Blood West would be a terrible parent, but it’s a great immersive sim. You barely get your bearings by the time it turns you loose in a desert frontier crawling with monsters, little more than a rusty axe and revolver to your name. It’s a first-person shooter that’s big on stealth and light on instructions. Bravery is measured in bullets, your life is measured in gold, and dying is just part of the fun.
I start Blood West as I mean to go on: with the attention span of a pigeon at a food court, and spending most of my time presumably looking like a crab as I crouch-walk around. You play a gunslinger brought back to life by evil spirits who’d like you to return their favor by collecting cursed objects. Immensely grateful that I get to live through this horror, I blow most of my starting money on a map and pick a random direction after exiting the brief tutorial.
There’s a merchant camp to the north, but a group of undead beasts plodding along nearby catches my eye. I leveled up during the tutorial and the first perk I bought with my three allotted skill points improves monster loot by 50%, and I’m eager to test it out. Two hours pass in an instant as I continue onto a cave, a rickety bridge guarded by beastmen with boxes on their heads (I’m not sure why), then the long way around to that merchant champ. I eventually end up at a ruined church hiding some kind of satanic ritual and a Wendigo which gets two flaming shotgun shells from yours truly.
(Whispering) I’m a cowboy, baby
Stealth is essential in Blood West. It’s the glue that holds Blood West together, and I knew I’d like it the moment I saw its sneak meter. Enemy awareness grows gradually when you’re well-hidden, and there are clear indicators for when you’ve been seen or heard. You’ll get spotted quickly if you stomp around or enter an enemy’s line of sight, but I’ve found the stealth system pretty forgiving, especially after getting a perk that improves my sneaking ability by 25%. Forgiving is exactly what stealth should be. Enemies aren’t so stupid that I feel patronized, but neither are they hawk-eyed geniuses who instantly alert the entire hemisphere the second they spot my big toe sticking out of cover.
You don’t have a lot of health so a fair fight with even the weakest monsters can quickly leave you splattered all over the walls. You’ve got guns, sure, but some of the monsters do too, and some of them can also shoot flaming skulls, which feels like cheating. Whether you use guns or bows or melee weapons – the game’s freeform skill tree has bonuses for all three – you always want to be the one doing the ambushing. Immersive sims are fundamentally about screwing up, and Blood West gives you some wiggle room to screw up without instantly dying.
Fumbling the stealth approach has led to some of my most exciting moments. I have fond memories of strolling right into the basement of the aforementioned church thinking there were no enemies nearby, only for a conga line of birdmen and clawed beasts to pop out. I immediately hauled ass back into a tunnel and up a ladder to pick off the gun-toting birdmen at range. After soaking up more bullets than most doctors would recommend, I said screw it and lobbed the one stick of dynamite I’d purchased earlier just in case, swiftly turning the crowd into a red paste and wondering why the hell I didn’t open with that. That is grade-A imm-sim nonsense, right there, and I want more of it.
Consider me fully immersed
Stealth isn’t mandatory, however, and I can feel myself getting steadily more Rambo as I upgrade my guns. The revolvers, rifles, and shotguns of Blood West feel and sound great, and bullets are so precious that you’ve got to make every shot count. You can equip a large weapon like a rifle or an axe plus a small weapon like a revolver or a knife, and bringing the right gear to a fight makes a big difference. I usually keep two guns equipped – can’t be too careful – but I’ll frequently pull an axe out of my inventory for stealth kills to save ammo. Inventory management will feel familiar to Stalker or Resident Evil fans, and it’s just detailed enough to make looting interesting without getting out into the weeds like the hyper-realistic survival games that make my eyes glaze over.
If anything, Blood West is an anti-survival game. Death is a fundamental part of my new lease on unlife, as a charismatically voiced totem so frequently reminds me. Every time you die, you gain a Soul Flaw which probably does something terrible. I honestly don’t know what, not because I haven’t died – I have, a lot – but because I’ve built into loot traits that have given me a steady supply of gold coins that prevent one Soul Flaw apiece. My soul really doesn’t need any more flaws, thank you very much, so I try not to go anywhere without one of these coins. This is another cool way that my build and play style has shaped my playthrough, which is exactly what I want from an immersive sim.
I’m only a few hours in, but Blood West is already one of the most promising games I’ve played this year. It’s clear that developer Hyperstrange is taking its Steam Early Access period seriously, too. The latest update added some welcome graphics settings plus some new vendor items that have already saved my bacon, and the new scenario coming in a future patch sounds great. I’ve already gotten more than $15 of fun out of it, and I’m sure I’ll get plenty more as I experiment with different builds and routes.