This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Bloodborne.
I think it’s fair to say that a beach resort on the dark side of Mars would have an easier time making its money back than a lot of AAA games these days. Seems like there’s only two options: you can either make something with such broad mass market appeal that it could only possibly offend lunatics who get triggered by pre-animated takedown moves 'cause they were a neck in a previous life, or you do one specific thing so well that the people who are into that have no choice but to come to you for it, a business strategy that works for both three-legged dwarf gigolos and From Software, who have been doing one specific thing for about four games now.
Fortunately, it’s a thing I’m into because I like explorative Metroidvania-style gameplay, I like subtle storytelling, I like banging my head against a wall with a scary monster drawn on it, and most of all, I like being incredibly depressed by the inevitability of death and lifelong suffering that will probably come as a result of banging my head against a wall. From Demon's Souls to Dark Souls to Dark Souls II to Bloodborne; same shit, different anus.
Bloodborne is Dark Souls after running all the text through the find-and-replace a few times, and the first challenge for the seasoned Dark Souls veteran like myself is figuring out what they renamed everything to. Estus is now Blood Vials, Souls are now Blood Echoes, Titanite is now Bloodstones; something of a pattern emerging here. It’s all blood, all the time. It’s like that time of the month at the all-female gladiatorial arena.
This is normally the point that I’d attempt to summarize the plot, but since my time machine is in the wash, I haven’t completely finished the game or gone through the whole thing with a team of archaeologists yet, so all I can say for certain is that you’re a chap or chappette in a slightly pre-industrial fantasy London full of angry townsfolk and werewolves, and your goal is to explore places and murder things until the game tells you to stop, and there’s something to do with a nightmare that makes things turn increasingly surreal, until you’re mainly fighting twisted monstrosities with four bums for a face, which I've personally have had nightmares about since the day I got trapped at the bottom of an orgy during a stomach virus outbreak.
It’s interesting to note that Dark Souls was about fighting dudes in armour and the odd malformed grotesquery with seven bollocks for a neck and Dark Souls II went on to be mainly just be about fighting dudes in armour, so appropriately Bloodborne takes the divergent path and becomes mainly about fighting smashed together abominations with eleven vaginas for a shin. There’s a wet, filthy, diseased overtone to the aesthetic that reminds me of a 7/11 sausage roll, but design-wise I’d say it’s closer to Dark Souls I than Dark Souls II was.
Dark Souls II went mostly for linear open areas with one entrance and one exit, while Bloodborne goes back to the maze-like environments that twist around and loop back into themselves appropriately enough like a handful of old tripe, with a starting city being most strongly reminiscent of the undead burg from Dark Souls if a touch more unintuitively laid-out (if you can believe that!), frequently raising the familiar Dark Souls feeling: Thank fucking Christ I found a dead end at last. Now I can try one of the other nine routes I discovered on my way here right after I investigate this innocuous looking pile of dead crows- ARGH! GEDDOFF! GEDDOFF! GEDDOFF!
As is always the case with 'the From Software game’, for there is only one, the broad strokes are the same but the nipples have been tweaked; the combat might be the plumpest and rosiest one. There’s a gun now, which introduces the concept of riposting attacks without having to take a meaty biff to the mush if you miss the two nanosecond window. Shielding is out, but you get health back if you hit them right after they hit you, favoring the frenetic girly slap-fight over the cautious approach, and you better get slapping, because you don’t fill up your potions at check points anymore. That’s fine when you’re in one of the areas where enemies drop health potions like they’re on their way home from the health potion keg party, but if you’re not and are in full bang-head-on-wall-mode trying to get past a boss, then to have the best possible chance, then every few tries you have to go back to a previous area that is now so beneath you it can only be picked up by deep sea geological surveying, and beg the locals for health potions like a Big Issue seller with a halberd.
I don’t play 'the From Software game' to stop banging my head on a wall for a while, I wanna bang it again and again, feeling it break a little more each time, before victory finally comes and I can go to the Accident and Emergency. And if they’re gonna patch the game at all, here’s a big fat suggestion they can consider the top of the priority list like your gran on a strippers’ pole, Please let us warp from any bonfire (or lantern, whatever) to any other bonlanfiretern. As it stands, you have to warp to the little green between worlds before you can warp anywhere else, so if you’re doing a lot of warping around exploring or scrounging potions, then you have to go through two loading screens to get anywhere, and the loading times are almost unforgivably bad! I've been staring at the game's logo so long I can see the patchy wedding invitation font every time I close my eyes. It’s almost deal-breakingly obnoxious for the game model that lives by the motto: If at first you don’t succeed, die, die, die again.
Still, at least we can take solace in the fact that this will NEVER be fixed because Sony gotta have their fucking exclusives! If there were a PC version, we’d know if the loading times were shit, there could be something we could do about it- buy better hardware for our rig, feed it chocolate truffles- but that loathsome little plastic cunt under my TV wants to keep 'the From Software game' away from all his old friends like a bitchy fiancée.
Maybe the loading times wouldn't be so long if some things weren't so bloody overdesigned! A user message can no longer just be a simple orange sprite that's easy to spot against murky backdrops. Nooo, now there must be dancing skeletons all around every single one, popping off champagne corks as the words are inscribed in gold dust on the midriff of a virgin. I’m guessing this is someone’s idea of “Next Gen”.
It’s odd because otherwise the model’s been fairly streamlined: no equipment loads, not as much variety in weapons and armour, although you can bling up your weapons with gems- sorry, blood-gems, how could I forget! On the whole, while Bloodborne is a huge game, the standard From Software model is plonker-tuggingly huge game, so that’s a step back if anything.
I like it more than Dark Souls II. The twisted atrocity boss is much more visually interesting than the dude-in-armour boss, but how many times, From Software, are you gonna fall back on "monster made up off multiple bodies smashed together?" It was cool when Castlevania did it, now it’s getting old. It just makes me wonder if the bodies ever argue over who has to be the arse.
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