Tuesday, 7 April 2015

BLOODBORNE: Gamertroll Review - PS4 Exclusive (No Spoilers)

"Greatness Awaits" and "This Is For The Gamers" - Two risable marketing blurbs long worthy of ridicule, in an instant have just stopped being sad, joke sentences. The wait for Greatness is over and 'The Gamers' no longer need pretend to love a series of spoiled steaks.

18 months in and the first game that categorically justifies the new generation of hardware has landed with a bone-crunching THUMP. Now the drought is over let's be honest, it has arrived exclusively for the machine that has, up until now had the weakest quality line up. Who'd have thought the small Tokyo studio 'From software' were going to deliver a payday like this? Well.. Gamertroll for one and I'd imagine anyone else who has played From's other Hardcore hack and slash fantasy RPG's, Demon Souls and the Dark souls games.

If you've never played a game from this stable before but are thinking of picking this one up to find out what all the fuss is about: Brace yourself.

No listen, BRACE YOURSELF, because all hell is coming with the sole aim to smash you into bloody fragments. There will be times where you will feel that you cannot carry on, that something is somehow broken, making a particular foe impossible to beat. So what do you do about it? Play on, or flick it 'the bird' and play something else? No answer is wrong, but If you think you'd double-down and push forward: read on friend. A spectacular game has arrived to test your mettle and exhilarate the senses in equal measure.

Between chipping away at the mountainous campaign and making Boss guide videos, Gamertroll has been struggling to allocate this Review the time it deserves. It's been both difficult to tear myself away and to explain with sufficient impartiality that Bloodborne is so dazzlingly brilliant, so far above the established bar that no reasonable individual can deny it. If somebody doesn't like it, that's just too bad. For them. Those are the people who slept through that epic sunrise because their alarm clock didn't go off, or missed out on meeting the love of their life at a party because they were outside puking Bacardi..

Just joking. That attitude would be wrong, elitist and unfair to those who simply won't get on with it. It's a shame but contrary to popular belief, it is allowed!

With that in mind, It is important to state that despite it's obvious quality, Bloodborne is somewhat of a niche and divisive title. It's blisteringly hard and intentionally obfuscating in it's mechanics and lore.

For every person who feels excluded by this demanding challenge (Gamertroll is thinking of Boogie/Francis on Youtube smashing a PS4 pad with a hammer right now), there's another person who just won't tolerate the regular and often unfair twisted nipples Bloodborne dishes out. Hell, sometimes it can twist your nipples right off. Those who chafe at that harshness are players who could likely beat Bloodborne but refuse to be treated so unpleasantly on the journey. Gamertroll respects the stubbornness of gamers who won't take shit off of the 'souls' games and regrets to confirm to those same individuals that they are not going to like this one either. Not one bit.

If however, you are the type of player that has at some point in their lives been so frustrated by a game that they have bitten a controller with all their teeth-cracking might and thrown it across the room, or punched the eject button on a Super Nintendo so hard that the game Cart has flown up in the air, high enough to backhand into a wall before collecting yourself to recommence play with revenge in your heart: this game is made to test you. Or break you. Bloodborne's creator has stated the game is specifically aimed at a 'hardcore' audience. Flattery perhaps, but if you can take anything on the chin and are sick enough to enjoy proving it or just have a masters degree in patience: you passed the interview and what a job From Software has lined-up for you here.

For those prepared to stomach it's awesome brutality and weather the worst of it's harsh and often seemingly insurmountable challenges: The rewards are hefty and manifold. Not least, is that It's undoubtedly genius producer Hidetaka Miyazaki's best game to date.

As a matter of fact, Bloodborne is the best game Gamertroll has played for over a decade. (Yep. I even like it better than the Bioshocks.. sorry Levine)

The difficulty that is such a deal-breaking issue for many gamers, is nevertheless necessary to promote that all essential fear of the game's foes and the dizzying sense of achievement once they are beaten. There is only one difficulty: bastard hard and Bloodborne wouldn't be Bloodborne without it. Even if a gamer is gifted enough to find it easy, saying so is just being a pompous asshole.

Perhaps in direct relation to that core difficulty is that there's an ingrained sense of mystery and discovery that generates an excitement for exploration in a way most video games have forgotten how to do (the first Tomb Raider nailed this). In the old days the thrill of virgin video game technology or introduction of 3D over 2D helped to reinforce the exciting element of discovery in Pivotal games, but as we've become more and more jaded as an audience, the task of instilling that same sense of wonder has become a huge challenge for game developers.

Miyazaki revealed in an interview last week with British Newspaper 'The Guardian', that as a child he used to read fantasy horror borrowed from his local library. He regularly took books home that far-exceeded his limited reading ability and as a result he made up for those gaps in comprehension with his own imagination. The environments, narrative and lore that feature in the 'Souls' games and now Bloodborne are an extension of that very personal artifice. This detailed ambiguity that Miyazaki (yet again) conjures in this Lovecraftian adventure positively encourages a player's whimsical speculation.

The environments are at once amongst the most miserably inhospitable and compellingly captivating Gamertroll has ever experienced in a game.

Visually, one could argue that Bloodborne is not as technically accomplished as say, The Order: 1886, but the judgement and sheer care and attention to detail taken in it's art direction lifts it to levels beyond mere graphical number-crunching. Bloodborne is a horrible fairy tale made in stark detail and as such, it represents a top-flight example of the gaming artform.

