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BloodNet: A Cyberpunk Gothic (PC) artwork

BloodNet: A Cyberpunk Gothic (PC) review

"Bled Out"

It would be easy for me to talk about how time has been harsh to Bloodnet. The gameís original release was all the way back in 1993, and over two decades of advancement would conspire to make almost any game not called X-Com struggle for relevance. But it would be a kind-hearted ruse of sorts; even at its time of release, Bloodnet was insanely awkward, counter-productive and suspiciously confusing. Itís as if someone went out to tenaciously create the most infuriatingly obtuse interface imaginable and then somehow managed to outdo themselves.

I donít know why Bloodnetís impractical labyrinth of drop-down menus, sub-sub-sub screens and icon-labelled inventories was ever considered by anyone to be a good idea. There are options upon options to explore, but youíll probably go through the majority of your time with the game not knowing they exist, and rage-quit long before you find the obscure combination youíll need to solve even the most rudimentary of puzzles. Which dials up yet another conundrum; though labelled as an adventure game, genre tropes like puzzles are few and far between. Bloodnet vies to drown you in text. Overly written, hyperbolic, excessively stylised, forcefully quirky, never-ending text.

Maybe, at least. One of the several hundred baffling facts about Bloodnet is that thereís two versions of the game; one that deals merely with a tidal-wave of text, and one that introduces endless voice acting. But never the two shall meet! You canít activate the text to supplement the less-than-stellar voice acting. The only way to trigger it is to turn off all the sound. So, chose your poison and jump into a cyperpunk game and rage against the omnipotent power of a major corporation. Except, wait, Bloodnetís a story about a man stricken by vampirism, and desperately searching for a cure before the evil takes him. Itís about both? ThatísÖ kind of cool. In theory.

Itís actually the story of Ransom Stark, a shadowrunner private eye, who caps off a successful job for Abraham Van Hellsing by being accosted by the old fellow who demands Ďa taste of himí then chomps on his neck and drains his blood. Heís saved the unwelcome fate of joining the undead by a sentient AI grafted to his brain, which is handy. The AI then talks and talks and talks and talks about how fighting the vampire virus will eventually destroy it, wherein Ransom will shuffle off to join the ranks of the undead. Then never says anything again, even in the multiple circumstances where a sentient AI might be perfectly placed to chip in with some advice.

Let's give it the benefit of the doubt; perhaps all its efforts are being ploughed into keeping Ransom human, a task it can only prevail at for so much time. Bloodnet, you see, is played on a time limit. Somewhere out there on one of the menus is a small bar that tracks how much humanity you have left. Should you spend too much time wondering what to do next, or getting lost in the myriad options that seem to go nowhere, or simply trying to find a foothold in advancing the plot which seems to take malicious glee in being as hard to track as possible, the bar runs out and you lose. Game over. Accompanying it is your hunger bar, which saps away at your humanity if it gets too high. The only way to reduce it is to eat people.

I'm not sure if Bloodnet's method of topping up on other people's blood is commendably ballsy or just another layer of clumsy incompetence. Decide to dine on an NPC and they're gone. Forever. This can be fortuitous: there's a circumstance where you can fall foul of a street gang and, rather than take it out on you with violence, they simply elect to stop talking to you. This can put quite the hole in your plans; one of them has possession of an item you need to complete one of the bigger, more important side-quests but you're unable to gain it while she's petulantly giving you the silent treatment like you're a naughty toddler. The game does give you the option to repair bridges and reverse the actions that led to your time out or, screw that noise, you could just eat her. Now she's dead, gone forever, and her inventory is yours to keep.

Alternatively, you're in a pretentious coffee bar filled with cyberpunk hipsters and you notice your hunger counter looking fuller than you're comfortable with. So you eat one of them. The annoying one in the corner whoís either dancing or having a seizure -- now you're full of delicious hipster blood and can remain human and alive for a while longer. All is well. Aside from the fact that you just offed someone critical to the main plot progression and now have no way of completing the game, and no way of knowing that you're doomed. As such, you're forced to roam around impotently trying to figure out what to do next until you either run out of humanity and die, or you quit.

It's not the first game to feature NPC deaths that could bone you over, but it is the most clumsy I can think of. Planescape took the time to tell you that your latest homicide just ensured you can never achieve your main goal; Elder Scrolls ensured that the deaths that screwed you over only affected sidequests, like becoming head of the thief's guild. Bloodnet sniggers at you while you roam its confusing world, visiting any of the endless locations out of panic and hope rather than because you have a clear idea on where you're going.

Even if you do get lucky and snack on non-relevant people, seeing the end of Bloodnet is still wildly unlikely. The path to completion is mired in adventurous ideas pulled off ineloquently, none more so than the ham-fisted attempt to inject RPG elements, like stats and recruitable team members. Both these things work against each other; the only stats worth trying to bolster are combat related because it's effortless to recruit people with specialist stats such as hacking that dwarf yours. Of course, of all the broken and awful things in Bloodnet, combat is by far the worst. Here, you line your team up in a room and then watch as they miss every attack they launch and get slaughtered in under a minute. Some battles can be won by escaping combat, leaving the room then returning where, because you're still alive, your enemy will just roll with the assumption that you must have won.

The puzzles are a mess, but that's okay because they're rarities in between the endless talking to people as you wander from static location to static location in a desperate bid to find out what the hell you're meant to be doing. The many, many NPCs that litter the world have all been to the Chrono Cross school of personality building and are promoted only through the weird way they choose to talk. One talks like an unending string of unedited Wikipedia quotes, while another talks only in crossword clues. You can endure their droning dialogue against the relaxing backdrop of some kind of club or the same couple of alleyways constantly rehashed and occasionally mirrored. You can take a glance at what Bloodnet thought the future of the internet would behold if you decide to log into cyberspace -- turns out it's an undefined lump of dead space occupied by randomly floating geographical shapes that you travel with a constantly spinning generic character model wrapped in tin foil.

It's a shame because genuinely goods ideas are buried somewhere beneath the grime; work your way through the mess of cyberspace in order to collect fragments of a lost personality and you can download it into a cyborg body and construct the game's best party member from scratch. But this means fetch questing and suffering the aimless cyberspace. The fact is, Bloodnet seems to be a game full of good ideas constructed by people completely removed from the process ensuring conception and execution often seem at complete odds which each other. In-game artwork is contradicted by the artwork used in cut-scenes, a time-consuming side-quest to bolster your stats purposefully only adds to those you use the least. It all drowns in the confusing gloop that Bloodnet seems so desperate to become.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (October 31, 2015)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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