The Wild West was a dangerous place, known for its shootouts and rough and tumble lifestyle. Lawlessness abound as lawmen attempted to bring civility to this untamed region. It's ripe territory for any video game setting. Throw in some undead and occult magic, and you make things even spicier. You're going to need the guts of a desperado to survive something like that, and Blood West throws you right into the middle of it. Blood West is a grim, dark, and very spooky retro FPS title that places heavy emphasis on stealth and non-linear gameplay. Going into it, I expected a fair bit of gunplay but was surprised to find it encourages many different ways to take out your foes on a quest to rid the land of evil.
The West is Indeed Bloody in Blood West
Like many retro-style FPS games, the story isn't a huge focus of this title, and you're thrown into conflict pretty fast. The backstory in Blood West is that you were buried alive for some reason, but you're back and on a quest to cleanse the West of its horrors. A spooky occult idol talks to the main character and tells you of your mission, and from there you're sent on your own into a wide, hub-like area.
You see, Blood West is part retro FPS, no doubt, but there are a lot of immersive sim elements sprinkled in it as well. The wide area is open for you to explore as you see fit, although some quests from the idol will steer you in the right direction if you're lost. There's ammo, weapons, and enemies roaming around the map with plenty of secrets if you look close enough. I liked the spacious feel of the map and it felt fun to explore. There was a lot more depth than I expected, with weaving mines and spooky tunnels.
These quests generally require you to take an item from a location and bring it back to the talking idol -- this can get a little repetitive since the objective is the same, but gameplay makes up for it. Blood West encourages stealth and going in guns blazing will only end in your death. Stealth attacks with weapons cause extra damage, so it was my aim to stay out of sight as much as possible and pick off the undead one by one as I made my way to my goal.
Stealth games are among my favorite, so I know a thing or two about different stealth mechanics. You have rudimentary systems like The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim to the much more robust mechanics of the Thief series. Right now, Blood West's stealth is a bit rough and could use some work -- it's more on the side of Skyrim than Thief in terms of complexity. Stealth is sound-based and sight-based, and a meter at the bottom depletes when you're near an enemy making a sound or within their sight. Breaking sight will deplete that meter fast, which is standard. What I don't like is how sound is measured by this meter. It's implemented in such a way that you have to take a few steps, stop, take a few more steps, stop, and so on. It doesn't feel natural for a stealth game to move and stop to magically erase any suspicion, so tweaking this mechanic is something I hope the developers consider.
As for your arsenal, there are a couple of melee weapons in Blood West, and swinging them expends stamina. This stamina gauge can deplete fast, so stealth is even more crucial. Find yourself surrounded, and it's a troublesome situation you're in. There are, of course, several guns in Blood West; specifically, a revolver, Winchester, and shotgun. I would like to see more variety in the future, but with different ammo types for each weapon, there's a bit more depth to the gunplay. Shooting guns in Blood West does feel pretty awesome though. These are not extremely accurate guns -- you know, point, click, and you hit -- like a typical boomer shooter. You need to stand still, aim your shot, and take your time. The guns sound powerful and seeing the damage they cause makes gunplay satisfying overall.
Immersive Sim Elements Spice Up Blood West
Surprisingly, there's a lot of depth to Blood West. It extends beyond the stealth and gunplay, absolutely. Inventory management is a key aspect of Blood West. You'll pick up a lot of ammo, knickknacks, and valuable supplies if you look hard enough. Dynamite can take out multiple enemies in one throw; meanwhile, there are items you can equip to enhance your stamina regeneration or health, for instance. Heck, there are even a couple of NPCs that you can buy and sell with.
There's also an upgrade system, which helps players enhance their preferred style of play. As you kill enemies and complete quests, you gain experience and can eventually level up. Spending skill points opens up a wide variety of skills to equip. Some might lean more towards melee-centered combat, where swinging a weapon expends less stamina. Others take a more survival-based approach by increasing your health or the ability to find items in the world. I prefer abilities that help me shoot, of which there were several. This degree of freedom is great and adds meaning to slaying all these enemies.
But an immersive sim isn't immersive without an incredible atmosphere. Blood West takes that low-poly style you see making a comeback all across the gaming sphere, and as usual, I'm all for this visual approach. Blood West is dark, but lighting creates a neat atmosphere in the caves and buildings you explore. Monsters are freakish and definitely contribute to the horror feel. What impressed me most about the atmosphere, however, was the sound design. The footsteps of you and various enemies sound realistic and enemies themselves let out horrific sounds. There is voice acting, whether it's from the few NPCs or from your character's quips, and it's generally well-done.
There's a lot to like about Blood West thus far, even if it's just launching in Early Access. The stealth mechanics could use some work, absolutely, but I think the developers have a strong vision and will execute it well upon Blood West's final release. Sure, it might be a bit out of season for a horror-type shooter, but when it's all done well, that doesn't matter what time of the year it is. For fans of the Wild West or immersive, open-ended shooters in general, you can't go wrong with checking out Blood West.
TechRaptor previewed Blood West in Early Access by a code provided by the developer. It is available on Steam Early Access on February 10, 2022.