As a Namco Bandai rep ushered us into the small, closet-sized room hiding Dark Souls away, a palpable foreboding settled amongst us huddled journalists. Nervous looks were exchanged, sheepish smiles, as each of us politely held the door, no-one wanting to enter first. "No, please; after you."
When we'd finally settled down, a From Software dev with an incongruous smile and cheerful mood fired up an all new, never-before-seen level from Dark Souls. And in order to show off just how difficult the game is, they wouldn't be pulling any tricks such as invincibility or god-mode. They died five times. In less than ten minutes.
Waking up in a dark, dank prison, our nameless Dark Souls hero - clad in bulky armor and sporting an enormous sword - wasted no time questioning his new-found surroundings as he set about dismembering a bunch of zombies who emerged from the inky dark. Even the shambling undead proved a challenge, Dark Soul's particular brand of paced, timed combat demanding steady hands.
We soon found a snake-headed guard slumbering by our door. A swift jab from our sword into his spinal column yielded a jailer's key, which duly opened our prison door. Emerging on a spiral staircase skirting the book-lined walls of an enormous cylindrical chamber, our escape was short-lived, as another snake-headed guard sounded a horn, which released a flock of slithering octopi who began swarming up the staircase.
The scene was, quite literally, bloodcurdling. The octopus monsters, with their faceless heads, writhing tentacles and off, slug-like bodies inspire an unnerving sense of dread as they ascend in numbers towards you. They're quite formidable, too, as they grab our hero in their arms and finish him with a single blow.
It took the developer on-hand quite a while to complete this particular section. In order to escape the chamber and its octopi guardians, you need a key. But the key is located at the bottom of the staircase, which requires either braving the horde or finding another option. Thankfully, a series of bookshelves jutting from the walls provide a perfect alternative route.
With the key in-hand, you must brave the staircase, avoiding the guardians who far exceed even the demo hero's inflated power. You clamber up a wooden ladder, dispatch with the meddlesome snake-headed guards cowering up top, then disable the horn controlling the octopi. They retreat to their sanctuary, and you're free to move on.
However, this is Dark Souls. It's not an easy game. In fact, the From Software dev narrating the demo told us to expect double the difficulty of spiritual predecessor, Demon Souls. And, true to his words, the hero was once again vanquished when a six-armed snake-head guard sporting a cobra-like hood zapped his body with a belch of magic.
To combat the growing tide of enemies you'll encounter, From Software have significantly upped the amount of weapons and items at your disposal. In the short demo alone, the hero wielded a variety of weapons, from a sword and shield-combo to a huge and unwieldy mace.
Without being given any hands-on time with Dark Souls, it was difficult to make a concrete judgement on the game. It's beautiful in a grim, Gothic sort of a way; the creature design is top-notch; and it's true to what fans of Demon Souls want from a sequel. In all honesty, it's so similar in look and feel that I imagine you could convince someone it's the original game.
But if you're in the market for a brutal, punishing and - dare I say it - mechanically defunct dungeon crawler, Dark Souls is the game for you. It has all the demon-slaying, item-hoarding and profanity-spewing mayhem you'd expect, with the added threat of online players jumping into your game to lend a hand; or not.
At the end of the demo, the developer stumbled on a treasure chest lurking in the corner. Finally, some respite and reward. He strolled towards it, lifted the lid... and a great demonic maw leaped out and chowed down on his head. That's right; Dark Souls is the sort of game that includes randomized insta-death treasure chests, identical to their innocuous wooden counterparts.
Dark Souls hits store shelves October 7th, this year