Duke Nukem 3D was a love letter to action movies. Shadow Warrior was a send up to media coming across the pacific, from the hyper violent anime of the 90s to the old kung fu aciton movies. Hell, even Doom can be seen as a tribute to the development team’s days spent playing Dungeons and Dragons while listening to blaring heavy metal. Back in the 90s, nearly every big shooter was an homage to some form of popular media. So it was only inevitable for the fast-paced gorefests to eventually tackle the rising star that is the every popular horror genre, and Blood just nailed it.
Blood is a revenge story about a man coming back from the dead to avenge his own unjust death, a popular storytelling trope in horror perhaps best known from the Friday the 13th franchise. Caleb, our protagonist, is an undead cowboy voiced by Stephan Weyte with a wicked sense of humor and penchant for one liners, not unlike another horror icon, Freddy Krueger. By combining the gimmicks of two of the genre’s most legendary contemporary characters, Caleb manages to pay clear tribute to his influences while still having an identity of his own thanks to the cowboy motif and his penchant for firearms.
But it’s more than just Caleb that makes up Blood‘s clear love of all things horror. The game is full of references, to the point where nearly every level is packed with references, some more overt than others. For example, lets take a look at E1M1 – Cradle to the Grave. The level kicks off with Caleb directly quoting deadite Ash from Army of Darkness, and throughout the level you can stumble upon the tombstone of Eric Draven from The Crow, fight through a funeral home with a name lifted straight from that of Phantasm’s, destroy metal drums stuffed with human bodies not unlike those in Return of the Living Dead, all while fighting robed cultists and axe-wielding zombies moaning for brains. And beyond just that, you can find quotes or cameos from all sorts of horror stories, from the more iconic like Frankenstein or Jaws to lesser known horror flicks like It’s Alive and Dead Calm.
In fact, the references go much farther than just a quote here and a cute cameo there. You have entire levels based off of horror movies, from a hedge maze eerily reminiscent to that of The Shining‘s, to a zombie-infested mall ripped straight out of the Dawn of the Dead, and a lakeside camp level literally called Crystal Lake that features a decapitated head surrounded by candles while the ambient track echoes “ki ki ki ma ma ma.” Combine this with Caleb’s constant stream of horror one-liners while heads are exploding left and right, splattering gore everywhere.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Blood‘s a fine shooter in its own right. Even if it was drenched in the brown hues of middle eastern combat I’d still probably play it. However, it’s just this simple little touch that adds a unique identity to this game, and no other title in recent memory has even come close to having this much love for the horror genre stuffed into it. While Blood II: The Chosen may have improved some elements of the Blood formula, its lack of an identity steeped deep in horror really detracts from the overall experience. While the series has been out of commission for quite some time, hopefully some day soon Caleb will live again.