When I walked into Sony’s Gamescom booth to get some much awaited hands-on time with From Software’s Bloodborne, I had conflicting feelings. On one side I was hyped, but on the other hand I was a little afraid of disappointment. After it was leaked as “Project Beast” the hype about the game had grown exponentially, and very few games manage to match that kind of hype with actual substance, even more so with a limited demo.
I had seen the game’s graphics two days before at Sony’s press conference, but the impact with an actual screen in front of my eyes was unexpected. Bloodborne really looks amazing. And it isn’t just a matter of pixels and polygon count. What really stands out, much more than in From’s Souls games, is the art direction.
Bloodborne‘s world and its inhabitant are depicted in a delightfully creepy, beautifully coherent and simply fantastic way. A Victorian city devastated by a deadly plague isn’t certainly an easy subject to depict, but the artists at From Software and Sony’s Japan Studio created something that can only be defined as a work of art.
And if the devil is in the details, Bloodborne is the devil incarnate. Both the environments, the characters and the boss encounters are designed with great attention to every little etching, pebble, ornate railing and scrap of cloth.
All those lovely details are embraced by just the perfect lighting. While many talk about 1080p and 60 frames per second, few realize that the single most relevant element to how spectacular a game looks is lighting, and Bloodborne does lighting perfectly, enriching the already beautiful environments, and bathing characters in an eerie light that makes them look even more terrible and wretched. The fact that torches are a relevant part of the game’s combat makes their dynamic lights even more important, especially since there are dark rooms that need to be illuminated, and those are the most terrifying of them all.
While the visuals honestly surprised me, the gameplay didn’t, but this isn’t a bad thing. The reason I wasn’t overly shocked is simply because it’s quite familiar to anyone that played Dark Souls II. The pace is in most cases quite deliberate, with enemies executing slow and ponderous attacks that do a great job in making them feel threatening and imposing.
But you shouldn’t be tricked by the enemies’ apparent sluggishness. The main character isn’t much faster, and that’s what makes the combat tactical and extremely fun. You have to think ahead and plan your moves carefully, while often being ready for the unexpected. Bloodborne isn’t a twitchy game, but it requires skill, timing and a lot of “playing smart” to succeed.
The demo was most probably toned down in difficulty, as most challenging games are on a show floor, but it still required a lot of dodging and rolling, and most definitely to keep constantly in motion. Ebb and flow is the key, and you’ll pretty much move around like a boxer, lunging in to strike and then pulling out as quickly as you can, again and again. Just standing there and hacking away will get you killed very, very fast.
One of the elements that might throw veteran Souls players a bit off is the lack of a shield or any kind of parry mechanic. There’s no turtling in Bloodborne, and the player is constantly encouraged to keep his offensive up. The “regain” system dictates that when the player is hit, there’s a small window of time in which he can strike back. If he succeeds, he’ll be able to regenerate some or all the lost energy, if not, it’ll be irreparably gone.
The presence of regeneration in the game may raise some eyebrows, but it just makes perfect sense. You can basically consider it the opposite of blocking. While the Souls games rewarded turtling, often even too much, in Bloodborne you have to be reactive not only before getting hit, but also afterwards, getting those quick counterstrikes in before the window expires. It’s exhilarating, and it helps a lot in keeping up the pace and urgency of the battle.
last but not least, the transformable weapons, torches and firearms give the game’s combat a lot of depth. If you want to really get the most out of your fighting abilities, you’ll find yourself switching often. Shooting your gun to stagger an opponent, then landing a special attack with the long version of the melee weapon, followed by a series of quick combos with the short version.
Of course there are many more variations, and Bloodborne‘s arsenal, even in its limited demo incarnation, provided a lot of freedom, which unfortunately was interrupted by the limited time at my disposal. I definitely left wanting more… A lot more.
Ultimately, my experience with Bloodborne was without a doubt one of the most exciting and fulfilling between all the demos I tried at Gamescom, if not the best overall. If I had to choose a game of the PlayStation line-up that has the most solid potential to be a real system seller, that game would be Bloodborne.