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Sony’s great hope for this quar­ter, at least fol­low­ing the uni­ver­sally medi­ocre re­cep­tion for The Or­der: 1886, Blood­borne is car­ry­ing a lot of weight on its shoul­ders, and rightly so. Although the name may not sound familiar to some, this is a game that has an in­sane amount in com­mon with its spir­i­tual fore­bears De­mon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls II.

Com­ing from de­vel­oper From Soft­ware, a stu­dio that has es­tab­lished it­self as a breed­ing ground for some of the most pun­ish­ing games ever cre­ated ( and I’m not just say­ing that by to­day’s ad­mit­tedly low dif­fi­culty stan­dards), Blood­borne is a game that mil­lions will al­ready be all too familiar with - in the best pos­si­ble way. Fol­low­ing a ma­jor down­turn in the qual­ity and quan­tity of PlaySta­tion 4 ti­tles over the past six months or so, there’s a lot rid­ing on the suc­cess of this game, some­thing that’s more than a tad risky given the fact that it’s about as far re­moved from the big- sell­ing AAA ti­tles we’re used to. Here, ev­ery battle is po­ten­tially a killer, ev­ery turn a po­ten­tial pit­fall and ev­ery mod­icum of en­joy­ment hard- earned and flanked on ei­ther side by crush­ing frus­tra­tion. This is a Souls game in all but name, and it is glo­ri­ous. There has al­ways been a lot more to the Souls games than an un­for­giv­ing dif­fi­culty curve, and Blood­borne is no dif­fer­ent. From Soft­ware con­tin­ues to excel with a mas­ter­ful grasp of level de­sign, beau­ti­fully crafted at­mos­phere and ten­sion, and dark, introspective nar­ra­tives that are of­ten forgotten about amidst the count­less deaths. But they’re there, and they con­tinue to play a ma­jor part in what makes the stu­dio’s out­put so in­cred­i­bly re­fresh­ing in the cur­rent cli­mate. For all that’s familiar here, though, Blood­borne isn’t afraid to forge its own path. For starters, where the pre­vi­ous ti­tles’ sto­ry­lines un­rav­elled sub­tly, lurk­ing be­neath the car­nage for those who re­ally wanted to put the ef­fort in to learn the uni­verse’s mythol­ogy, things are a lot more ob­vi­ous here. A trav­eller to the city of Yhar­nam search­ing for a fa­bled cure, our hero finds him­self trapped in a night­mar­ish re­al­ity, the city’s in­hab­i­tants ei­ther trans­formed into vile mon­strosi­ties or hid­den away from view, meek and des­o­late, just pray­ing for an end to the mad­ness. Reli­gion plays a big part here, and that may of­fend those staunch in their Chris­tian be­liefs, as From plays with the ideas be­hind sub­mit­ting to not a higher power, nec­es­sar­ily, but the hu­mans who claim to rep­re­sent it. It’s fit­ting that such weighty sub­ject mat­ter finds it­self twist­ing and turn­ing around a game so heav­ily fo­cussed on death: if you’re not killing, you’re be­ing killed. And

more of­ten than not it’s the lat­ter. De­spite the fre­quent deaths and bla­tant lack of hand- hold­ing, Blood­borne’s com­bat is truly fan­tas­tic. Sure, you’ll spend a good deal of time scratch­ing your head try­ing to fig­ure out what ex­actly just hap­pened, but maybe the fifth, tenth or twen­ti­eth time it’ll start to make a lit­tle more sense. Attack- minded play­ers should find they have a slightly eas­ier time here than they did in the Souls games, with ag­gres­sion re­warded above cau­tious play, per­haps best il­lus­trated by the fact that you’ll need to dodge at­tacks rather than block­ing them - a brave move by From. The re­moval of the block func­tion­al­ity is bal­anced by a new com­bat me­chanic that al­lows you to re­gain some health fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful strike from an en­emy if you can re­tal­i­ate within a set time- frame. Blood­borne knows you’re go­ing to take dam­age, but it at least of­fers you a way to min­i­mize its ef­fects; an un­ex­pected piece of le­nience from its de­vel­op­ers. That doesn’t mean that you can run around like you’re play­ing a meleefo­cussed Call of Duty clone, though. Know­ing when to pick a fight and when to avoid trou­ble will play a big part in your progress, as will the third op­tion of find­ing some­where safe to ob­serve from ( af­ter be­ing un­ex­pect­edly killed half a dozen times, of course), be­fore mak­ing your fi­nal de­ci­sion on how best to progress. Un­like its pre­de­ces­sors, Blood­borne isn’t afraid to throw the kitchen sink at play­ers, mak­ing crowd con­trol a hugely im­por­tant part of the game ( we had to pay for that in­creased fo­cus on at­tack­ing play some­how). It’s not un­com­mon to find your­self up against half a dozen or more enemies at any given time, with each smarter and with more po­ten­tial for death than most end of level bosses in other games. The fact that firearms are present here doesn’t make things any eas­ier, thanks to ex­tremely limited ammunition re­sources and the fact that guns are, for the most part, not all that use­ful against most of the game’s enemies, and much bet­ter used as a means to throw your enemies off guard be­fore at­tack­ing from closer quar­ters. Both vis­ually and in terms of level de­sign, From Soft­ware has clearly set out to make the player as un­com­fort­able as pos­si­ble. The afore­men­tioned re­li­gious over­tones go a long way to help­ing with that, but it’s more down to the in­creased fo­cus on the hor­ror el­e­ments of the game over­all. This isn’t a ti­tle that’s afraid to throw out the cheap scares when it feels you might be set­tling into some sem­blance of rou­tine or com­fort, with some­thing nasty al­most al­ways lurk­ing around the cor­ner, wait­ing to pounce or star­tle you with blood­cur­dling screams and moans. For a game that’s by no means a sur­vival hor­ror, it man­ages the task as­ton­ish­ingly well. In fact, pretty much ev­ery­thing in Blood­borne, painfully slow load­ing times aside, is just about as pol­ished and re­fined as you would have hoped. At its core it’s the same as the Souls games, but it man­ages to toy with the player in so many more ways that it stands out as a unique ex­pe­ri­ence, while changes to key me­chan­ics help dif­fer­en­ti­ate it even fur­ther. As with the pre­vi­ous games in the fam­ily it’s far from a cake­walk, and you will per­ish over, and over, and over again, but that’s part of the ex­pe­ri­ence. Those who suc­ceed will be the ones who are will­ing to ob­serve, learn and adapt to the game, ac­cept­ing the fact that its logic isn’t al­ways in line with es­tab­lished gam­ing tropes. Those who can­not adapt will fail, over and over again - and that’s what makes Blood­borne so great.

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