Monday, February 20, 2017

Glutton for Punishment

How do I get myself into these messes, anyway?

I picked up a copy of Bloodborne during PSN's Flash Sale, despite knowing full well what happened when I played Demon's Souls seven years ago on the Playstation 3. Much hair was lost, many teeth were gnashed, and a full wardrobe of garments were rent, until I came to the bitter realization that this style of game just wasn't for me. 

But because I was convinced I needed something meatier in my Playstation 4 library than fighting games, I'm back at square one with Bloodborne... and have barely progressed beyond it. The latest title from, er, From Software brings the punishing gameplay of the Souls series into 19th century England. This time, crowds of torch-wielding lunatics and grotesque monsters are hoping to get medieval Victorian on your ass, and your only hope for survival is a "trick" weapon that can be shortened for quick strikes, or lengthened to keep enemies at a safe distance. (Well, in theory at least... they usually end up slaughtering you anyway.)

Burn up the old... bring in the new...
(image from
I don't know if it's the extra horsepower of the PS4 or seven years of refinements to the core gameplay, but Bloodborne feels tighter than the old Souls games. Your character dodges more quickly and swings his weapon without leaving himself wide open to counterattack. However, the number of enemies has increased to compensate, sometimes drastically. An early scene has a throng of foes gathered around a burning stake, with a dozen sentries standing nearby. Taking them out is a time-consuming progress of luring individuals from the crowd with gunfire (so laughably weak that it offers little more than a distraction) or sneaking behind stragglers for a stealth kill. Make a mistake and you're thrown back to a checkpoint set agonizingly far from where you were slain.

You'll spend as much time in Bloodborne recovering the ground you've lost as you will making concrete progress, and the grim knowledge that you'll have to repeat everything you've already done (perhaps for the fourth time) is maddening. Like, "pound the walls, stomp the floor, scream every expletive in the book and a few you just made up" maddening. Shortcuts make the trip to the end of a level less painful, but you've got to find them first, and they don't take you straight to the boss... you'll need to fight a half-dozen formidable enemies to reach his front door. At best, it's a waste of time, and at worst, it's senselessly cruel.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Or who
turn around and go in the opposite direction.
Doesn't matter, really.
(image from GameFAQs)
Bloodborne can be entertaining when it takes the boot off your throat. After hours of fruitless struggling, I found an detour through Yharnum... a sewer with less dangerous enemies and plenty of hidden items. It was fun to explore for a while without worrying that I'd be pounded into lunch meat by an eight foot tall ogre. But then I stumbled across the merciless Father Gascoigne, and I was once again wondering if the brief moments of joy were worth the blood, sweat, and tears. I'll probably be asking myself that question a lot, considering that I spent eighty hours with Demon's Souls before I finally had the sense to give up on it.

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