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

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