Blood West Review

Blood West header

The combination of horror and Western is a surprisingly untapped resource. Aside from notable exceptions like Red Dead Undead Nightmare and Bone Tomahawk, this mixture of genres doesn’t get used anywhere near as often as it should. Hyperstrange’s Blood West is the latest to take advantage of the heady mix of high noon and darkest night and does so in a way that surprised me many times.

Having seen early previews of Blood West, I had somehow convinced myself it was a boomer shooter and went in expecting a high octane experience. What I got was a very different beast altogether, much more in keeping with immersive sims like Thief and Deus Ex, with a dash of Soulslike for seasoning.

Combat is a big part of the game, but going in all guns blazing will generally result in a quick death and respawn. This respawn mechanic replaces the traditional save scumming or checkpointing that often characterises first person shooters and ensures that there is a sense of consequence for your actions and mistakes, whilst managing not to be punishing to the point of frustration. This is especially welcome given how fragile you are, especially in the early stages of the game.

Blood West headshot combat

In fact, you’re already dead when you first start the game, only to find yourself brought back to life by a mysterious totem. After a brief tutorial introduces you to the basic controls and the game’s mixture of stealth, melee, and gunplay you emerge from a cave to explore an expansive open world. The game has three chapters which sounds short until you realise that the map for each is large enough to accommodate a smaller game in and of itself. Each level feels like a distinct campaign, but the overall effect is highly nostalgic to me as it evokes memories of the original Doom and Quake releases.

The nostalgia is maintained by the graphical style which has a great take on the low poly pixel aesthetic. Whilst clearly higher resolution than the titles that have inspired it, Blood West has a retro feel that fits nicely with both the immersive sim aspects and the period setting. Buildings have a rough and ready look that feels appropriate for the Wild West and foliage has a chunky style that I enjoyed. The various enemies are also excellently designed as they range from evil bandits to giant hulking abominations. Occasional music is nice, although mostly you’ll be accompanied by ambient sounds, and the voice acting features the legendary Stephen L Russell, cementing the immersive sim vibe, with a supporting cast that lean into that authentic olde West effect.

Each of the three chapters has a series of goals and submissions to complete, all of which will require that you scour the environment (a mark on the map gives you a rough area to start) and make your way past hordes of enemies either sneakily or aggressively. Many objectives involve finding a small object hidden somewhere whilst others send you looking for a NPC who may in turn give you new side quests. There isn’t an overwhelming number of things to do, but the size of the levels means that each one can take a substantial amount of time to finish successfully, especially given the fact that some enemies respawn upon your death.

Blood West shotgun

While stealth and melee make for a viable approach I found ranged combat to be more enjoyable. Having a melee weapon equipped in a secondary slot can then be useful for tense reloads or times when you are trapped in a corner, especially as some special axes and sabres have very effective attributes and perks. The same is true for numerous bows and guns, with nice range of options to suit different playstyles. Revolvers, shotguns, rifles, and high calibre buffalo rifles offer alternative approaches and combining special guns with level perks and accessories can lead to some powerful builds.

I spent a large part of the game using a magical bow that used a small percentage of health instead of arrows and combined this with HP regen accessories to offset the self-inflicted damage. Sneaking around and picking off weaker enemies with headshots was always satisfying, whilst heavier foes could be isolated and taken out with shotgun or, much later, the buffalo rifle. Guns also have different ammo types with standard, flame, silver, and gold options. Silver is necessary for ghost enemies, whilst others are susceptible to fire.

Summary
Blood West is a great addition to the horror western genre with level design and a range of approaches that would be fitting for an immersive sim. The chapter bosses can be a little underwhelming, but after nearly 30 hours spent in this world, I highly recommend you do the same. Just don’t expect to come back alive…
Good
  • Huge open areas to explore
  • Vast range of weapon styles
  • Challenging combat
Bad
  • Underwhelming bosses
8
Written by
Just your average old gamer with a doctorate in Renaissance literature. I can mostly be found playing RPGs, horror games, and oodles of indie titles. Just don't ask me to play a driving game.