Blood – Magazine Reviews

Time to see what the UK press thought of Blood. I’ve dug up three reviews that are largely in line with my own opinions for once. This first review from the August 97 PC Format is a bit too harsh if you ask me:-

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The PC Zone issue of the same month is a lot fairer:-

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And finally a brief review from the October 1997 PC Zone

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Blood – Part 2

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For part 2, I swapped over to Windows which fixed the missing cutscenes but broke the music instead. Looking at them by modern standards the 3D models are hilariously awful but they do move the story along at the end of every episode.

In hindsight, I should have patched my copy to a newer version and I could then have had 3dfx support but it ran smooth enough at 640×480 so it’s not a huge loss.

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Each episode of Blood takes place in a different setting which is an unexpected twist. Part 2 is in the frozen north and often has a haunted house atmosphere to the indoor locations. The enemies are mostly the same as in the shareware release but there are new additions for the registered version with sharkman things that are crazily fast underwater but not quite so nasty on land and a specter which fades in and out of existence only being vulnerable when attacking. There are new weapons in the shape of a tesla gun (which seems slightly out of place) and a hairspray/lighter combination to set enemies on fire.

These additions on their own don’t add too much but I did find I wasn’t scrabbling about for ammo or reloading anywhere near as often in these registered levels. I expect that was largely due to me becoming better at the game. I eventually started to learn techniques to deal with these enemies. For instance, the flying demons can be pushed back and stunned if you use the alternative fire on the shotgun. Four quick blasts like this and they are dealt with easily. The extra handful of powerful weapons also make life a little easier.

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There is a new boss at the end of each section with part 2 having a giant spider that spawns lots of little spiders, and part 3 having a fire-breathing two-headed Cerberus to deal with. Neither of these are massively challenging but you do get to see them as regular enemies in later levels so it’s just as well.

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The third episode has you travelling through Paris, it’s sewers, then through factories and dams.

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The fourth level has a further wide-spread of levels including cult laboratories, lava filled mines, the insides of some creature and ultimately leading into a battle with the dark god himself (once you complete a boss rush of the first 3 episode ending baddies).

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The final battle isn’t massively climactic or original. It’s just another big boss to shoot at and again the first level boss was harder (at least at the time).

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Once victorious, someone approaches citing the Lord’s Prayer after seeing the demon vanquished only for Caleb to nonchalantly gun him down and presumably stroll off into the expansion packs which I don’t own.

So how does Blood hold up 20 years down the line? Surprisingly well actually. Once I got into it, I really enjoyed myself with this game. It’s not particularly long lasting, I got though the last 3 episodes in one lazy Saturday morning but it’s certainly at least on a par with the likes of Final Doom in the brevity stakes. What Blood has over Doom, is way more variety in the levels and weapons, the more capable Build engine coming in handy here. Above all else, I don’t know it inside out already.

I know this is regarded as a cult classic but I’m slightly struggling with that as it seems too derivative to me. By the time Blood came out it was competing with the likes of Jedi Knight and I can’t see that as a contest. Perhaps now, when the technology/graphics are less of a factor it’s a closer thing. There are plenty of inventive levels here and I do like the horror theme. The initial difficulty is a little off-putting but persevere and you should still have a great time with Blood. Don’t expect anything ground breaking but if you enjoy DOS FPS games, it’s definitely up there with the best of them.

Blood – Part 1

I decided to pick another random DOS game off the list. I nearly went for Wizardry 6 then decided it looked too complicated and went for Blood instead. This was one of the later games to use the Duke3D build engine coming out in 1997. I just about remember trying the demo version at the time but I don’t think I ever bothered finishing it so it clearly didn’t impress me back then. It’s got something of a following these days though with boxed copies being fairly rare and expensive. I have a theory that this is partly caused by a search for the word Blood on Ebay turning up so many other titles that anyone looking for a copy is prepared to pay more just to get the search off their list and not have to trawl through all that random detritus. This was certainly true in my case.

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It’s got a distinctive box if nothing else although I prefer the American version with a big bloody handprint. Like most PC games of the time, there isn’t a whole lot of content in there with a CD, small manual and a couple of flyers.

One page of that manual gives the backstory for the game, which puts it on about on a par with Doom in terms of perfunctory plots. What little there is, is actually well written and boils down to your character (Jacob) rising to be one of the 4 chosen in a cult of some description, going to meet your chosen dark god along with the love of your life, Ophelia (also one of the chosen), then getting killed off for not being worthy. At the start of the game, you arise as one of the undead from your tomb to go and seek revenge for your comrades.

