Note: Although this was posted in November the game itself was played in October.
SCHLOCKTOBER '21:This October I played a number of games with Halloween appropriate themes, focusing on older and less appreciated games in my backlog. These aren't necessarily horror games but rather games with strong horror elements. I've decided to blog about these games and whether I think they're still worth playing as a seasonal treat or the gaming equivalent of an apple full of razor blades.
By all objective standards Blood Knights is a terrible game. This was an XBLA/PSN release at the end of the 7th generation and even though I knew that and even though it must have been a late XBLA release because of its file size and available achievement points (both of which grew over the course of the gen) I had to check its release date to make sure it wasn’t from 2006 or something. The game’s models and textures are fine, nice even, but it animates like a PS2 game, is voiced like a PS1 game, and plays like shovelware from either of those generations. Its saving graces are that it is short, ludicrously easy, and so badly written that it frequently dips into absurdity. These attributes, combined with its technical competence, make it the rare game that’s actually so bad it’s good. Over its 4 hour running time you will see characters prance when they should run, swing wildly between rage and friendship with no explanation, make lewd passes at one another, and generally act and sound like non-professional actors in one of those micro budget horror or action films made by a talentless wannabe.
The story is surprisingly convoluted for such a short game. At the beginning you play a vampire hunter and vampiress who have been blood bonded by a priest for some reason and are rushing to a temple to prevent other vampires from taking the “blood seal” a magical McGuffin that apparently keeps the moon together (this game takes place in Romania as far as I can tell.) You fail at this task and the vampire hunter, given the kickass medieval name of “Jeremy” is turned into a vampire, which doesn’t really change his appearance much but which is obvious to everyone he meets. You then go out looking for the blood seal and do a bunch of seemingly random things like free a town from the scourge of an evil vampire preying on its citizens so you can get invited in and then either free her or let her be burned (one of a number of moral choices that don’t affect the story), or help another vampire collect the blood of her dead leaders to preserve them for eternity (another moral choice.)
It’s all nonsense and it’s all pretty funny. Characters appear and reappear with little reason and the dumbest possible explanation (my favorite being a fat priest who just saunters into locations you had to kill dozens of enemies to get into with the explanation that he went a different route.) Everyone you meet simultaneously distrusts you and asks you to carry out various sensitive tasks, taking your word on it when you tell them you completed them. Nothing makes sense or holds together. The dialog was all clearly written by non-English speakers and while it all makes sense there are lots of odd constructions that hamstring any attempts by the voice actors to make it sound believable. The whole thing is a hot mess, but an enjoyably hammy one with lots of scenery chewing and humorous lines.
If the dialog and cut scenes are hilariously amateurish than the gameplay itself is solid enough, though wildly outdated by 2013. This is a simple hack and slash game where you can either play co-op or swap between two characters and have a basic arsenal of moves including jumping, attacking (swords with the big guy and crossbows with the lady vampire) a power attack, an area attack, and pushing or pulling depending on the character. You can also grab enemies at any time and suck their blood to restore HP, which means that you can heal pretty much whenever you want (the move doesn’t work against bosses, though.) There’s a basic level up system where you can raise various skills after you level and attributes through finding blood coins in the environment (skill and attribute points are awarded to both characters but you have to assign them separately) and an equipment system that lets you separately equip items in all the normal slots, and have them show up cosmetically on the characters too. You can travel to a town that has a merchant from any save point and buy and sell equipment. It’s a surprisingly detailed system for a game that is almost entirely linear and where the equipment you find will always be better than the last stuff you found and appropriate for the area you’re in.
It ends up playing like a dumbed down Diablo clone, with the addition of some fairly bad but not too tough platforming (falling often means instant death but checkpoints are plentiful) and switch puzzles. The camera runs along a fixed track God of War style and generally does a good job of showing the action. I wouldn’t call it a good game, controls are stiff and it can be surprisingly hard to aim the crossbows even though you can use the right stick for that (it does a dodge move for the melee guy) but they are responsive enough not to be frustrating. There’s a little bit of enemy variety including ranged guys, guys with shields that need to be broken with strong attacks, and a few larger enemies who can only be hurt if you hit their weak points. It’s all loose and sloppy, like a bad licensed PS2 game, but there’s still a mindless pleasure in hacking people up and sucking their blood. It feels like a C-tier rip off of the original Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance that was made in 6 months after that game, rather than something that came out over a decade later.
And that’s really all there is to Blood Knights. At times it feels like this was supposed to be a full retail product but development went poorly so they truncated the game and shoved it out the door for $10. It seems like a project that wants to be more ambitious than it actually is. But a longer version of this game would not work. It’s a fun novelty because of how bonkers and dumb it is, but I wouldn’t want to play it for more than a couple hours. By the end of the game the repetitiveness and jank are encroaching on the fun and I was happy to kill the last boss, see the weirdly cheesy happy ending, and delete it from my hard drive forever.
It’s impossible to actually recommend Blood Knights as a video game product because it’s terrible, but if you have a copy and if you have a friend to play it with (I played solo switching between the characters but you can play it co-op) it’s the rare game that manages to be so bad it’s fun. Short run time and low difficulty help with that, but the absolutely insane story is really what makes it work.
Schlocktober Rating: So bad it’s good Schlock.
You already know whether you’d enjoy this game or not so I don’t have much to add here. If this were a Halloween candy it would be cheap chocolate that’s so weird you can’t decide whether you like it or not so you keep eating it to find out and soon find you’ve devoured the whole bar. It’s the emptiest calories you’ll ever taste and not entirely enjoyable, but it’s compelling in its own messed up way.