Chances are, you're either a big fan of the Dark Souls series or you just can't be doing with their brand of no-nonsense difficulty and downright unresponsive controls.
Me? I'm not a fan and haven't been since I played the original Demon's Souls. So why am I the one talking to you about Bloodborne, a game by the same devs and seen as a potential killer exclusive on the PS4 for fans of From Software’s series? Well, after trying out the recent Alpha, I'm thinking maybe Bloodborne will be worth a look after all and those of you that aren't fans of the Souls games probably shouldn't dismiss it so soon.
Is it still hard? Of course, and the checkpoints (or lack of them in the Alpha) will certainly make your eyes water a little and I'm sure there will be plenty of difficulty settings to nail that feel of trapping your junk in your zip, or stubbing your toe for hours on end or what other kink that makes you keep playing these bastards.
So, let's dive into the Alpha demo. First of all you're given the option of four different characters with four varying weapon loadouts. The first is the one you may have seen in past footage with a blunderbuss gun and a saw cleaver, this was the first one I tried. The second was armed with a pistol and a sword that could split into two blades at the touch of a button.
So, the bone cleaver chap first, a brief play with the buttons before setting off revealed that the melee weapon had two forms which could be swapped between via the L1 button. One saw the weapon fold in half, while the alternative elongated the blade to scythe-like proportions.
didn't have to wonder far before my first encounter as an angry attacker appeared around the side of a carriage in the street and brandishing a flaming torch. As with most opponents he was melee focussed and I had to wait for a decent window to attack. The roll function is reliably responsive and made dodging his attacks a breeze.
The saw cleaver strikes in the primary form (elongated) are quite slow, but powerful and the wider reach is also useful when taking on crowds. Holding the attack button will also charge the attack. Heavy and weak strikes are available, allowing you to choose how much time to risk attacking an enemy.
I was a little annoyed to find that your attacks are a little inconsistent as to whether they will interrupt an enemy strike. Some strikes would take loads of damage from an enemy, but their swing would continue, while others would stop them mid-swing. I could accept this from huge foes, but evenly matched ones will hopefully be more consistent in the final build.
Eager to try more than one character, I soon switched to the dual-blade one after a few quick deaths. ‘This is more like it’ I thought within about 30 seconds. The alternate modes switch between one sword or two, with a pleasing animation showing you snapping them together or apart for each stance which adds a bit of theatrical badassery to proceedings when you square off against enemies.
This character seems much more agile and the strikes themselves are faster, meaning you can dash in for a few slashes and roll out of the way of any retaliation. The strikes themselves may be a little weaker than the cleaver, but the added manoeuvrability kept me alive much longer and allowed me to progress further into the demo.
The character design here was a little different too as instead of a long coat, I seemed to be sporting a shredded cloak with lots of individual pieces that danced around when I moved to almost hypnotic effect.
It’s not just the character models that look great. I took a few seconds to pan the camera around and found a beautifully realised Victorian-inspired setting and a huge sprawling city that is hopefully fully available to explore in the final game. Sure everything's a little grey and gloomy, but the detail is really impressive at this stage.
The enemies themselves are well designed too. The mix of strangely tall famers and coachmen match the setting well and they attack with anything from short swords, pistols and even lengthy pitchforks. Nothing seemed to threaten with an instant kill which, but the limited amount of health potions didn't seem to refill upon death (boo!). But I'm sure some of you sadists out there are pitching a tent for that.
I also found a valid tactic when taking on groups was to run and roll to safety. Not that the crowds won't chase you for a while. It turns out molotov cocktails are quite handy if you can get a few following you up some stairs by the way.
It's not all angry farmers though, I stumbled across a large enemy about the size of an elephant that was obviously way out of my league as my attacks only made the slightest chips at his health bar, but hopefully this is an example of the game’s open world giving us plenty of areas to revisit when we've beefed up enough.
Nothing could have prepared me for arriving at a scene where I become surrounded by giant crows that seemed unable to fly and just sort of hobbled towards me with hungry stabby beaks. So unnerved I was that I bollocked the controls, threw a stone at them (otherwise used to create distractions) and shortly died. Fortunately for you, I was recording it at the time and you can see it in my video for a laugh.
Sadly, thanks to the final session being cancelled, that's as far as I got in the Alpha demo. But I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying the challenge much more than expected. The controls are significantly more responsive than From Software's previous titles and the harsh difficulty feels fairer when you actually get to attack on your own terms rather than watching a lengthy animation awaken from its irritable slumber. For those of you that think this all sounds too easy and watered down, you can always hit yourself in the hand or head with a hammer first to get that Dark Souls feel.