Now I’ve played countless shooting games over the years, but in the early days of the FPS you can’t argue that the PC had it best. All time classics like Half-Life, Deus Ex and Thief evolved the genre beyond the running and gunning of DOOM, and paved the way for the modern games we all know and love. Blood West feels like a throwback to that golden age of FPS games, but with some modern design elements that I just love.
In Blood West you wake up in the middle of a barren wasteland, with no idea how you got there. Chatting with one of the locals reveals that you were apparently dead and buried until very recently, and some sort of dark magic means you just won’t stay that way. Now that you’re here there are plenty of suspicious locations in the desert that could be worth checking out to find out more, so you head out to do just that and might happen to find some loot along the way.
As this is an FPS, you’d better believe you’ll be doing a decent amount of shooting. Fortunately the gunplay feels great, with perfect controls on mouse and keyboard (and perfectly reasonable controls on Steam Deck with a bit of tweaking too), and lovely chunky shotguns and revolvers to fire. Just like the classics you even have the ability to lean around corners, which I always appreciate in an FPS.
Running in all guns blazing won’t get you far though in Blood West, because the enemies are ridiculously tough and there are loads of them. Stealth is often the best way to tackle a situation, and armed with your trusty rocks you can distract the baddies and get around almost any horde of monsters. I’m not always the biggest fan of being sneaky in video games, but the way it works in Blood West is fantastic. There’s a little detection meter that appears when an enemy is starting to notice you, and it starts to fill up based on if it can see or hear you. This meter usually gives you just enough time to retreat if you’re going to be spotted, and means you always know exactly how well you’re hiding. Sometimes you’ll need to do more than hide to make it through an area though, and once you’ve managed to lure an enemy away from the pack you can unleash a sneak attack which deals critical damage.
After a brief tutorial shows you how to shoot and sneak, you’re let loose on a huge open map to go and explore with every direction containing all sorts of ghoulish creatures ready to kill you. The feeling of freedom is just wonderful, with no wrong way to go or wrong way to play the game. Early on I decided I needed to find more loot so I could get a better weapon and a map, so I spent a few runs away from camp going to quiet areas and collecting monster teeth to sell to the merchant. Eventually I felt ready to explore a wild west town, and was able to find some cool new artefacts and gold while surviving a few acid spitting mutants that would’ve battered me earlier.
The map design is probably the most impressive aspect of Blood West, with dozens of branching paths and underground caves leading to any destination you want to go to. It almost feels like a Souls game, where you’ll slowly learn the best routes and learn where the trouble lies and how to deal with it. In early access not all these big environments are available to play yet, but there are three planned for the full release that I can’t wait to fully explore.
Similarly to the Souls games, Blood West is also willing to punish you for dying. When you die you’re resurrected back at the last camp you activated with all your current gear, but are given a nasty curse as a punishment for your failure. At first this is only losing a small percentage of our maximum health, but if you get three curses the punishment really amps up. There are a few ways to avoid or cure the curses, but regardless Blood West is not a game where you should take death lightly.
Even with a few curses you’ll always be getting stronger as you explore the desert. Getting new equipment from all the merchants lurking around camps will help with that, but you also gain experience which will level you up and let you use skill points to unlock handy new abilities from faster stamina regeneration to easier sneaking. You’ll also find artefacts as you explore the world that you can equip to gain some powerful effects too, like resisting acid or even preventing a curse when you die.
I can’t finish my early access impressions of Blood West without mentioning the visuals. They’re the perfect throwback to early PC FPS games, and suit the game so well. The monster designs are made so much more sinister just from being a little bit more blocky, and for Blood West in particular I wouldn’t want it to look any other way.
Blood West has taken all the best elements of classics like Thief and STALKER to create an oppressive and compelling FPS. The sinister wild west setting is truly wonderful, and the way it handles stealth is ideal for someone like me who has always struggled with sneaking. It’ll likely be too hard for some to cope with, but if you’re in the market for an old school shooting experience then you’re in for a treat.
Blood West is in early access on PC via Steam now.