Reviewed by: Joe Cabrera
Immersion, stealth and horror. Three of my absolute favourite things to find in a video game. Blood West promises me all three in the same game! Blood West is a brand new game that has just entered early access this month. As such please bear in mind that the game is still in development and things I talk about in this review could be subject to change down the line. It's also worth noting that Blood west isn't a finished game yet. As in, there are still two large content updates to be released in the future which will allow you to progress and finish the game. Yet there is still a good 6 or so hours of gameplay to be had in this early access version.
Blood West describes itself as an immersive Wild West first-person shooter. You play as a revenant desperado who takes on twisted demons and eldritch horrors on the journey to rid yourself of the curse you have been placed under. Stuck between life and death after being resurrected by the Totum of Souls, you must navigate a wonderfully pixilated, wild west themed world of horrors. Avoiding and stalking prey and collecting cursed items to trade for a peaceful death.
With all the info out of the way, let's get into the gameplay... About that, Blood West isn't exactly what it says on the tin. Have you ever had a microwaveable lasagne, and on the front of the box it looks like an immaculate piece of Italian cuisine but when you dish it onto your plate it's just barely recognisable as a lasagne? Well, blood west is a bit like that. It's marketed as being a game based around immersion, stealth and horror. Immersive? Yes, it has its moments, but a quick search for a definition of video game immersion will tell you that immersion is achieved through a combination of good game flow, fully developed storylines, and extreme realism made possible by cutting-edge graphics. All three of which are a little undercooked in Blood West. At least in its current form. Stealth? It would be a lie to say stealth didn't play a big part in this game but again, a microwaved lasagne is still a lasagne. Just not the one on the box. The stealth mechanics are at best a slim representation of what you would expect from a stealth-based game in 2022. There is a sound meter that displays how much enemies can hear you but they never, ever think to check up on said noise until the meter is ridiculously full. So as long as you aren't directly in their field of view and you stand still the sound meter will deplete and it makes for a very plane and easy experience when trying to stay undetected. The AI are also incredibly docile and clearly still a work in progress. For example, I can sneak up on an enemy, who can hear the pitter-patter of my soft footsteps approaching them, I can take out my double-barrel shotgun and obliterate him with it. Yet the enemy just a few metres away won't be alerted by the sound of the gun firing. Yet as I approach that enemy the sound meter tells me they can hear my footsteps. I'm hoping this is something that will be fixed in the future because it undermines stealth gameplay and immersion. Finally horror? No. Calling this game a horror is the same as calling Doom a horror. Yes, the game is set in a hellscape, there's blood, there are guts, but is it a scary game? No. It won't keep you up at night.
That being said, if you look past what the game says it's supposed to be, to what it actually is. What you will find is more like an action RPG, and thankfully, a pretty good one. Blood West is set in a large open area and to progress through the game, you take on quests and side quests. Doing so will gain your character XP which can be exchanged for skills and abilities that affect gameplay. You know, exactly like an action RPG game. As you play through the campaign you will have to manage your inventory and as you progress you will acquire better equipment through means of looting, exploration and trading. You know, exactly like an action RPG.
Whilst the game isn't souls-like per se, Blood West has borrowed on some of the soul mechanics. Mainly in the death system. If you die in Blood West you will respawn with a random debuff to some of your skills. Continuous deaths will result in a curse that will require you to complete tasks if you want to lift them. It is a welcome addition to the game in my opinion. It adds a level of difficulty to the game that keeps gameplay interesting and differentiated.
The best part of the game for me was the gunplay. There's something about the aesthetic of the game that makes you want to pick up weapons and fly into combat guns blazing. I don't know if it's because the game reminds me of FPS roguelike Immortal Redneck, but anyway, you can't do that in Blood West. You need to take your time with shooting and you need to pick your battles wisely. Enemies that are aware of your presence are erratic in their movement and make them difficult targets to hit. Enemies are also reasonably spongy so they will take a lot of damage before they are killed. This means you have to consider approach and distance to give yourself enough time to take an enemy down and/or give yourself chance to reload during combat. Hits from enemies deal lasting damage as well because your character can bleed out if wounds are not treated. It makes combat tense and exciting.
There are a few build issues but I'm not going to spend much time on them because of course the game is in early access and this is still only a first build and I would expect this sort of thing to be ironed out before the official release. To quickly cover some of them though, the game has a few performance issues. The game seems to stutter if you turn around too quickly. The graphics options are incredibly limited, and the AI often gets stuck in the game's geometry.
To summarise then, Blood Weest is a good first step for developers Hyperstrange. I had some good moments and I had some bad moments with the game. Thankfully more good than bad I would say. However, as I already mentioned I wouldn't step into this game expecting an immersive/stealth/horror experience. The game would be better represented as an action RPG and lays a good foundation for what the full release could be. The game is more like a long demo though, and it is obvious that things are still in the works here. You won't find a polished experience but there is still fun to be had for sure.