Blood West Review – A satisfyingly challenging stealth FPS dripping in style and atmosphere

Gare – Sunday, December 10, 2023 11:18 PM
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When I first laid eyes upon developer Hyperstrange’s retro-style FPS Blood West, I thought it’d be another “boomer shooter” type of game, with endless waves of enemies, non-stop action and gameplay reminiscent of old classics like Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior. Which I would’ve been perfectly fine with, mind you. So, when I actually started playing it and realized it’s more of an FPS/RPG hybrid with stealth elements, a so-called immersive sim in the vein of Deus Ex and the like, I was pleasantly surprised – especially when the game bared its metaphorical fangs at me with its challenging difficulty. Oh, and did I mention the protagonist is voiced by Stephen Russell of Thief fame? Suddenly, I was in nostalgia heaven, and it was Garrett’s voice talking to me through the clouds.

It’s a long way down...

But maybe I should’ve read the Steam page first, as the developers do describe Blood West as a stealth FPS in the vein of Thief – you’re dropped into a level (a relatively open-ended zone) and then you can sort of just... do whatever you like. Naturally, there are objectives to complete, but you can wander off and explore other parts of the map as well, finding hidden loot and juicy secrets in abandoned saloons, crumbling mine shafts and various other places lost to time. In terms of Blood West’s visuals, if you grew up with (or just played and enjoyed) FPS games from 20+ years ago, you’ll feel right at home – everything from the level design to textures and enemies has that unique, late 90s/early 2000s coziness to it, for lack of a better expression. It’s like Mom’s homemade cooking, just in video game form. Does that make sense? I hope it does.

Earlier, I called the game an FPS/RPG hybrid, but where does the RPG part come into play? Well, you do have a grid-based, Diablo-like inventory, for starters. And killing monsters or completing objectives gives you experience points, which can be used to level up your character and gain new perks that help you in various ways. Some of these perks will make you faster or more resistant to damage, while others are a bit more niche: you can gain alcohol resistance to not be as affected by the negative effects of booze (drinking does give you temporary bonuses), or you can buy a perk that slows down time when you aim down your iron sights, and another one that makes it easier to collect arrows from defeated enemies without breaking them in the process. Which ones you get will depend largely on your personal needs and play style, so for example, if you find yourself being bad at picking your battles (like me) and end up having to run away from monsters as they chase you across the wild west (like me), you might want to grab the perk that makes your lungs stronger, thus improving your running speed even when you run out of stamina. If perks weren’t enough, you can also stock up on various beneficial items – drinks, talismans and other knick-knacks that will grant permanent bonuses when equipped or used; or, if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can also ask for a temporary blessing at a nearby totem pole. These are all things that come into play when exploring the world and planning out your strategy.

Live, die, live again

Now, when I called Blood West’s difficulty challenging, I meant it. Ammo, healing items and various other resources, though not brutally limited, must still be cautiously conserved if you wish to survive, and more importantly, enemies in the game hit hard. Really hard. Early on, when I was still learning the ropes of the wild west as a fresh-faced undead cowboy (oh yeah, you’re an undead cowboy, by the way), I would have trouble landing headshots, which also meant I ended up frequently alerting all the monsters in the vicinity to my presence... which often didn’t end well. Most creatures in Blood West are fast, relentless and hit like a truck, meaning only a few hits can be enough to potentially kill you. As such, you’ll have to hunt smart and figure out the unique strengths and weaknesses of each foe: some are better approached with a melee weapon, others have a weakness to silver bullets, while again others are best picked off from a distance. You’ll meet nasties spitting acid, floating ghost skulls, gun-toting birdmen and countless others beasts, each of which must be handled with the appropriate strategy, which makes Blood West less of a bloody, Quake-like grind and more like a slow, methodical FPS where caution, advance planning, as well as the mastery of the tools at your disposal is key. Which is immensely satisfying, but can also be somewhat frustrating while you’re still in your early hours, as the game does implement a few Soulslike elements as well: for instance, every single death gives your character an increasingly more powerful curse (a random debuff of some kind, essentially) that can only be lifted by performing specific tasks in the world, and certain enemies will also respawn every time you die or rest at a campfire to replenish your health – it’s worth noting, however, that this system is far more lenient than Dark Souls’ bonfires, as not every single enemy will be revived when you rest, and many will indeed stay dead... for a time, anyway. Which once again leads you to weigh your options – do I head back and heal, resulting in enemies getting respawned, or do I accept the potential risks and push deeper into this cave/mine shaft/building, hoping to find the quest item I’m here for? These are the kind of questions I kept asking myself throughout my playthrough, and it lent itself to a very tense, but also very satisfying game loop.

Bloody good fun

So, who should play Blood West? Well, preferably a lot of people, because it really is a fun, well-crafted little game. With its dark, tense atmosphere, retro-style visuals and pleasant fusion of FPS and RPG elements, it’s clearly been made with fans of oldschool immersive sims in mind – if you’re into mildly challenging, methodical gameplay that focuses on discovery and exploration in the vein of Thief, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Deus Ex, you’ll want to give Blood West a shot. Fans of Soulslikes will also find a lot to enjoy here, with various different enemies that require different strategies, a “bonfire” system that revives certain enemies when you rest or die, as well as a curse system where every death makes you progressively weaker, thus incentivizing you to get better at the game and weigh your options in terms of how much danger you can take on at once – otherwise, you’ll have to deal with nasty (albeit removable) debuffs and some respawned enemies. All in all, Blood West has been a very pleasant surprise for me that managed to tick off a lot of my favorite checkboxes, so if what I’ve described above sounded exciting to you, I do implore you to check it out.

Blood West is available on Steam.

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