For those who see themselves as true, committed gamers, few objects generate a greater sense of anticipation than a new game made by From Software. The Japanese developer has cultivated a fearsome reputation as a complete no-compromise merchant, primarily by making its games so difficult that in order to traverse them, you must be prepared to die – and frequently. Which holds especially true for Bloodborne.
As with previous From Software games, Bloodborne is an action-RPG but, in this case, the emphasis has subtly shifted away from the RPG elements (which have been simplified to focus solely on improving your character’s attributes and upgrading his or her weaponry) and towards action. Whereas the likes of Dark Souls combined a melee weapon with a shield, requiring you to attack and defend in equal measure, Bloodborne replaces the shield with a gun, which causes little damage but instead is used to halt attacking enemies in their tracks. Thus, you’re constantly on the offensive, targeting a new enemy when you’ve finished the last one off, and rolling out of the way when hostile beats are threatening to swamp you.
In Bloodborne, you take on the role of an unnamed hunter, plunged into the mysterious city of Yharnam, which is in the grip of some sort of outbreak that has bestialised most of inhabitants. By killing the foul creatures you encounter, including the likes of werewolves, hunchbacks, wraiths and crazed giant zombie pigs, you harvest Blood Echoes, which constitute the game’s currency.
Bloodborne vaguely hints that you’re supposed to traverse Yharnam and its environs to find out what happened and restore it to its former glory, and you do encounter non-infected inhabitants (generally locked in their houses), but it has no storyline in a conventional gaming sense. Instead, the city forms a narrative of its own, as you unlock shortcuts and defeat some of the most intimidating and ghoulish bosses imaginable to gain access to new areas. Cut-scenes are kept to a bare minimum, but the scabrous environment – a glorious gothic cityscape studded with dead, decaying horses and the like – tells its own story.
You can go online, which brings ghost-images of how other players dealt with tricky enemies, and allows you to ring a bell to summon other players to co-operate with you through seemingly impenetrable sequences. Plus you can use chalices to create randomly generated dungeons. Bloodborne’s single-player experience is satisfyingly meaty, and it has plenty of replay value.
Very occasionally, frame-rate issues crop up (which From Software has already said it is dealing with) and load times between (all too frequent) deaths are noticeably long. More annoyingly, the camera can sometimes go haywire, and there’s a certain raggedness in evidence which can, for example, result in you getting stuck in environmental nooks and crannies while under attack.
And Bloodborne isn’t for everyone – as with any From Software game, completing it allows you to claim you’ve earned your spurs as a true gamer. Given the lowliness of your attributes when you first fire it up, the initial stage of the game leading up to the first boss is ludicrously hard – so much so that those who aren’t over-endowed with patience might simply tire of all the dying and give up, before they have really got started.
But the rewards Bloodborne offers are immense. Overcoming a game with a high difficulty level breeds an extra amount of satisfaction, and the game’s twisted world is an unbelievably immersive place in which to lose yourself. At last, the PlayStation 4 has a truly compelling exclusive game in its locker.