows your home, then read on, because Blood West might have exactly what you’ve been looking for.
It’s a dark world out there
A trigger man in life, the Undead Gunslinger was killed, and then put to rest by a wandering Native American shaman. Said shaman hoped the nameless corpse that he interred would be spared the fate of a revenant, but that didn’t quite work out. Instead the Gunslinger is raised from death by what’s essentially a union of spirits, to serve as their weapon.
It seems there’s been an infection that has taken hold of the earth itself, and the plague of spectral terror is spreading. As a result, the American frontier has been populated by all manner of creeps. Zombies, vengeful spirits, shambling horrors, and straight-up demons that could be right at home in a Lovecraftian tale are all common sights.
It’s of course up to the Gunslinger to take ’em out, and find a way to set things right once again. Well, that and save his own extremely damned soul. He’s as cursed as the world itself, and his eternal soul is basically held in the balance until he completes his dark task.
Along the way to that goal, the Gunslinger will meet characters who can help him and also trade both goods and weaponry. Players will want to visit them often, as building up their character and outfitting him with just the right assortment of hardware is the key to survival in what’s a brutally tough world.
Didn’t see that one coming
So, again, I feel like I have to reiterate that I did not understand what kind of game Blood West was. I’ve played a ton and a half of FPS’ over the years, but you really can’t go into this one thinking you’re going to blast everything that moves. Even when you get a projectile weapon, you have to try to keep things quiet, and use it only when you gain the definitive upper hand in a situation.
With that in mind, combat is mainly slower-paced and methodical. I found myself scouting ahead, and then plotting how I was going to handle any given situation. If that sounds cool, it most definitely can be, but it’s also a massive change from the shooters I’m used to.
Complicating matters are the areas themselves that Blood West throws at you. It basically has three big, open-world maps that cater to those who like to explore, and mainly leaves things up to the player as to how they want to tackle each. You can either meander off into the wild, or follow the loose instructions given by NPC’s and the aforementioned spirits (which inhabit skulls across the landscape).
As you might’ve gleaned, things start out melee-only, though that doesn’t last long. You’ll have the option pretty quickly of using your dulled axe or a six-shooter, and it gets quite a bit cooler from there. The Gunslinger is able to find or buy plenty of old-west weapons in Blood West, ranging from the magical to the mundane.
Don’t expect really any of the creatures to be pushovers though, even with a good rifle at your side. Whenever possible, I picked off monsters one by one, sneaking up on ’em and eliminating them before taking out the ones that I was fairly confident couldn’t get me before I ventilated them.
Also dying isn’t something that you want to do too often in Blood West. The game penalizes players for getting offed, and that includes doling out nasty de-buffs like addling the Gunslinger to the point that he basically doesn’t gain in experience. You can clear these, but you’ll need gold to more or less bribe those spirits I keep talking about. And on top of all of that, you can forget about saving right before a potentially nasty encounter, since Blood West offers checkpoints.
So yeah, try not to die.
Retro looks, dripping with detail
Okay so it’s a tough play, but man is Blood West stylish. The three biomes that the title sends players through are a mix of natural and man-made architecture, complete with some good old fashioned ghost towns ( and I mean that literally). Those locales are definitely retro in feel, but also have a high level of detail to them.
Everything has a 90s coat of paint, so don’t get the idea that the game looks hyper-realistic, but it’s in using that semi-rough aesthetic that Blood West’s personality really shines. Everything has the creep-factor turned to eleven, even the outdoors. Actually, they’re even more tense than the closed locations, as being in the wild puts you in a vulnerable position. The feeling that I could run right into a beast from hell at any given moment was heavy. That’s not to say that the buildings are that much safer, as they can certainly be deathtraps as well.
While I briefly mentioned the enemies that the game plagues players with earlier, they deserve another mention here. The designs in this game are just plain great, and it includes a bestiary that gets pretty deep, pretty darn fast. Even the first foes that you’ll face, zombie miners and golems of twisted flesh and bone, have terrific looks to them and are wholly unique.
Also definitely worth mentioning is the game’s audio. Sound effects are terrific, and likewise the voice actors are flat-out great. All of the voiced-characters work well, but the Gunslinger himself is especially excellent, voiced by actor Stephen L. Russell. You might know that name, as he also played the main character in the Thief games, and played Dishonored’s fan-favorite hero, Corvo.
I know, I sound like a broken record, but Blood West is a tough game that doesn’t hold your hand. If you’re expecting an easy play-through, or something that allows you to go Rambo with it, penalty-free, then you’d best look elsewhere.
On the other hand, if you want a retro-FPS that’s going to take actual effort and smarts to engage with, will give you plenty to do, and features some awesome design elements, then Blood West should absolutely be on your radar.
A copy of Blood West was provided by Hyperstrange for this review
Release date: December 5th, 2023
MSRP: $24.99 USD