Recent times have seen quite an uptick in the sub-genre of horror set in the wild west, colloquially referred to as the weird west genre. Along with action games and shooters like Evil West, there have been quite a few games exploring different gaming genres, like Hard West as a tactical RPG, or Weird West being a top-down immersive sim. And now we have developer Hyperstrange’s Blood West which, aside from the lack of creativity when it comes to naming the game, explores yet another genre that I personally tend to refer to as the S.T.A.L.K.E.R.-like.
Right from the outset, Blood West is trying to harken back to an older time in gaming history. While it’s got something resembling a story, there really isn’t much in the way of motivation to push you forward into actually exploring its world. In fact, its worlds are split into three distinct episodes, each with its own general aesthetic and sets of enemies. After an introductory quest and a few dialogue options, the writing in Blood West is much more focused on exploring its own setting rather than giving the player a motivation to go out into the world and brave the dangerous situations the player will find themselves in.
That’s not to say that there’s no story in Blood West, however. There’s definitely an underlying plot that’s constantly pushing you to purge the evil in the land. The game kicks off with a cutscene explaining just how you ended up being ostensibly an undead warrior, and after a short tutorial cave that teaches you basic mechanics, you’re allowed to explore nearby areas.
"The writing in Blood West is much more focused on exploring its own setting"
Blood West is one of those games where the gameplay is what will compel you to keep playing. The game follows a structure similar to GSC Game World’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series. You have medium-sized hand-crafted worlds to explore as you go about finishing side quests and taking on some of the game’s many grotesque enemies. Along the way, however, you’ll also have to do quite a bit of scavenging, since resources aren’t really easy to come across. In fact, especially early in the game, ammunition for your guns, or even arrows for your bow will be quite hard to come across. You’ll have to take your time in exploring as much as you can in order to not only find supplies, but also trinkets that you can sell off for some extra cash.
Cash has a single use in Blood West—buying supplies. But make no mistake, you’ll definitely want to get your hands on as much cash as possible. These supplies can range from something as basic as a map, bullets or arrows, to more interesting items, like notes that teach you how you can take on certain types of enemies, or even new weapons that offer up a range of different perks and special abilities. For example, an early vendor in my first playthrough had a bow available for $500 that didn’t need any arrows to shoot. This had the excellent effect of giving me a good early-game goal that I can reach with enough perseverance to gain an appropriate boost in power once I actually managed to get enough money.
Aside from loot and supplies, the primary method of progression in Blood West is its leveling and perks system. Every level up gives you perk points you can spend on bolstering up different aspects of your character. These perks are rather simple, ranging from health boosts, increased reload speed for guns, to even bonus XP gain. Despite its simplicity, these perks go quite a way in defining just what kind of character you’ll end up playing, since leveling up doesn’t really happen all that often, and you’re more likely to end up with a build specializing around a handful of aspects, be it melee and stealth, or high defense and mid-ranged weapons like shotguns.
"Along the way, however, you’ll also have to do quite a bit of scavenging, since resources aren’t really easy to come across."
Owing to the scarcity of supplies, Blood West is a game where stealth seems to be the intended way of playing, at least early on. You’re not really going to have enough ammo to take on most enemies unless you’re good enough to land consistent headshots with your weak starting revolver, so sneaking around becomes the next best thing. Each weapon has a modifier for bonus damage from stealth attacks, and you’re given a decent enough starting weapon as part of the tutorial cave anyway, so sneaking around bonking zombies on the head with an ax made up for most of my early game experience.
Stealth feels quite necessary early on too, since enemies can hit you like a truck, and you don’t really have much in the way of defense or health to start out with. Because of this, it can become easy to fall into a trap of dying way too often. The way Blood West handles death is quite interesting. It takes a few cues from soulslike games by having totems where you respawn. On the flipside, respawning or resting at these totems doesn’t necessarily mean that all enemies are going to respawn. In fact, just which enemies come back to life any time you hang out at a totem seems to be quite random. My first death felt especially surprising since enemies at a nearby train wreckage seemed to stay dead, but another one looking out at a nearby ledge—one I had also previously killed—happened to have respawned.
Aside from ending up back at your last-visited totem, Blood West also has penalties for death in the form of various curses. These curses can range from mild annoyances—like losing more health to bleed effects—to more crippling curses like health or stamina penalties. These curses can be dispelled, but even the most severe curses don’t really end up being game-breaking.
"It can become easy to fall into a trap of dying way too often."
The general gameplay loop of Blood West is quite similar to that of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games; you’re going to set out in the game’s grim open world, find supplies and loot, and if you’re lucky, you’ll end up finding a new merchant near a totem where you can offload your finds in exchange for cash, which you will then use to replenish any supplies you can, and maybe even buy an upgrade or two. Blood West almost feels like it has perfected this incredibly tight game loop, since its structure gives it the chance to throw some incredibly cool things for your next expedition. Since you’re always making constant progress in some way, you’re never really going to get stuck with repetitive level designs or enemy placements either.
Of course, it’s impossible to not mention the general look and vibe Blood West almost effortlessly nails. The game’s going for an old-school lo-fi look, reminiscent of classic first-person stealth titles like Thief, but without giving up on more modern technologies like advanced lighting. This means that the game can offer up some nice, moody settings while still managing to keep its grotesque enemies from looking too disgusting thanks to the stylistic choice to go low-polygon with its models and world. The only real fault I personally found with Blood West is that, despite its great level design, the worlds in its three episodes felt too similar, thanks in large part to the general dreariness of its atmosphere.
Blood West is an absolute treat for fans of stealth games. It offers plenty of toys to play around with, ranging from standard guns, to some fancier things, like powerful one-time use magical artifacts that can let you cast a spell. It offers plenty of options for players that like exploring, and quite encourages the act of exploration thanks to its simple-but-refined loop of scavenging for supplies as you climb up its power progression.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Excellent atmosphere; Great core gameplay; Plenty of options for different play styles; Progression system offers good variety; Fun gameplay loop.
Levels feel too similar to each other; Harsh initial difficulty.