The path ahead is not always clear
When viewed from almost any angle, the picturesque and meticulously illustrated scenery is placed and composed as to be worthy of a macabre oil painting. When standing in an copse of overwhelmingly dense graveyard vegetation, that density of textures can become almost hypnotic, an effect that is intentionally intensified by a washed-out palette of dreary sepia. The very twist and lilt of every tree branch seems perfectly arranged in tune with the game's Horrific themes, but this is but only part of the success of Bloodborne's clever environments.

Bloodborne's terrible beauty is matched and enhanced further by ingenious functionality. Yarnham and it's locale represent nothing short of a triumph in level design, the crazy geometry linking areas In surprisingly cunning ways. If you can see an area or structure looming out of the murky skyline, you can almost certainly get to it with enough persistence.

You are not the only Hunter in Yarnham
There is by intention no map screen to be found here. You will need to memorise everything you learn about Yarnham's intricate labyrinth. As a consequence you'll be carrying that nightmarish place around in your head even when not playing, vowing to investigate loose ends and dark corners each time you return. This helps to lend the game's morbid world a special permanency, magnifying your sense of shock each time you accidentally uncover yet another subtle entrance to a sprawling area that was right under your nose the whole time. It's those kind of discoveries that will teach you a considerable respect for Yarnham's environments.

More than once Gamertroll has beaten a mighty foe only to discover that he could have reached new areas even before the confrontation had begun. You must understand that Bloodborne is still linear to a certain extent but at the same time it's possible to attack some bosses and discover paths to new locations in a non-sequential order, it's even possible to finish the game without encountering some of them.

Every leaf and twig is horror personified, but it's not just for decoration. Every building seen here can be found and entered
By all means, soak up the atmosphere but you'll also need to spare a gimlet eye for that set of otherwise innocuous stairs, obscured ledge, blind corner or gaps in the railings which at the very least can allow you to cut around scores of enemies.

You would expect Miyazaki to play it safe with all the accolades already under his belt: this being his all important hardware generational debut and all, but he doesn't seem to know the word safe. Bloodborne signifys a marked departure from his previous titles, in that the medieval knights in armour fantasy-setting has been swapped out for a 18th century, Hyper-Gothic steam-aged aesthetic crossed with Transylvanian sensibilities, complete with pitchfork wielding heathen peasants and flying buttresses. Shields have been replaced by a charming selection of firearms and the primary Melee weapons have morphed into a smaller, more concise collection multifunctional 'trick' weapons.

This makes for surprisingly bold changes to the combat gameplay. By effectively removing the defensive options that shields provided, Bloodborne's pistols and blunderbusses encourage far riskier offensive gambits. Indeed the whole game is geared towards mounting fearsome offensive onslaughts by awarding a well-timed shot with a parry-like opportunity to deal out damaging 'visceral' attacks. There's even a new ability to regain health lost moments earlier to the player who deals out swift retribution. A prefered gameplay theme of raging aggression has superseded the circumspect approach of combat in those previous games.

Miyazaki's contextually relevant online multiplayer features return here too, but now with the added function of using passwords to link up in the main campaign for Co-op with friends and even take on the new randomly generated 'Chalice dungeons'. These surprisingly engaging new dungeons not only add longevity to an already long game but feature content not found elsewhere, coming in the shape of new enemies, bosses and items.

You're going to see this legend plenty
In one Top-hatted and monocled swish of it's cane, Bloodborne succeeds in rendering the recent climate of debates about satisfactory game length and game quality utterly obsolete. Even forgetting the Chalice dungeons and the irrepressible draw of online hunting, the attricious campaign will set you back 50+ hrs at even the most conservative of estimates. Any repetition of enemies or areas due to farming are offset by the complexity and pure craft of each of those elements. This is no 'Destiny' grind. Here is indefatigable evidence of greatness: there can be no decent argument that can sully Miyazaki's achievement here, Bloodborne is purest gaming gold and it's polished shine is dazzling in it's self-evidential glow.

Everytime you think you have a handle on the size and scope of Bloodborne you will be confronted with the realisation that it is bigger than you thought. Where the precipitous difficulty teaches grudging respect for even the lowliest of enemies, equally it makes the revelation of new areas feel sweeter and more intrepid.

If Gamertroll was going to have a shitlist: Top mention goes to the horrific, 40-second load times between hubs and the occasional drop in frame rate that can similiarly piss on the proverbial party, breaking immersion with it's weird signature 'buzz' over the soundtrack, but to make a huge fuss over those two piffling gripes would be taking things out of all proportion, like winning 13 million on the lottery and complaining because you bought two tickets.

10 years ago Hidetaka Miyazaki did a very un-Japanese thing. At the age of 29 He took an 80% pay cut to abandon his chosen career and start over fresh as a lowly coder at From Software to pursue his dream to work on video games. He is now President of From and we have Bloodborne. Thank the heavens for that unlikely and fortuitous sequence of events!

Yarnham's Cathedral ward is an overload of Gothic Architecture 
Just when a choke-hold of despair over despicable DLC practices, endless HD remakes and pitifully broken games threatened to define the current state of gaming, Bloodborne has arrived and illuminated the true path. This is the kind of game Gamertroll wants but is not entirely sure he deserves..

Bloodborne is a thing of terrible beauty, a game of harsh challenges, bitter punishments and exhalting triumphs.
Truly a work of exquisite suffering but to beat it, is to feel invincible. There's the reward, hoisted aloft like the peak of Everest. Sound good? Then you really should step into this 50hr night.

Sick of lazy HD Remakes and lackluster 'AAA' disappointments? Thankfully Bloodborne just tore them all a new arsehole. Just when we'd all nearly forgotten what one looked like, PS4 just got a 'Killer app' and my, my, what a killer it is.


You will find a series of Gamertroll Boss Guide Videos (Dual commentated with Mrs Gamertroll) >>>HERE

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