Given that there are dozens of user-created maps for floating around on the Net, Blood fans might wonder if it's worth the money to pick up Cryptic Passage, which features nine standard and four bloodbath levels. Well, wonder no more: Thanks to outstanding level design that takes advantage of all the features of the Build engine, serious Blood fans should consider it de rigeur to purchase this add-on. Cryptic Passage is the place to satisfy that hunger left when you've finished the original and want some more.
Though it's a little on the thin side, there's even a story to set up the action: Caleb's headed to the Carpathian mountains to pick a scroll that was taken from him by person or thing unknown. Along the way, he shipwrecks in a storm - a storm caused by the same malevolent forces that snatched the scroll from him in the first place. And if you know Caleb like I know Caleb, you've already got a good idea of what's in store: burning, stabbing, shooting, explosions, and enough blood-spilling to fill the river Caleb travels down in the fifth level.
Starting at a boat dock, you'll pass through eight more distinct locales: an opera house, a library, a monastery, a steamboat (reminiscent of the Phantom Express you rode in the first episode of Blood), a graveyard, a mountain pass, a mine, and finally a castle. There's also a secret level called Boggy Creek you can reach in the graveyard: It's pretty easy to locate and definitely worth an excursion, and if you should run into problems finding it you can always select it from the Blood setup menu.
Nine levels might not sound like all that many, but they're all very large - it took me over an hour just to blast my way through the first one, and while I'm admittedly not the greatest Blood player, there's no doubt in my mind that Blood aficionados will have as much as they can handle with this expansion pack. Sloped surfaces and rooms over rooms give the levels about as much realism as you could hope for in a game like this, and as usual The Voice is always ready with some dry witticism during the mayhem (when the Steamboat level begins, he starts singing On the Good Ship Lollipop).
The four BloodBath levels are definitely up to snuff, but most players won't be picking up Cryptic Passage for BloodBath levels - there's a ton of them available on the Net. And while it's true there are some pretty good regular levels on the Net, I haven't found any that were interconnected; Cryptic Passage creates that same sense of traveling in a logical progression from one place to another that made Blood so compelling. About the only problem with any of the levels is that there are a lot of underwater areas - too many, in my opinion, but if you don't mind roaming and fighting underwater then this won't be a problem.
To use Cryptic Passage, you'll have to install an interface called "Gamer" which activates the Cryptic Passage add-on; while you could choose any of the maps from Blood's setup menu after the installation, you must use the Gamer interface in order to move from one Cryptic Passage level to another. (It seems a little odd that the program doesn't simply add another episode to the main menu of Blood.) Installing Cryptic Passage also upgrades your Blood to version 1.02, though for some reason the upgrade took an ungodly amount of time.
Another area where Cryptic Passage disappoints is in its cutscenes - because there aren't any. In Blood, you were rewarded with an expository (and often disturbing) AVI sequence when you completed each episode; in Cryptic Passage, the end comes abruptly and without warning the moment you kill the stupendously powerful beasties guarding the scroll in the castle. It's a letdown, and though this is only one episode, it could still use a little gravy to go with all the meat in the game.
If you've yet to finish the original Blood levels, there's no real need to rush out and pick up Cryptic Passage. But if you've already extracted your revenge on Tchernobog and long for the sweet taste of bloody revenge once again, you can't go wrong with this expansion disc.