Blood West is a game that feels like the precursor to something truly amazing: an experience whose individual pieces aren’t necessarily the strongest but fit together into a compelling whole.

Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. Blood West is an FPS game developed and self-published by HyperStrange, a Polish studio whose prior output includes Postal: Brain Damaged, Crossbow: Bloodnight, Elderborn, and a handful of other games that involve shooting things. HyperStrange has certainly developed a signature style over the years, with their emphasis on violent combat and retro visuals carrying over into some of their most prominent titles.

But where Blood West differs from HyperStrange’s other games lies within its pacing. And its setting. And its role-playing elements. And its length. And a few other things.

The Story of an Undead Gunslinger

Blood West Camp

Touted as an “immersive stealth FPS” on its respective Steam store page, Blood West tells the story of the Undead Gunslinger — a nameless man who is forcibly brought back from the dead by a mysterious supernatural force. Now doomed to roam the Earth on the whims of a higher power, the Undead Gunslinger is tasked with bringing peace to what remains of the Barren Lands, a weird and wild western setting full of horrible abominations and dilapidated civilizations. The game is split into three distinct chapters — the Canyon, the Swamps, and the Barren Lands — with each one featuring unique characters, enemies, weaponry, environments, and an overall atmosphere that, despite being purposefully disconnected, provides a gradual sense of escalating tension. We won’t spoil any major reveals for you here, but you’d be right to question the motives of those you interact with.

The game itself, however, is surprisingly open-ended. Though each chapter shares the end goal of killing a monolithic boss, the way you get there is spread across a giant area loaded with secrets, underground passages, and a handful of notable landmarks. You’re free to explore the area at your own leisure, and you’re even free to do so without the use of a map. That’s right: unless you either purchase or find a map, you’re left to your own devices in navigating the sprawling wastes. Unlike other games, however, you’ll have to stash the map into your inventory.

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Owing to Blood West’s influences from the Thief and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchises — with Stephen Russell of the former voicing the Undead Gunslinger — there’s a significant emphasis on planning and deliberation versus taking the world on with reckless abandon. This is doubly so when you consider your inventory. You’re only able to bring as much as you can carry, including your weapons, ammunition, healing items, and so on. Thus, you’re encouraged to pick a specific playstyle, with maybe a backup weapon that (preferably) doesn’t need any ammo. Items related to quests or progression, thankfully, don’t require any inventory space.

Weapons, Enemies, and Stealth

Blood West Headshot

Being a gunslinger, sans life, the Undead Gunslinger can wield a variety of weapons ripped straight out of the romanticized frontier. Revolvers, lever-action rifles, double-barreled shotguns, bows, arrows, hatchets, and a handful of one-handed and two-handed melee weapons make up Blood West‘s modest arsenal. Legendary weapons with special status effects can also be found, with their looks and their practical utilization making them well worth hunting down. But don’t get cocky.

Fighting things in Blood West is a risky proposition for more reasons than you may think. When attacking up close, enemies can swipe off up to a third of your total health in a single attack, often leaving you bleeding on top of it. Practically every single ranged enemy, especially those packing heat, will “lead” you in their attacks. If you’re trying to dodge to the right, they’ll perform a series of mathematical calculations in as little as a second in order to line their shot up exactly where you’re going to be. At points, it borders on being ludicrous. The same can said for how much damage you actually inflict with your weapons. Anything short of a headshot, and you may as well be tossing a loose sheet of paper at your enemies.

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Some of the enemy designs here are as intimidating as they are fun. The Prodigal Daughters, prominently featured in several pieces of key art for Blood West, are narcissistic femme fatales, touting their own greatness while shuffling along on high heels and lugging a shotgun around in their single non-deformed appendage. The corpulent Skin Collectors are monstrous mounds of flesh and fat, sprinting along on stumpy legs with rusted axes and knives at the ready. Vendigos and Death Stalkers are hulking beasts tainted by dark magic, capable of outrunning and outgunning you without careful preparation. Even something as simple as the game’s zombies, aka the Risen Dead, are given a fun alternate form in the Half-Risen Dead: a creature entombed in a protective casing made out of a rotting coffin. In many cases, fighting these monstrosities head-on is the quickest way to meet an early death.

Thus, stealth isn’t amazing, but it’s at least functional. Mostly. Utilizing a combination of hearing and eyesight, a yellow meter at the bottom of your screen will gradually fill up if an enemy is aware of your presence. As long as you stop making noise and remove yourself from their line of sight, it’ll go down. Bear in mind that this meter is universal: if you’re traversing an area full of multiple enemies, you’ll have to keep all of their senses in mind, as alerting one monster will likely set off the others. With just how many monsters you fight, however, stealth isn’t something you can easily ignore. Not that you can’t, but you’ll have a Hell of a time getting by without it. Aside from getting the drop on your foes, you’re often given damage bonuses for attacking from the shadows, especially with melee weapons. Ammo is as valuable a commodity as gold in Blood West, so it’s worth putting some time into.

