Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.
Delivered to me on a CD of assorted bootleg delights, a gift from a university friend with ties to the thriving software piracy scene of South Wales in the late 90s, first-person shooter Blood II meant nothing to me. I had not played Monolith’s first Blood, and I found the in-game story to be almost incomprehensible. (Only years later would I discover that Blood II wouldn’t play most of its cutscenes in the event the player did not choose the one canonical option from the four offered playable characters). But I found something uncommonly dark.Perhaps I just hadn’t played enough horror games by that point, or had been overly drawn to rote tales of action heroism, but there was a nastiness, a sense of grime and cruelty, to Blood II that felt unfamiliar. Refreshing, in its way, though looking at videos now it’s helplessly comical.
Casual slaughter of civilians as well as hired goons and snarling beasties, with a demonic player-character who happily quipped about his mercilessness. Much of the game is set as a chase across urban environments, creating carnage in your wake and never caring about it. All is rotten here. All can die.
Years later, the cold squalor of Max Payne and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines would remind me of Blood II’s fallen city. Games work hard, these days, to make cities into believable places, but I almost miss those that made them entirely hostile, filthy and frightful.