QCF: Bloodborne

ow that the skill and challenge of video games has caught a second wind, the waves of difficult games have been coming out of the woodwork from both the western and eastern hemispheres of the world. The thrill of ever stacking odds working against your favor is slowly growing into insatiable sensation that’s winning over the free time and attention of those who fall victim to it’s addictive, yet punishing taste.

A relatively new property to have come out of the last generation of video games by FROM Software is credited with pioneering the resurgence of mercilessly challenging gameplay design we’ve seen on the modern scene with their “Souls” franchise.

While the style is relatively niche on the whole, Sony’s involvement with the developer may have changed the game with the latest title from the mold, Bloodborne; a celebration of everything that makes the cult-style of action game so intimidating, and so appealing all at once.

The first thing that comes to mind about the PS4’s exclusive gory Japanese-developed horror show is how much it resembles a particular idiom over the years; it’s a train wreck that you can’t look away from.

And while that impression doesn’t sound very endorsing, it’s not exactly what may initially come to mind—never before has a visual design and its graphical performance made the grotesque so beautiful and enrapturing since the release of Doom 3 on the PC.

The presentation of Bloodborne pulls no punches when it comes to the delivery of its twisted kingdom of death and misery. All the sights and sounds within the land of Yarnham are made up of just about every terrifying concept that’s ever gone bump in the night, and the manner in which it’s executed is a very articulate, almost frighteningly realistic representation of the macabre that’s ever been done before.

Soaking in the detailed bloodletting of a Lovecraftian monster oozing puss out of its eyes to a barnacle-encrusted witch with a creepy haunch that would make Quasimodo’s stature look like that of Shaquille O'Neal in comparison—the conviction and follow through of everything demonstrated on-screen is what really sells the atmosphere and impact of its gruesome graphical design.

It goes without saying that deliciously sweet eye-candy isn’t enough to buoy the success of a modern game, and that players demand a rounded-out, three-course meal to fully satiate their experience with the title, especially when the particular title is the fourth pseudo-sequel of sorts. Thankfully, the partnered efforts of FROM Software and Japan Studio have managed to refine the nuanced concepts that define the formula, in a manner that doesn’t compromise the fundamentals that made them so appealing in the first place.

The combat in Bloodborne hasn’t strayed far from what’s to be expected out of it as a spiritual successor to Hidetaka Miyazaki’s cult action series. The physics are limiting and stiff, and keeping steady and disciplined within these confines is the only way to be successful, as the challenge will only continue to relentlessly command new levels of concentration towards every action that’s made. Everything that makes the gameplay the famous bastard that it’s known to be is fully intact.

The distinction here however is that there’s a new sense of flexibility to all of the rules that adds a new layer of depth to combat, one that makes the entire system much more approachable to work with, and yet, significantly more diverse for anyone who’s desired to explore new plateaus of skill that weren't previously available in Bloodborne’s predecessors.

Instances where every frame within every progressive form of attack and defense and their varying strengths and weaknesses were normally hinged upon the player’s cognizance and how they delegated the input of their assault or defense within the restrictions of physics, has now been scaled back more to immediate reflex and reaction to the heat of battle. Most of the strikes and attacks of Bloodborne are more adaptable in their application, allowing for the opportunity to be interrupted at a moment’s notice for either a different attack, or a hasty evasion.

A majority of the expanded palate of combat is owed to the two distinctive mechanics that owe great deal to the Melee-heavy focus that’s driven in Bloodborne; dual-wielding firearms with melee weapons, and trick weapons. Moments where a fight descends into a life or death struggle, having a readily accessible firearm is an equalizer that can change the tide of battle within seconds, as long as it’s used when it counts—then there are the trick weapons.

Trick weapons are armaments that have the ability to transform at any moment. The Hunter’s Axe for example, has a utility to where you can use it as a one-handed short axe, or two-handed long one—completely interchanging the variable speeds, and reach between the two forms should one form be better suited than the other when the situation calls for it.

Not only does this feature offer more versatility to combat, but it also the adds a layer of variety that makes the barrier of entry to the nuance mechanics of Bloodborne’s attack system much more accessible, and user-friendly—all without compromising the underlying depth to the system that makes the gameplay so distinctive.

While this new freedom isn’t available to every type of weapon or battle style, that fact that it exists only loosens the grips on the gate of accessibility a little more to anyone who’s ever been turned off by the heavy emphasis of adhering to predetermined tactics in an action heavy game.

Another new feature to endorse this more zealous outlook on battle in particular is the Visceral Attack. Very similar to the Guard Break maneuver in Dark Souls II, it’s a technique that involves firing your gun at just the right moment against an attacking enemy, parrying their assault down to a moment of vulnerability, and giving you the opportunity to slice off a large portion of their vitality in a bloody show of plasma and entrails.

The Melee-heavy focus of the game’s combat and its ease of access can slightly devalue any interest into utilizing the Arcane magic abilities. It’s kind of a drag considering that all of the previous incarnations of the magical attack system within the series that Bloodborne muses from has always had a deep, effective array of techniques and buffs—though admittedly, they are also over-powered.

This entry is certainly not the advocate for a balanced system of choices that players may have been waiting for.

The multiplayer applications are very reminiscent of Demon Souls, with the ability to leave helpful (but restrictively vague) notes and hints within the world of Yarnham for all of the other intrepid Hunters to stumble upon and heed at their own discretion. In addition, there are certain enemies that allow for a certain item to be used that allows for other players to invade your campaign, which lends itself to be an ingenious palate cleanser to the main game, with interesting kill-switch to the whole mechanic and all.

Narratively, all the pivotal events and story developments are all presented through these intricately implicit references and or subtle actions that offer little to no exposition whatsoever, commanding an attention to detail to every bit of lore that the world of Bloodborne has to offer.

While this sort of world building is effective in bridging a more personal investment into what’s going on, the overall plot sadly leaves little left to be desired, which is a shame considering the intrigue and appeal of the setting that it takes place in. The plot ultimately ends up delivering too little of a reward for all of the stock players are expected to give it.

Even if any of the previous “Souls” games have ever turned you off before, Bloodborne is the title that truly possesses all of the qualities necessary to be the difference maker; the most well rounded advocate to convince players that the challenging, spirit-crushing difficulty of its gameplay can actually be self-fulfilling, and enjoyable, thanks to tight mechanics and engrossing world.

In a climate where third-party exclusives are getting to be more and more scarce, The newest title to come out of FROM Software and Sony, contains everything it will ever need to justify the cost of the PlayStation 4 and more—pick this up at your soonest opportunity folks.

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