Supplies, Inventory, and Health

Blood West Inventory

Speaking of gold, not all encounters with the local fauna end in oozing wounds and bullet casings. As scarce as they are, you can find a handful of “friendly” faces strewn across the Barren Lands, offering a chest to store your extra items, a place to rest your weary head, and even a storefront to buy and sell supplies. Some may even offer odd jobs for some extra cash or other huge surprises, the contents of which we won’t spoil for you here.

You’re highly encouraged to scrounge and scrim as much as you can, as getting by with just standard items is more difficult than you’d think. Basic healing items like bandages are effective to a point, and the same can be said for the varied bottles of alcohol and other miscellaneous concoctions you ingest. You can even smoke cigars, though you’ll suffer a bit after you do so. However, you’ll come to depend on artifacts more than anything else. With three slots in your inventory devoted to them, artifacts are special items that drastically modify the Undead Gunslinger’s abilities. Some are found off of dead enemies, some are tucked away in hidden passageways, but all offer a slew of upgrades, drawbacks, and other unique effects.

For instance, one may grant you invisibility at full health, with the drawback being that it can’t be removed. Another may give you passive health regeneration and even the ability to fix bleeding wounds once your stamina meter fills completely — at the cost of bleeding out whenever you use too much stamina. These items can be incredibly powerful, and once you’re lucky enough to find the right combination of items, you’ll be able to breeze through the game’s challenges with relative ease.

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Though the Undead Gunslinger is essentially immortal, that’s not to suggest that he can’t actually die. He can. And it’ll hurt a lot whenever it happens. Though you don’t lose any of your physical resources upon dying, you do end up with a dreaded soul flaw: a persistent debuff that affects one of your stats, with subsequent deaths eventually elevating it to a full-on curse. Mind you, being cursed doesn’t prevent another curse from being stacked onto your plate. There’s even an achievement for clearing a chapter with a total of four separate curses active at once, meaning you’d have to die a total of 12 times. Yikes.

You can remove these curses through the use of a rare item or through accomplishing a small quest, but it’s still an incredible inconvenience. Given that you’re forced to respawn at the last place you slept at and run back to where you died, it can be a little frustrating.

Is Blood West Worth Checking Out?

Blood West Enemies

Doubly so when you consider just how long Blood West is. We’re not talking about something that’ll take just a few hours, no; Blood West is gargantuan, easily one of the biggest games HyperStrange has put out in their brief existence. On one hand, it’s commendable that they’ve crafted such a gargantuan experience for such a modest price point. On the other, it’s, at minimum, a 20 hour adventure that’ll tread familiar ground fairly quickly. The core of what’s there is fine, but you’ll find that the first chapter gives you some pretty broad strokes in terms of what to expect later on.

Thankfully, you’ll have some variety in the form of your character build. Blood West incorporates an RPG progression system where, by completing quests and killing enemies, you can level up and gain skill points to put into a number of different skills. These include typical staples like higher health and stamina, more damage with your weapons, or a handful of unique skills relating to slowing down time, dealing higher damage proportional to your missing health, and recovering hatchets and arrows more reliably. You’ll hit a point by chapter three where the typical power creep found in RPGs makes you incredibly powerful, but the threat presented by your foes doesn’t necessarily make you feel like a god. Instead, the playing field feels more evened out. The skills you put points into leading up to chapter three will weigh more heavily on your overall playstyle throughout chapters one and two than the final stretch as a whole.

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Is Blood West ultimately worth trying, then? Is it worth trudging through the decayed sands of a broken world, left with only a handful of faceless voices to trust in a sea of death and decay? Does Blood West justify its immense length with meaningful gameplay and fun exploration?

As we’ve said, sure, though Blood West isn’t necessarily a perfect game at its core, there’s enough going on here that forms a compelling experience when looking at all the pieces as a whole. Its core ideas being quickly established may actually work in its favor. If you enjoy what you find, the game will eventually find ways to expand upon that. If not, you’re given a chance to bail out before you get too invested. It was a bold step for HyperStrange, and given its modest development cycle in Steam’s Early Access program, it’s a positive sign that the studio can handle bigger and bolder projects.

Blood West is an iterative game, in a way. One where you can see the inklings of something truly great, albeit in a roughened, unpolished form. What’s here is fun and functional, and we’d be more than happy to recommend it. But, we’re ultimately more curious to see where HyperStrange can go from here as a result.

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