sat 20/07/2024

Bloodborne | reviews, news & interviews



Brutally hard, but rewarding action gaming

'Bloodborne': Gothic style, tough action, gallons of red stuff…

Should games be challenging? One of the perennial design challenges of videogames. Make a game too tough and you'll put people off; make it too easy and you'll offer no interest. And then there's the tricky issue of individuals having vastly different play styles and abilities.

Bloodborne and its predecessors Dark Souls and Demon's Souls offer no sliding scale of player-set difficulty and, while you're at it, little in the way of mercy. I absolutely loathed the Souls games – for making me feel rubbish as a gamer, for making me die over and over, for offering no incentive, no easy way in, no learning curve other than the slow, iterative grind of a thousand deaths, trying different approaches until I hit on one that worked.

Bloodborne - PS4 exclusive from Dark Souls creatorThese games represented a "hardcore" triumph over the "casual" gamer – a gauntlet laid down to get better, get tougher, move faster, or simply give up (possibly via throwing a controller through the TV). Except many of us don't want to be forced to master arcane finger-mangling skills to play games – and nor should we be forced to.

Games should be a mass medium – where anyone can pick up a controller and feel the thrill of being a hero, of living a life less ordinary, and of exploring places you might never want to or be able to go in reality. They should scale and bend to the player – always offering challenge and interest, but never making you feel puny and pitiful.

Despite that still-held belief, Bloodborne is so good I may have to reappraise its predecessors. Set in a Steampunk grotesque and gothic city, covered in chained coffins and half-wolf villagers, Bloodborne does several things markedly differently from the Souls games.

For me, switching from fantasy castles to semi-Victorian squalor makes the game much more involving. But more importantly, Bloodborne is a far more aggressive affair.

Instead of guarding constantly with a shield, Bloodborne rewards fast, propulsive strikes, dashes and rolls to close or escape, and quickly calculated switching between pistol and melee weapon. It feels faster and more bloodily brutal for it. Particularly key is the way that if you're hit, you have a brief moment to strike back and regain your blood, before it's permanently spilled – this encourages speed mixed with strategy.

Bloodborne - PS4 exclusive from Dark Souls creatorBloodborne also succeeds by requiring a lot less wading through what look like Satan's spreadsheets. Sure, your character and weapons all have endless arcane statistics. And picking them carefully certainly helps. But ultimately, each weapon is fairly obvious in what it does and how it plays – you simply experiment and pick one whose attacks work for you.

This more simple approach carries on into storytelling too – based less around reading screeds of text and more around what you pick up as you go along. This combination of setting, more visceral, yet still strategic action, and streamlined play certainly makes Bloodborne far more enjoyable, for me at least.

Be warned though, it's still incredibly tough – this is a game of trial-by-error, of working and reworking routes through enemy camps, of gigantic and disgusting "boss battles" that will take hours and hundreds of deaths to work through. It's also still unforgiving in its learning curve, in the need to often scurry to internet "walkthroughs" or the messages left by players in-game for advice, and its cramped environments are often still too awkward – requiring skill and tactics that only apply to this game.

Despite those flaws, I'm still at it. And that, perhaps is the mark of its quality – the controller has yet to be buried into the TV. I'm still fighting the game. Still losing. But still enjoying inching slowly forward.

Still fighting the game. Still losing. But still enjoying inching slowly forward


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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