Death is pretty much an integral part of video games. Not in some fancy, pompous conceptual way, but as a standard error status in most action games. Even if the game doesn’t explicitly call it that, we’re talking about dying, about the loss of life. At the same time, the attitude towards death is rather relaxed. You die, you restart, you try again. No problem until a story beat snatches a beloved NPC from you. (Aeris! *sob*)
While some games have played with it and embraced death as a game mechanic, like Planescape: Torment, or rejected it entirely, like Fable 2, the big disruption to dying came in games featuring Dark Souls and Chums. Suddenly death was more important than just losing progress. I won’t go into detail for fear of accusations in Stealth Soulsborne articles, but if you’ve painstakingly worked your way through difficult territory to recover your lost souls/echoes/rings, you’ll know what I mean.
Thing is, it’s been a while and this approach is getting a bit stale. Did it really have to be in a tunic? Like Anor Londo, it’s beautiful but stagnant. We need a new approach to popping the old clogs. Here comes Blood West sauntering into town, sure as hell like a gunslinger. Death is a big part of the game, not least because that’s how you start out, a newly raised undead Desperado (Undeasperado) tasked by the (supposedly) benevolent spirits who have dragged you back to the land of the living collect cursed golden artifacts. Having done it once, they can do it again, making death a very temporary condition.
Perhaps surprisingly, you don’t drop anything when you die. No loot to recover, no lost experience points, nothing. On the other hand, reviving is not an easy task (apparently I don’t have extensive training in the necromantic arts) and you come back with a bug. Just a small one at first, maybe a small health debuff or penalty to your stealth ability. It gets a little bit worse every time you die, evolving into a full blown curse with much stronger effect after three deaths.
Here’s the really clever part. You won’t be stuck with the curse forever. The forces that pulled you from the grave can also remove a curse once it is fully active. There is no cost, but you must perform a task as a symbolic part of the curse-breaking ritual. They’re simple enough – kill a few of a specific enemy, pack in a bevy of headshot kills, that sort of thing, but they create a pretty comfortable gameplay loop while you patch up your seedy body and soul. Dying still hurts, as some of the enemies you felled will reappear, but it also gives you an opportunity to sell some loot and stock up on ammo, maybe go to your hideout and get yourself some other weapons to snap and try a different approach.
Simple systems that just work are common in Blood West. When sneaking, you get a visibility meter that fills up when you’re seen or heard by an enemy, with icons showing what the case is and where that enemy is located. When it’s full, you’ll be spotted. Really straightforward and I imagine a far cry (no pun intended) from the stealth mechanics seen in the triple AAA games, but it works. The same applies to the graphics, the sound effects and the voice acting. Nothing to set the world on fire, but it all fits together into a cohesive whole that even in early access absolutely gets the job done and gets it done.
That’s the rooting and the tootin, what about the shooting? Satisfactory, in a word. The weapons on offer, axes, knives, bows, shotguns and the ubiquitous six stud shooters, won’t surprise you, although there are supernatural versions with some cool abilities, but they’re a lot of fun to use. Enemies are pretty tough and blasting away will only end up eating your ammo supply. Or that you will be eaten. Or both. At the same time, they are generally vulnerable to headshots and stealth melee attacks, with even a basic revolver using standard ammo being able to take out most enemies in one shot. It makes all the little upgrades and abilities you buy as you level up really feel worthwhile.
I’m particularly in love with the ability that gives you a brief moment of slowdown when aiming your weapon’s sights. Again, it’s nothing original or earth-shattering, but in a game where a good aim makes the difference between a one-shot kill and emptying your entire cylinder on a ghoul that’s still eating your face, it is great help and feels really cool, every time.
I should probably point out, just to avoid confusion, that this isn’t Weird West, the supernatural horror western immersive sim with a strong penchant for stealth. This is Blood West, the supernatural, immersive horror western sim with a strong penchant for stealth. Okay, they’re pretty easy to tell apart since Blood West is an FPS, but that’s part of the game’s biggest problem, which is visibility.
Not only has it entered early access a few weeks before the release of a game that sounds very similar on paper and had a high-profile launch on Game Pass, but it’s a retro shooter at a time when it’s a lot retro shooters are around and it doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. I love a good immersive sim, but I’m pretty cold on direct first-person shooters these days, and it was just a friend’s recommendation that drew my attention to Blood West. That’s why this article exists, I wanted to do you a favor and draw your attention to the game. Give it a try and a few months later you can enjoy being an insufferable hipster for playing Blood West before it was cool.