Back before the term FPS was widely used, all these games were known as Doom clones and looking at Blood it’s not hard to see why as it really does follow the established formula. Even the menus look about the same. It borrows a little off Duke as well with the “hero” having wisecracks throughout. You can look up and down here and jumping adds more than you would expect to the gameplay but it’s very much using the established formula.

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You start out the game battling zombies with a pitchfork. This will be a common theme throughout as while you can knock these zombies down with a shotgun, they will just pop back up again so the best strategy is usually to save the ammo. When you kill a zombie, it’s head pops off and it can then be kicked around like a football for comic effect. The other weapons in the game are a flare gun which sticks in the enemies and sets them on fire after a while. This is very effective from range and will permanently take out zombies. There is a fairly standard shotgun and tommy gun. The most powerful weapon is a napalm launcher which serves as the rocket launcher equivalent and there is also TNT which functions as a grenade. There is also a guns akimbo powerup which gives you double guns for a brief period.

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The flare gun is a nice touch with the other weapons being uninspired but functional. A bit of variety is added with each weapon having an alternative fire mode. The enemies are the aforementioned zombies, two different types of cultist armed with shotguns and tommy guns and a flying demon who appears in later levels. There are also some tiny bats/rats/fish occasionally who are more of a nuisance than a real enemy. You’ll be seeing more cultists and zombies by far than anything else and the variety of enemies really is quite low being about on a par with Wolfenstein 3D.

The cultists aim and shoot the moment you are in their sights making progress quite difficult even at the default level. Expect to save and reload a lot if you play this. Even with foreknowledge of exactly where everyone is, it’s still very easy to die in Blood. It could do with more enemies firing dodgable weapons if you ask me to add a little more fun and spontaneity to proceedings. The biggest problem I’ve got with Blood so far is that these enemies aren’t all that much fun to fight. The zombies are OK for what they are but the cultists deal so much damage I rely on foreknowledge of exactly where they are from saving and reloading, and/or relying on their stupidity. i.e. run into a room fire to attract attention, back out then pick them off one by one as they walk through the door. I was getting better at this as the game went on so maybe I just need to get back into a 90’s FPS mindset.

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The level design is interesting with one of the most memorable in the first chapter being set on a moving train where you have to make your way through the carriages ultimately exploding the engine. Another level takes place in a carnival apparently being run by cultists with various games and stalls and even a high wire you have to traverse. For an old school shooter, I didn’t find myself getting lost too much and the objectives are usually quite clear and the design less obtuse than numerous other games of the era. None of these levels would make any sense in the real world but this isn’t a game to take that seriously. It’s played for humour in the same way as Duke really with little jokey references thrown in throughout. They certainly steal a few more quotes from the Evil Dead movies and even have a disembodied hand threatening to swallow your soul.

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The last level drops the humour in favour of a fight with a giant flying boss demon and does it ever take some killing off. I was wondering if I was doing something wrong but he succumbed just before I ran out of ammo. It appears that my rescue attempt was in vain as Ophelia is already dead.

There would have been a cutscene at this point but apparently these only work when playing in Windows, which is odd for a DOS game. I’ll swap to Windows from here on out anyway which might mean I can get proper screenshots as a bonus. My impressions so far are that this game would already have been dated when it came out with its lack of 3D acceleration and sprite based engine. I can see why I wasn’t impressed then as we had seen a slew of these sorts of games already and I’d just gone out and bought a fancy PC and wanted equally fancy games to go with it.

It’s probably more of a novelty going back to Blood 20 years later really as the gameplay is so far removed from a modern FPS. It’s reasonably good fun for what it is and certainly better than replaying Doom yet again. The next 3 chapters definitely need to add some variety to proceedings and I’m hoping for a slew of new additions for the non-shareware levels.

Winnie The Pooh In The Hundred Acre Wood

I’ve not been playing any Origin games lately so it’s time to break out another random old DOS game. Several Youtube channels I watch would have me believe it’s edutainment month so I’ll vaguely go along with the theme.

