menacing video game character set against a red backdrop
Posted on August 16, 2022

Bloodwash Review: A Giallo-Inspired Horror Video Game Awash with Gore

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Bloodwash is the latest video game to be published by Torture Star Video, a publishing label launched by Puppet Combo, the developer behind notable instances of playable nightmare fuel such as Babysitter Bloodbath (2013), Nun Massacre (2018), and Murder House (2020). Like these games, Bloodwash has a distinctive low-poly style reminiscent of video games from the PS1 era, as well as a story straight out of an old school slasher film.

As pointed out in publicity material for the game, Bloodwash is “giallo-inspired.” In a broad sense, the Italian term Giallo “has become synonymous … with mysteries and thrillers” (Koven, 2013: 204). More specifically, the term has come to describe “the Italian style of psycho-killer movies, which dominated much of Italian vernacular film-making in the 1970s, and, in many respects, were the precursors to the ‘slasher’ films from Canada and the US in the late 1970s and early 1980s” (ibid.) Tropes of Giallo cinema include stylised murder scenes, mysterious killers, and tormented women – three components that feature prominently in the video game, Bloodwash.

Bloodwash is divided into several chapters, beginning with a prologue. Here, players are introduced to the game’s protagonist, Sara: a pregnant college student who is living in a dilapidated apartment complex with her boyfriend. When the communal washing machine in her building breaks, Sara makes the last-minute decision to travel to a 24-hour laundromat. Needless to say, the trip does not go as planned when Sara becomes the next target of the infamous Womb Ripper: a serial killer with a penchant for slaying pregnant women.

During the game’s prologue sequence, the grimy world of Bloodwash is introduced to players, with particular emphasis placed on its troubled and problematic men. Nice guys do exist in the game’s fictive universe, like Sara’s friendly and supportive neighbour, Stan; however, they are outnumbered by men who neglect Sara, men who frighten her, men who try to elicit sexual favours from her, and men who invade her personal space and intimidate her. Essentially, the prologue of the game foregrounds the vulnerability of its playable protagonist: a vulnerability that is gender-based. In the world of Bloodwash, as in the real world, the safety of women is not guaranteed.

video game character with a menacing mask

Figure 1: A man harasses Sara on the bus to the laundromat.

Bloodwash can be played with or without VHS and CRT filters. Both make the game look like a found-footage, B-movie horror flick that you would likely find at the bottom of a basket in a Blockbuster store – which, for those too young to remember, were places where people would pay to rent films physically (in the form of VHS tapes) before the dawn of streaming services. Personally, though, I preferred to play the game without filters to have a clearer picture, as you can see by looking at the screenshots in this review. With Bloodwash using a first-person camera perspective, the game also includes the option to enable or disable Sara’s head bobbing movement and to expand or reduce her field of vision.

Gameplay in Bloodwash is primarily made up of gathering items and speaking to non-playable characters (NPCs). There is a notable emphasis on world building in the game, with NPCs offering unique arrangements of dialogue depending on what item the player chooses to show them. Moreover, there are video games to play within the world of Bloodwash: one on an arcade machine that involves a homeless man avoiding police officers and another on a handheld gaming console that involves a murderer stabbing what appear to be children. A television can also be watched in the laundromat and readable comic books can be found throughout the gameworld. The investigative and recreational activities on offer in Bloodwash enhance the macabre feeling of its sinister gameworld while also serving as a means of passing the time. After all, players need to wait for Sara’s laundry to be washed and dried to progress the game’s story.

In Bloodwash, how Sara kills time is up to the player. This means that the game’s story can develop in a somewhat subjective manner. During my playthrough, I neglected the textual, televisual, and ludic entertainment within Bloodwash in favour of exploring the plaza where the game’s laundromat is situated. By conversing with characters and prompting them to comment on found items, like a missing person flyer and a newspaper article, I gained a more in-depth understanding of the area and its sordid history. Allegedly, another laundromat next door to the one Sara visits burned down many years ago. Furthermore, a young woman who worked there reportedly died in the fire. NPCs even speculate that she was locked in her office and left to burn by her boss, who was also the father of her unborn child.

For the most part, Bloodwash is a game about exploration; its players are tasked with uncovering two mysteries involving events in the game’s past and present–namely, what happened in the old laundromat all those years ago and who The Womb Ripper is in the game’s here and now. Combat is eventually incorporated into gameplay, but only in the climactic moments of Bloodwash. Accordingly, for much of the game’s duration The Womb Ripper does not provide a tangible threat in the same way as other videoludic stalkers, like Jack Baker in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017). Hence, in Bloodwash tension is built primarily through the anticipation of an attack rather than the reality of one. Yet, players should remember that the game is advertised as a “narrative focused horror experience” – a description that it certainly lives up to.

video game body of a bloody body

Figure 2: Sara finds the mutilated corpse of a woman who fell victim to The Womb Ripper.

Bloodwash offers an intriguing mystery and much to explore in its harsh and run-down world. From start to finish, you should expect around an hour and a half of gameplay from Bloodwash–although, your time spent with the game can be significantly prolonged by searching for and reading its hidden comic books and playing the other games embedded within it. In summary, Bloodwash is a disturbing, slow-burning, slasher video game that revels in the idea of unnerving its players with jump scares, anxiety-inducing audio, and gory spectacles.

 Works Cited

Koven, Mikel J. 2013. “The Giallo and the Spaghetti Nightmare Film.” In The Italian Cinema Book, edited by Peter Bondanella. London: British Film Institute. pp. 203-210.

Bloodwash. 2021. Torture Star Video: Black Eyed Priest, Henry Hoare.

 Connor Jackson is a PhD graduate from Edge Hill University whose thesis examines the ways in which video games express satire. His work can be found in Romancing the Zombie: Essays on the Undead as Significant “Other” (part of McFarland’s ongoing Contributions to Zombie Studies publication series) and the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA) Review journal. You can follow him on Twitter here and keep up with his video game related photography on Instagram here.

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