Publisher SCE Developer From Software, Japan Studio Format PS4 Release Q1 2015
Bloodborne, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Infamous: First Light, Hohokum, Guns Up, LittleBigPlanet 3, The Witness, SingStar: Ultimate Party, The Order: 1886, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, Grim Fandango, Let It Die
As soon as we see the backstep, we know. Further evidence follows: a jumping power attack, a kick that breaks an enemy’s shield, a corpse bearing the telltale glow of an item pickup. Still, it’s when we first see Bloodborne’s protagonist shimmy back out of the way of an attack that we know those rumours of a PS4-exclusive Demon’s Souls sequel weren’t so far off the mark. It’s another collaboration between From Software and Sony’s Japan Studio, Demon’s Souls and Dark
Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki is at the helm, and his team began work on the game after finishing Dark Souls’ Artorias
Of The Abyss DLC. It’s a Souls game in all but name.
Which isn’t to say that the title is simply a smokescreen.
Souls games are thematically and mechanically about death, but are not particularly bloody: the fallen slump lifelessly to the ground, but only a handful of moves ever draw red. In that sense, at least, Bloodborne couldn’t been more different. When our protagonist first sinks his blade into an enemy’s chest, a river of claret spurts out of the hole and onto his long-tailed coat. Ten minutes later, he’s wringing wet with the stuff – a consequence, perhaps, of the parameters being changed for the convenience of our tight E3 schedule to give the player infinite health, but the change is striking nonetheless.
Blood will, like the souls of the fallen in Miyazaki’s previous two games, be vital both to the story and the player’s role within it. Details are characteristically vague; the new From Software president has the same approach to interview responses as he does to game design, which has always been equal parts charming and infuriating. Still, it appears blood sucked from corpses will restore health. Take too much, however, and you’ll become a beast, and harder to control. It’s Bloodborne’s equivalent of the Souls games’ human/hollow system, in other words, and makes for a fitting summary of what Bloodborne sets out to do: tell much the same story in a slightly different way.
The setting is Yharnam, a foreboding, Gothic spin on Victorian London in the grip of a plague that turns the afflicted into hideous beasts. The remaining population – whose members are, like Dark Souls’ Hollows, unaware that they too are succumbing to the very same illness – hunts their former members en masse, summoned into battle by the town bell. It’s a device that not only immediately evokes fond memories of the early game in both Dark Souls and Resident Evil 4, but also has significant consequences for how Bloodborne will play.
Yharnam’s hostile townsfolk will move around, meaning this will not be an enemy-placement memory test but a world that carries a constant, shifting threat. Miyazaki hasn’t changed a bit, however: in one section, as we
follow a group of citizens that’s shuffling towards a town-square pyre, we’re shot in the back by an enemy lurking in the shadows.
The Souls games were about facing isolated pockets of resistance. The threat ramped up in Dark Souls II, but you’d never draw the ire of more than one mob at a time, with one group pulling back as you aggroed the next. Here, however, Miyazaki says that the enemy threat will continue to grow unless you deal with it quickly. The result is a move away from the slow pace of Demon’s and Dark Souls – this is not a game of hanging back with your shield up waiting for a dimwitted Hollow to make a mistake and create an opening. You need to take the initiative.
You’ve certainly got the tools to be more aggressive. When footage of Bloodborne – then known by its internal code name Project Beast – appeared in the run-up to E3, the presence of a gun in the protagonist’s left hand was taken as a sign that there would be a greater emphasis on ranged combat. The reality, at least in this demo, is that it’s a stylistic decision, not a gameplay tweak. It’s a shotgun, and as such is most useful up close, staggering an opponent a few frames just before his hammer crashes into our skull, a subsequent press of R1 performing a brutal two-hit combo with our right-hand blade. It’s a canned animation, like a
Dark Souls backstab or riposte, and just as damaging as those moves. And while the HUD has been disabled in our demo, it seems logical that firing a gun will use less stamina than swinging a sword, making it an invaluable aid when under pressure, buying you precious seconds of stamina recharge.
In the protagonist’s right hand, meanwhile, is a weapon that proves equally transformative for Miyazaki’s combat template. With a single button press it changes form, folding over from a jagged longsword to become a blunt instrument that can hit with enough force to break an opponent’s guard. It’s a design that gives you much more control over the situation, powering a pacier combat rhythm in which you are meant to be more proactive than reactive, and removing the need to burden yourself with multiple weapons suited to different situations.
FromSoftware is targeting 1080p and 30fps, but on this early evidence the former seems more achievable than the latter. It’s a handsome game – a generational leap by the studio’s standards, even if that isn’t saying much – but it doesn’t run fluidly. A well-trained Sony producer reminds us that this is unoptimised alpha code seconds before the framerate plunges into single digits. Anyone who’s ever trekked through Dark Souls’ Blighttown on 360 will tell you that From has never been the most technically proficient studio, and it is in this regard that Japan Studio’s involvement will be especially welcome. That aside, this is vintage FromSoftware: a perilous trek through the crumbling buildings and dark corners of a once-beautiful land now in the grip of something unspeakably horrid.
This first taste has only left us hungry for more and with more questions than answers, which is precisely how Miyazaki would want it. Bloodborne clearly has more than a development team in common with the Souls games, and so it will be defined by what it does differently: its combat, its world, how it handles gear, checkpointing and multiplayer. Yet already, Miyazaki and FromSoftware have taken the biggest generational leap of all, going from cult classic to the centre of Sony’s stage, from hardcore curio to the most exciting announcement of E3.
Given the extent to which Dark Souls’ rhythm could be changed with different gear, we’re eager to see how much scope there is for more cautious play. Giving the player a shield would make a huge difference
Torches are an odd sight after the fuss over
Dark Souls II’s lighting. PS4’s power should mean From won’t need to compromise this time