I’m into my Sierra adventures and have played the majority of them with the exception of the really early stuff. Sierra had a partnership with Disney for a good deal of the 80’s during which numerous games were turned out. I’ve already played through The Black Cauldron on this blog which was one of the earliest games to use the AGI engine. Most of the other Disney titles were aimed squarely at younger kids so haven’t been high on my wanted list but I got the chance to buy 3 together recently and took it up. I think Donald Duck’s Playground was the only AGI game I didn’t own so I’ve put that right at last. I’m not going to be talking about that game though and will instead have a quick look at Winnie The Pooh In The 100 Acre Wood.

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Sierra’s boxes from this era were a bit smaller than they would later become but had a nice opening flap to make up for it. The game was created by Al Lowe who did several children’s games for Sierra before having a complete change of direction and working on Leisure Suit Larry. The manual sets the story in more detail and includes some activity ideas for after the game is finished. I think Sierra were keen to push their family ideals with the perceived educational value of these products.

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The game is shown from a first person perspective similar to countless other graphic adventures of the period. There is no walking a character around here but instead I simply have to pick from a selection of options at the bottom of the screen in choose your adventure style.

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The storyline such as it goes, is that a big wind is scattering objects around the 100 acre wood and you have to walk around reuniting them with their owners. Their locations are random and every now and then the wind returns and moves them all again. To make life harder you can only carry one object at a time. Basically, this game is a series of random fetch quests except it’s up to you to figure out where each object needs to go.

The world map is relatively large at 6×5 with plenty of further sublocations. The biggest challenge in the game comes from learning your way around this map. All the characters from Winnie The Pooh are here to be interacted with and the graphics do a really nice job of bringing them to life even if there isn’t any animation within the game.

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As I walk around the world, I’ll run into objects like a small scarf and can either guess who they belong to or go and ask owl who acts as a hint system. The scarf he tells me must belong to a small animal which in this instance means piglet. Once an object is returned the wind won’t move it again so it’s just a case of wandering around finding and returning all these items.

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As an adult, this game can be completed in about 30 minutes. Now I know my way around the map, I expect a second run would halve that. I’d see this as being aimed at very young, not so PC savvy kids really. It’s a whole lot simpler than the likes of The Hobbit which I would have been playing at about the stated target age, not that I ever got very far in it mind you.

I’d have enjoyed this enough I expect at the time. It wasn’t that unpleasant for half an hour even now. The game does look really nice in composite CGA with a ton of screens considering the tiny file size. All these colours from a CGA card still seems like wizardry to me and this game certainly illustrates just how well composite CGA could work. I can’t recommend the game as such these days however. Any kid of the right age range would be far more likely to be permanently glued to Minecraft which arguably has more educational value.

ReelMagic

This is going to be a quick post as it’s a tale of abject failure. When I played The Horde a few weeks back, one of the reviews mentioned a ReelMagic version of the game which got my curiosity going. The ReelMagic was an MPEG-1 decoder card released around 1993 which could be used to play back full screen video at a time when PC’s weren’t really up to the job. This card predates DVD decoders and was used in a handful of games at the time such as Return To Zork. Full motion video in gaming was still in its absolute infancy so this was cutting edge stuff on a 386 at the time. The games it supports are clearly going to be the definitive way to play them and I’ve always been intrigued so I picked one up.

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This is what arrived. It is one of the later models of the card and is considerably smaller than the originals. The first models used a VESA cable to connect to the video card in the same way as the VFX-1. This one uses a pass through cable instead just like an early 3DFX card or the later Hollywood Plus DVD decoder. It does of course use a proprietary cable which it didn’t come with. My first thought was that to test it out I could just connect my video card to one monitor, the decoder to another and see what it would look like.

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The drivers are available on the VOGONS website so I installed these. There was some protesting during installation but I got it through in the end. My PC still wasn’t having it though and hung on boot up when trying to load the drivers to memory. There is apparently a test when starting that the connection is in place so I definitely needed that cable.

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Another trip to Ebay later and I have the cable. This does indeed cure the first problem and I can boot the machine up. What I haven’t managed to do is play any video on it. Every time I try to run anything, I get an “Interrupt Not Found” error. I’ve tried various driver versions, messed about with the IRQ settings, pulled out every other card in the system, all to no avail. I’m about ready to admit defeat and beginning to think that this card just won’t work correctly in a PII – it was really intended for 386/486’s.

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You can’t win them all I suppose. What I really need is a 386 to try it out with but they are getting thin on the ground these days. If anyone has any bright ideas, let me know. Failing that, I’ll write this one off to experience.