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.