Developed and published by Hyperstrange, Blood West is a brand-new stealth shooter set in the Wild West that is taken over by the darkness. Currently available on PC in its Early Access state, Blood West is slated for a full release later this year which will add the concluding bit to the game along with tons of polishing and improvements. While Hyperstrange is calling this game a horror stealth shooter, it is certainly more along the lines of an atmospheric stealth shooter because it is not that scary. This is our early access preview of Blood West in which we kill some demons and try not to die at the hands of an evil tree.
Blood West starts mysteriously when you are awakened by dark spirits after your burial. A mystic shaman buries you with proper spells, but the dark spells still awaken you and now you must try your best to release your soul. For this, you will take up arms, build your self and explore the Wild West that has been overtaken by the darkness. Your ultimate goal is to lift the curse that has befallen on the Frontier but in doing so, you will find your own salvation as well. Blood West is played in the form of a first-person shooter, and you will begin the game with nothing but a rusty axe as your only means of offense.
After a brief introductory sequence, the game basically lets you lose on the entire map to freely explore it at your own will. You can meet different NPCs who will tell you about what you need to do in the game but after that, everything is at your own will. You will need to figure out what needs to be done in whatever order you like. It might seem a little overwhelming at the beginning because the journals tab only details what you need to do and not how or where you have to do but as soon as you start playing the game, you will start to understand its world and how things work. There is a skill tree that allows you to build yourself in five different categories and you have to manage your inventory space which fills up pretty quickly.
There are different vendors around the entire map of the game who will help you get rid of the items that you do not need. You can also loot the bodies of dead enemies for loot. The RPG elements of Blood West are not that complex, but you have to manage your inventory and build your character up with different skills which will determine your strengths and weaknesses. The more enemies you kill, the more XP you will earn, and upon reaching certain milestones, you will level up and you can then use the XP points to purchase new skills from the skill tree. Depending on how many hours you sink into the game, you can continue to work on your build and work towards what you really need for your character in the skill tree to create a character that suits your gameplay.
The enemy design of Blood West is brilliant, and each enemy has a certain ‘terror’ vibe to it. While the AI might not be top-notch, the cool and retro design of these enemies certainly makes up for this. Each enemy has its own attack pattern, and you have to understand how the enemies work in the game. This might be a little problem because the enemies sometimes do act randomly and in a way that you might not be expecting them to behave in. In addition, the enemies hurt really hard and even the most basic enemy in the game will wipe your entire health bar within seconds. This presents an interesting challenge where you must choose between stealth and head-on confrontations. The stealth may give you more freedom over how to take out the enemies but it will take more time and going head-on will alert all nearby enemies but you can use your ranged weapons to kill them from a distance as long as you have enough ammo with you.
Combat in Blood West feels more like a timing thing, after you see an enemy and you decide to fight it, you must eliminate it quickly and swiftly. If you take too long with an enemy, your chances of survival become really low since you do not last very long against these enemies. While you are fighting these enemies, you will need to keep your distance from them which is why stealth is always a good option here. After you have spent a few hours in the game and you have a solid understanding of the game mechanics, you can try your luck and be brave with the combat but for your early hours, you will need to rely on stealth and try to avoid as many enemies as possible. Death is not as forgiving as normal FPS titles as well because every time you will die in the game, you will get a Soul Flaw, and get three of these and you will be hit with a terrible curse. You can use different potions or items to resist their effects, but they remain in the game. Considering the fact that you might be dying a lot in the game, death is one of the main things that you should also be avoiding.
I love shooting and killing things and Blood West really tempts you to kill the enemies with its cool melee and ranged weapons. It is not one of those stealth games where you have absolutely nothing to defend yourself against, but you must know how to use your weapons properly to survive. It is not a mass shooter where you just press the mouse button and your rifle will cut through waves of enemies but rather, you have to think carefully and then execute your strategy to take the enemies even if you are using your ranged weapons. The game mechanics are not built for run-and-gun scenarios and are rather focused on slow and strategic gameplay sessions. This will be further optimized for the full release of the game, but I don’t think that the core concept will change much.
The visual design of Blood West is strictly retro with the whole atmosphere, environments, enemies, and characters designed according to the lines of retro shooters. When you boot into the game for the very first time, you will be instantly reminded of the classic PC first-person shooters like Doom and Half-Life. The environments look really cool as you explore cave systems with branching paths, abandoned towns, broken barns, and plenty of other cool locations in an open Wild West setting. Each of these locations is detailed fairly well which really suits the main theme of the game. Along your journey, you will see many details like derailed trains, broken barrels, caved-in tunnels, and a lot more which add to the overall atmosphere of the game.
When it comes to the technical bits, there were a few instances where I got stuck in different things like the very first location where we start playing Blood West. I tried heading into the small hut-like structure and I was stuck in one of its walls. Luckily, I was able to get myself free and start my adventure. This happened to me in different other locations as well however nothing was really gameplay-breaking for me. The enemy AI could be improved a little and the gameplay needs a little bit of tweaking here and there. The melee weapons could be tightened up a little however the ranged weapons feel alright. The sound design is pretty solid and the game runs on smooth buttery frames as well. There are no hiccups in these terms. For an Early Access title, Blood West seems to be in pretty good shape.
In its Early Access form, Blood West is an exceptional title and although it might be too attractive for casual players, it is certainly an amazing game for seasoned players. The sinister setting and the haunting atmosphere of the game are really something and I love the retro visuals and the soundtrack equally. For its full release, the developer is promising a much more optimized version of the game along with the third chapter of the story which will also be the concluding bit of the main story of the game. The open-world design of Blood West along with the difficult enemies will make a lot of players feel like it is a soulslike game, but it has its own personality and I love it for this very reason. It is tough, it is brutal, and it is certainly not shying away from what it really is. I cannot wait to jump back into the final version of the game when it launches later this year.
Blood West is a throwback to the classic RPGs however it steps up its game in terms of difficulty when compared to them. The mix of stealth and action is pretty cool, but you will notice that it is not technically horror when compared with other horror shooters. Surely, the environment is dark and lifeless, but the horror elements are not that prominent in the game and most of the time, you will just treat it as a normal RPG with monsters as enemies. The learning curve of Blood West is slightly on the higher side and even after spending some hours into the game, you will still need to play it safe. The first two chapters of the game are pretty decent, and I am so far liking the blend of stealth with action. It is shaping up to be a good title and I will certainly be coming back to try out its future updates. If you like stealth action games and also are not worried about tackling a difficult title, Blood West will be right up your alley.