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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dark Souls.

TranscriptEdit

So the major Quarter 1 releases are only properly kicking in around the end of the month. I am currently awaiting that period the way a surly abusive drunk awaits his sandwich, but one of the titles that stands on the horizon mockingly slapping its bum at me is Dark Souls II. Now, I never reviewed Dark Souls because other titles were out and my playtime was limited, and every time I sat down to it, it was like walking into a dark shed full of rakes, immediately treading on one and getting blatted in the face. Other people with more time on their hands started telling me it was the greatest thing since tummy-rubs, so I'd go back in the shed thinking, "Well, maybe there was just the one rake," before BLAT in the face again!

So I left it for a while, but this week with plenty of free time in my schedule, I thought to myself, "Last chance! I'll just keep tanking the rakes and maybe I'll somehow become really psychotically into being rake-faced just in time to be prepared for the sequel." And I'll be blatted in the face with a rake if that isn't kind of what happened. I've been raking myself all week right up to bedtime, I'm at risk of going blind!

You see, I resisted Dark Souls partly because people kept telling me, "It's good once you're used to it" and I've always held that the same thing can be said about being boiled alive, so I'd ask them to explain why it's good and they'd reply, "Ooh, we can't tell you. You'll just have to find out for yourself." And then I'd say, "Shut up or fuck off, ideally both, in either order!" But then after watching a decent Let's Play of the game, gone over the wiki a few times and a six week preparation with a team of advisors and physical trainers, I was able to break through the wall. And I suppose that's the first failing of Dark Souls; that you need the fucking Cliff's Notes to get into it.

It's a game that depends on shared knowledge, hence presumably the mechanic wherein players can leave little Post-It notes for each other, but the ones that say anything as helpful as "Hey, you can only summon helpers in boss fights when you're Unhollowed," or "Look, here's a narrow and easy to miss path down which lies the rest of the fucking game" are in a vast minority to the ones that say "Try Jumping" right next to bottomless pits. How witty of you, random player, and only getting wittier after fifty fucking times!

I'd say the turning point was some ways in when I thought "Maybe I'll try this boss again, or maybe I'll explore the three other areas that opened up after I've wrangled the Sacred Vest of St. Bumnose." And then it hit me; that's Symphony of the Night thinking, and I loved Symphony of the Night! But no non-2D games have captured the essence of metroidvania, I'd argue, since Metroid Prime. And then I knew where we all were and was free hereafter to happily halberd hellspawn. The game sparkles then, when it starts sprawling like pavement puke after a night on the Goldschläger, but first impressions let it down 'cos for the first couple of hours, there's really only one way to go and it ends with a boss fight on a roof that's about as forgiving as a stand-up gig at the Nuremberg trials.

And while it's fine that the game seems to court the hardcore audience, a gentler barrier to entry might have turned less new players off, and more to the point, made the ones that did get through a bit less insufferably smug. "Oh yes, that boss fight is easy-peasy as long as you've got the Orange Listerine Ring, which you must have found because it's right there, in the open, in a chest in a basement in a different postcode behind two secret walls and a fire!"

Dark Souls has one of my favourite methods of storytelling, which is to say not telling it. There are few cutscenes, very little exposition, no spunky love interest with prominent visible cleavage (unless you count the one with the giant spider for an arse.) There's no big villain either; the closest thing to a villain is the inevitable entropic decay of the universe. You are an undead, a lone cursed being in a dying world where all the great gods and noble heroes have either abandoned you or gone insane, and you must put them all out of their misery in the slim hope of extending everyone's shitty lives for a few more years. In other words, it's kind of like being the Grateful Dead on tour.

Much like the original Half-Life, your level of involvement in the plot is pretty much up to you. Maybe you'll wonder why this giant wolf is trying to shiv you for getting too close to a mysterious grave, or maybe you won't, or assume he mistook it for a fire hydrant, who cares? Another unfeasably big thing to kill, yeah! Now let's kill all the merchants for a laugh! There's a certain liberty in hopeless, isn't there? 'Cos things can't get one hundred and one percent fucked.

The environment is what truly tells the story of Dark Souls. I wish it was a rule that you can only put stuff in your skybox if the player gets to visit it at some point 'cos then, say, the Syndicate FPS would've looked like it was taking place inside a ping-pong ball while Dark Souls would be laughing, 'cos if you ever see a distant tower or ruin in the distance, then chances are you'll go there at some point and chances are there's something big inside it whose favourite food is your face. The environment design reminds me very strongly of Painkiller's, all massive catacombs and lordly halls, most of which seemed to have been designed for someone twenty feet taller than you for some reason.

It also has that Painkiller quality where it looks like they designed the environment first and figured out how you get around it second. There's a bit in the big palace area where the only way forward is to run up and over a decorative buttress while being shot at by arrow snipers who've apparently resigned themselves to the fact that they're not gonna make any new friends in this job. It all goes together to create this crushing sense of being a tiny helpless thing buzzing around the remnants of a once-mighty world, like someone who follows the Grateful Dead on tour.

So it turns out it's actually quite easy to explain why Dark Souls is good. It's because it's deep, and dripping with atmosphere like Barry White's sweatiest armpit, the Silent Hill 2 brand of atmosphere. The constant oppression weighing down on you like a whale scrotum rucksack, so that the moments of victory upon killing the giant whale scrotum monster are all the more cathartic before another dump-truck full of whale scrotums upends upon your head.

It is harsh, but it's also fair. "Ha ha!" you might say, "You hammered me into the size and shape of a deflated paddling pool the last three times we've met, boss monster! But now I know all of your attack patterns and I'm basically Fantasy Batman!" Indeed I was almost disappointed by how easy the boss fights got in the late game, once I was properly equipped and in the zone. Their sheer size stops being intimidating when you realize that a significant percentage of them are weak to the strategy of burying your face in their arse, slashing at their back leg and rolling away whenever they start winding up their stomp attack for the requisite eleven and a half minutes.

And now I am in the zone, I'm gonna be fucking ruined for the usual standard of game difficulty. Gonna have to play the new Thief with a lobster on each bollock.

Addenda:Edit

  • Envious of people with souls: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • For the sequel I'd like to request a bit less of that running along bridges the width of a womble's willy
  • Can I propose an all-underwater sequel called 'Shark Souls'

ScreenshotsEdit

Zero Punctuation - 335 - Dark Souls.mp4 snapshot 01.26 -2014.02.27 11.13.49-

It's a game that depends on shared knowledge...

Zero Punctuation - 335 - Dark Souls.mp4 snapshot 02.29 -2014.02.27 11.14.27-

"Oh yes, that boss fight is easy-peasy as long as you've got the Orange Listerine Ring."

Zero Punctuation - 335 - Dark Souls.mp4 snapshot 04.37 -2014.02.27 11.15.41-

"... but now I know all of your attack patterns and I'm basically Fantasy Batman!"

Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata

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