Bloodnet is a game about a Gibson-esque cyberpunk city, with a little bit of a vampire problem, that can best be described as a combination of a point and click adventure and an rpg. Your main character is Ransom Stark; a hacker/mercenary/whatever who takes the wrong job and ends up being bamboozled by Draculas who want your friend’s special Incubus program. The only thing keeping you from turning into one yourself is your trusty neural implant, but it can only hold the infection off for so long so you’d better hurry up and find a way to foil the plans of the head vampire, oddly named Van Helsing, and find a cure somehow, which also somehow requires the previously mentioned Incubus program.
It was always one of the most fascinating old PC games to me, but unfortunately it was also one of the most seemingly impossible. I have tried to finish this game a few times since I was a kid and could never quite do it. Last time I tried I even used a walkthrough the entire time and got all the way to the last boss only to find that I was too weak to possibly kill him. This time would be different though, dammit! I broke out the special notebook of gridded paper for some furious note taking (yes, it’s one of THOSE games) , committed myself to finishing this game once and for all, and jumped right into the Bloodnet.
One quick note before I get into this though: I played the original floppy disk version, as opposed to the later CD-ROM version. This is not something I normally do, as extra scenes and voiceovers are usually a good thing, but this is an extremely text heavy game and one that you really need to pay attention to the content of the text in. For some reason they decided that in the CD version with the full voiceovers, the text was no longer needed at all. These conversations can get very long and often contain very important details and passwords that you can very easily miss in a badly done audio-only conversation, so I would not recommend trying to play that one (Also I kinda liked the original midi music better than the “enhanced” midi version of the music on the CD version…).
Aaaaaanyway…the game begins with a choice between quick or manual character generation. If you choose manual you get to answer interesting questions like…
You are presented with some several bizarre cyberpunk scenarios, some of them rather amusing, most of them not very clear in their effect. Sure they have some effect on your stats, but I don’t know that it really matters much either way for several reasons. One being, look at the stats page:
Holy shit is that a lot of stats. Way too many, in fact. What did any of my answers even do for me here? You get another 20 points to spend between 5 more areas, but what are you even supposed to choose? What does any of this even do? You’re going to have to look in the manual to find out (yes, it’s one of THOSE games too)! Really though, it doesn’t much matter, because most of the time it will be various members of your group that end up having their stats used for various rolls anyway, and while certain skills will make certain parts easier for you, I don’t think any of them are ever completely vital to winning the game. There are a lot of party members available to talk, trade, or buy onto your side so you’ll always be able to find someone with the skills you need.
So you start the game alone in your buddy’s ransacked lab without much to go on. Again, probably going to want to have taken a look at that manual before you get started, if you’re new to the game. The interface seems pretty straightforward at first, but there are some important, but unusual ways of doing things and hotkeys that you might overlook. Also you’re going to need to know about those pesky bloodlust and humanity bars. As time passes your bloodlust level rises. Certain actions like crafting, changing locations, and resting will make time pass and this meter will make a good jump up. Naturally, the only way to make it go down is to drink blood and your main source of blood is people. If your bloodlust meter gets too high (sometimes the neural implant will warn you when this is coming, sometimes it won’t) you will go into a frenzy and eat a random person nearby, which includes your party members. Of course, when you eat someone either way your humanity bar will drop and when that one runs out completely it’s game over. Oh, and don’t eat anyone you think you might need to interact with for some reason in the future because they will be gone forever. On the plus side though, when you do choose to eat someone, as long as it’s not someone in your party, no one seems to notice at all. You can flat out eat a dude to death in a crowded club and no one even blinks. This system isn’t as bad as it sounds though. Just play carefully and don’t waste time traveling to random places that you have no reason to go to yet and you’ll be fine. There are also a few bottles of blood to be found in the game, which you can use to refresh yourself without hurting your humanity and you can always grab a quick bite off someone during combat.
So back to this ransacked lab, there are a few items lying around, but nothing all that useful right now. If you were paying attention to the intro you were told a cyberspace “well” address that you can go check out and it was mentioned that your personal computer has some notes on it regarding some of your known allies. You can hop into cyberspace and get a lead out of that location and the PC notes will mention a few possibly helpful locations and you’re on your own after that, though you might want to start with a place with some of those allies in it so you can have a party to back you up for when you inevitably get into trouble. There are over a dozen locations available from the start, with something close to 40 total available throughout the course of the game, not including the various cyberspace locations and multiple floors of the TransTech building. These locations are typically full of talkative NPCs offering quests, hints, or interest in joining your team (though many of them won’t do so for free). Here is where another tricky part comes in. There is no quest log at all, so again, you’re gonna want some notes if you want to be able to keep track of all the people you’re running jobs for, as well as any other important hints about your main quest. This is not a game you can be skimming the text in. Sometimes you will be given information directly in the form of new locations or cyberspace addresses, but many other times you are only given cryptic hints that you can easily miss if you’re not paying close attention.
