#218: Blood: Post-Mortem
Cast-offs from classic shooter’s development make an okay episode, but it’s no Cryptic Passage
Initial release: October 15, 1997
Developer: Monolith Productions
Say what you will about DLC, but games have been getting expansions to wring out your money with for years, and back in the 90s you couldn’t swing a cat silencer without hitting some new-fangled shooter — and they all had expansions, all the most popular ones anyway. So it goes without saying that Blood, that classic horror shooter, would have an expansion or two. Sunstorm Interactive’s Cryptic Passage was a great first foray, but Monolith would respond with an official expansion titled Plasma Pak. This was more than just a level set, it also updated the game proper. In addition to multiple bug fixes, it also added a few things such as new alternative fire modes for weapons that didn’t previously have them, new enemies, and new levels to showcase said enemies. Unfortunately it was all banged out in short order, and it shows.
Data from Blood alpha is a sort of holy grail for the fandom; there’s all kinds of stuff in there, and it’s basically a museum exhibit of sorts for cut content, including a raft of unfinished and mostly finished levels, mostly by James Wilson III. While some of these levels did eventually make it into the retail game, not all of them did, until the release of the Plasma Pak, when certain of these old levels were dragged out and cleaned up and slapped together into an episode, titled “Post Mortem.” These levels were largely fairly abstract and featureless, reminiscent of Doom or other early 1990s shooters where the level design didn’t have such a a focus on realism. That aesthetic unfortunately remains in Post Mortem for the most part. This has the effect of giving the episode overall less personality than Cryptic Passage; worse is the fact that it features no new textures whatsoever; the only thing new, besides some enemies, is some new Caleb lines. The enemies aren’t exactly much to get excited over either. A couple new cultist varieties, a plant monster a la Little Shop of Horrors (and a firebreathing variant), and a new boss enemy that starts off as yet another cultist recolor. This new boss enemy is the core of the very thin, non-explicit plot of the expansion. Ostensibly they’re the cult’s new Chosen Ones to replace Caleb and friends — a few red-robed cultists that, upon death, turn into towering werewolf-like monsters. Their more than passing similarity to the game’s HUD is intentional, as the sprite art is reused from a cut idea where Caleb would have a “beast mode” that gave him greater power. Just more proof that the Plasma Pak is Monolith Frankensteining old cut content together.
All in all the Plasma Pak is a disappointment. While the bug fixes and gameplay updates are appreciated, it does raise the question: why bother with the mapset at all when they could just release the patch for free? But there’s your answer: the new episode justifies the price tag. But does it really? It’s a largely bland set of maps lashed together from the halting early attempts seen in the blood alpha. The new enemies aren’t really anything to sneeze at either. Compared to Duke Nukem 3D’s Plutonium PAK, this has little to offer. The Plutonium PAK offered major gameplay fixes, a new episode with new art assets and mapping features (much of it built from Richard Grey’s scraps), new and original enemies, updated scripting language, among other features, and was later re-released with the full game as Atomic Edition, which is now the standard version. Plasma Pak in contrast brings very little to the table; its only re-release was alongside the main game, Cryptic Passage and a strategy guide in a box set called One Unit Whole Blood (which digital releases of the game would later appropriate.)
Ultimately, while the Plasma Pak is integrated into the main game by default on most re-releases, the mapset it offers remains inferior to Cryptic Passage, which had no new features but made good use of new art and original level design to create an entertaining romp. Taken on its technical merits, Plasma Pak is an alright offering; the new enemies have their value, the gameplay changes are very welcome. But as a level pack, compared to Cryptic Passage, Post Mortem is, if you’ll excuse the pun, anemic.
P.S.: I did in fact write a breakdown of each level in the expansion on tumblr.