Blood 2


A Bloodless FBT dies a slow slow death

Blood is my favourite game from the Doom era, the only one with a true original anti-hero – his put-downs, meta-refs and bleak outlook sounded theatrically real compared to Duke’s hyperbole or Lo-Wang’s Benny Hill impression. It referenced practically everything I was in to; it even had my Elvira calendar on the walls. It was one-part gothic horror story, one-part fanboy fun-fest but still managed to have its own identity - and a true storyline, a rarity during that FPS era. But the best thing about Blood? It still runs.

Blood 2 however, doesn’t. Even though both GOG and Steam merrily sell it. No matter how many times I change the compatibility mode, run as admin, alter the settings, I get that goddamn ‘MFC Application has stopped working’ message. Hundreds of forums, politely unhelpful Microsoft tech support plus dismissive ‘read the small print’ from GOG and I’m no nearer understanding what an MFC is and why it hates early noughties gaming. The answer is seems, is Lithtech. Monolith’s engine, intended to sit alongside id’s Tech and Epic’s Unreal powered a fair few games from this era, all of which collapse when you try to run them on modern systems. Somehow, it just doesn’t gel with later Windows and no one’s found a DOSBox-like one-size-fits-all fix.

And so, I dive into the world of free patches and fixes, following links I hope are not adware while Chrome and McAfee panic like parents spotting their kid poking his fingers in a socket. Why must I be forced to risk my PC’s health and my personal data because GOG and Steam can’t get their shit together? But someone did, and they created something that makes Blood 2 work. Good on yer.

But I don’t really know what I’m doing, even when the instructions are on the screen. I download anyway, using Internet Explorer which seems to have a laissez-faire attitude towards dangerous sites with hidden agendas. Or maybe Chrome is being too nannying. I just hope my nudes aren’t being hacked. After downloading zip-files galore, blindly opening, running and installing without the faintest idea what I’m doing, I start randomly changing everything in the launch menu, making up new and creative ways to murder the inventor of MFC each time it pops up when suddenly … it worked! I’m back in Caleb’s world!

It wasn’t good. I did play Blood 2 when it was released but I don’t recall it being this bad. This is from Monolith; they knocked out classic after classic – Blood, FEAR, NOLF 1 & 2, yet Blood 2 is a mess. This is what all that effort and pop-ups telling me my PC was infected and I need to call a toll-free number to fix it was for?

In the years since Caleb avenged his wife and friends by killing their dark god and destroying the Cabal, the remnants of Techenborg’s followers did a corporate restructure and became an omnipotent mega-corp. One day, Caleb is taking a trip on a Cabal Co. subway when some bloke called Gideon takes control and crashes the train, sending various baddies after Caleb to finish him off. Presumably Gideon is up to something and doesn’t want Caleb getting in the way. Too late now. Caleb arms himself and goes after Gideon.

There’s nothing of the original’s gothic horror tone, the plotting is confused, the art design nonsensical and it looks like it was built on a trial version of Quake. You’re often backtracking in a way that suggests padding and exits turn up in random places. What happened to levels like the Overlooked Hotel, the Friday the 13th woods, the tundra? Where’s the Elvira love, the John Carpenter refs? How does a game made five years after the original, and with that background wind up this anodyne and lazy? The original looks better than this, how is that possible? I get that Cabal has gone corporate but the suits and soldiers are boring and they have two lines of dialogue - “come out, we won’t hurt you” when they can’t see you and “You will die a slow slow death” when they can – and they have one tumble move they all do in unison. Nowhere near as much fun as the cloaked priests who looked like evil Jawas. Elsewhere we’re running into sub-par monsters which remind you of creatures you’ve fought before in better games – little grubs in the sewers latch onto victims and transform them; Headcrab-lite anyone? There’s sketchy little bird-reptile things and floating wizardy types but nothing like the stone gargoyles and that amphibious fish nightmare. There’s NCPs running about with stretchy faces and random behaviours but it’s a very empty, straight game. If it wasn’t for Caleb you’d not know you were in Blood-land.

Aww man, Caleb has been neutered too. Now he’s glib about the situation rather than the murderous manic of Blood 1. A rift has opened up and Gideon wants to control it; that’s where the creatures are from, and only Caleb with his Techenborg powers can close it, hence Gideon wanting him dead. Each time we close a portion of it, one of Caleb’s old friends appears, somehow trapped. Caleb realises this means his beloved Ophelia might be trapped in the portal too, so now he has a real reason to keep fighting – this emulates the original where he was driven by pure rage to avenge her death and now he’s driven to save her, but that’s barely explored and when they do meet they’re indifferent to each other. They just have a domestic that’s left unresolved. It’s hugely disappointing. You can play as any of the Chosen, but doing so idiotically causes all the cut-scenes to skip since you can’t be Ophelia and save her – way to manage your narrative. It could have worked as a reverse of Blood 1 where Caleb brings them all back, but it’s plot is one of many signs that B2 is an unfinished game.

Blood supposedly went through a torturous development process but even with the basic level design, confusing plotting and chaotic feel, this isn’t Blood. It’s not just the look it’s the feel; it’s missing the narcissistic tone, the clever references - the original Blood bled horror-geek, you knew the devs were just like you, watched the same films, listened to the same soundtracks, had the same t-shirts, fancied the same Elvira. I don’t know who Blood 2 is, but I wouldn’t have a pint with them. Even after all that mucking about, I can’t really be bothered with this. When I face-off against dismembered Evil Dead 2 hands, it’s too little too late, it just reminds me of what could have been.

I rage quit, then convince myself I'm being hasty - this is Blood, I will force myself to love it. But when I try to load it up again, the final boss, MFC Application returns and despite not having changed anything I can’t get B2 to run again. The combined rage at MFC and B2’s crappiness mean I can’t be bothered to keep trying. Rage Quit. And I bought this off Steam and GOG when I could have downloaded for illegal-free? FFS.

As much as I love them, I blame GOG and Steam for not getting their act together and ensuring the games they sell will run on modern rigs. Those platforms have brought back many a good old game, but it’s no good absolving themselves with a disclaimer about requirements – who has Win98 anymore? They need to step it up or stop selling it. Retro games need retro attention; if GOG are still ‘Good Old Games’ they need to make them Playable Good Old Games. They’re missing a trick not creating their own emulators. If they did a LithtechBox or a MFCBox they’d clean up. Short of going on ebay and buying rigs for each windows iteration I’m out of luck and that’s a shame. How is it even possible that I have an emulator that lets me play SPECTRUM games on WINDOWS 10 and I can't play this? If GOG and Steam don’t start future-proofing their old games they won’t have a future either.

I can’t say I was enjoying Blood 2; it’s a huge, bitter disappointment but I would have liked to finish it; I can’t even get the Nightmare Add-On levels to run, where the Chosen sit around a campfire and tell tall tales which Caleb winds up stuck in. That sounds more like the original Blood but I’ll never get to find out. Damn you MFC; it's a real frustration but the real Rage Quit is GOG and Steam, leaving it up to enterprising modders to do their work for them while I’m left to download files from dodgy sites. If you see me naked on the net forward it to Steam.

1998 | Developer, Monolith Productions | Publisher GT Interactive

Platforms; Win (Steam/GOG)