On top of working towards upgrading your gear and juggling your various quests, you’ve also got to be on the lookout for upgrades to your cyberspace deck which will allow you gain entry to more areas and hold more programs/codes. Cyberspace is a pretty limited area of the game. You’ll meet an occasional NPC there that will lead to or be part of a quest, but mostly you will just be using it to check out the various well codes you get, which are all just single “rooms” with various types of files hidden in them. I think you also can take damage if you stay in there too long, especially if your stats are low in that area, but I have no idea why you would be hanging out in there that long. At least it’s suitably 90s cyberpunk looking though…
and then there’s the combat. The combat is clunky, awkward, and can be horribly difficult if you aren’t incredibly prepared. Luckily there isn’t a whole lot of it in the game. Very little of it if you play it smart and avoid pissing people off needlessly. You can choose between quick combat or descriptive combat, but if you let the AI make all your choices for you they will almost certainly get you killed and you won’t even be able to see what anyone is aiming at or what amount of damage is being done to anyone. Best to do it manually and pick your targets carefully. Anyway, if you just rush in and charge enemies it will mainly just come down to complete luck. You might get lucky and win, but you can just as easily lose most of your party, and when they’re dead they’re gone forever. Basically if you want to win the tough ones you have to be using the right weapons and sometimes the right armor too. If you just can’t beat a fight because a group of enemies keeps lasering you to death, you’re going to have to go find (or probably build) some anti-energy weapon armor, or sometimes the enemies will be wearing that armor and your lasers will be useless so you’ll have to go buy some trusty shotguns (which actually turn out to be like the best weapon in the game somehow). Really, you have to throw yourself in there to find out what the enemies are like and probably just die and come back when you know what to expect and can be properly prepared. Vampires add a whole other dimension to this too, as they cannot be killed at all by any conventional weapons. Don’t even try to fight them until you finally find some vampire killing weapons.
So…this sounds like a pretty damn frustrating game right about now, doesn’t it? It’s definitely not easy and it will require a lot of patience and attention to detail, but personally, I think it’s worth braving the rough edges. The atmosphere and writing just completely sucked me in. The main storyline itself is a little basic, but there are some truly interesting characters and quests to be found in here. Why, you can trade future drugs to homeless children for cyborg limbs! You can then take that robot limb and have it grafted on to you, or you can hold on to it and try to collect a full robot body and transfer some lost cyberspace hacker’s mind into it and have him join your party. You can track down parts and plans and build experimental bio-tech weapons that you can have permanently attached to your team’s heads. You can get involved in a bizarre love triangle involving a lady and her two men, one of which wants you to find the cure for her depression which he says is caused by all the sex-enhancing future drugs the other guy is bringing into the relationship, while the other wants you to find the cure for her depression which he says is caused by all the weird cyberspace sex-tech the other guy is bringing into the relationship. This is important, because you need to get the reward, which is a “safecracker” program which you will need if you want to hack into the future bank and steal a bunch of money from it! So, if you don’t find any of that fascinating this probably isn’t the game for you anyway. If you do and are up for a note-taking, manual-reading cyber-challenge, give it a shot. Personally, I’m kind of tempted to give this a 4/5, but I have to be honest with you and with myself and knock a whole star off for how clunky and near broken some parts of the game are, no matter how awesome I think the subject matter is. I give Bloodnet 3 out of 5 Starks. (BUT WAIT! Stay tuned after the rating for a few more tidbits that contain some massive end spoilers. Naturally, if you want to avoid these, stop reading. Right. NOW!)
If you’re still here I have to mention some of the final revelations in the game! First of all, it turns out that the main vamp is Van Helsing because he’s not the real main vamp! He’s merely a pawn of the real mastermind (who could it be?)…Cyber-Dracula! I mean literally Cyber-Dracula, because for some reason he is now an immortal cyberspace entity. Luckily, at this point you have that nutty Incubus program, which lets you somehow physically fight Cyber-Drac in his own cyberspace realm and is also now suddenly sentient for no apparent reason. Anyway, you shove a pixel-stake through Cyber-Drac’s cyber-heart and save the day and win your cure. Oops, one problem though. Incubus is now fully sentient and empowered and has decided that now that Cyber-Drac is out of the way that it’s going to take over the world for itself.
Yep, it was all for nothing. You saved the world from a would-be tyrannical cyber-god and just handed it over to different tyrannical cyber-god. Congratulations! Rumor has it that this was supposed to be the hook for a sequel, but obviously that never happened, much to my dismay. Oh welllllllllllll!