It's easy to underestimate the humble door. You open it, you go through. Sometimes, you must find the key first, and for many games, that's the whole extent of the player's interactions with doors. They're something to get past, something that cordons off one bit from the next bit. A simple structural element, of special interest to level designers, but not the ones who turn the knobs.
Death is a given, and that's doubly true for video games. And when death comes, it tends to come in force. Who among us can claim we haven't, at some point in our gaming career, meandered through plains sprinkled with corpses, or waded through rivers of blood past bobbing human remains? If video games are to be believed, corpses are more gregarious than the living. They flock to gruesome sites of executions, torture and massacres, hang themselves from nooses, impale, flay, contort or dismember themselves into bloody bouquets for us to gawk and shudder at in passing.
All games are occult. We as players are not privy to the inner workings that define the rules by which we play. Unlike in a tabletop RPG, we're not even aware of the dungeon master's screen that hides the game's secrets and mechanics from us. Still, few games turn the inherent occultism of the medium into their central theme by making us acutely aware of the presence of the invisible screen, compelling us to piece together a mosaic of uncertain knowledge. And only an elect handful does so while invoking age-old traditions of magic and esoteric philosophy.
Rejoice! Bloodborne, a nailed-on cert for one of the games of the generation, is now available to everyone with a PlayStation Plus subscription, and it is soooooo goddamn good; From Software's finest, if you ask me, a razor-edged, blood-soaked distillation of the Souls formula into something that's headily unique. It's a work of exquisite art, basically, yet there are still some put off by it all. There are still those who haven't sampled its delights.
When HP Lovecraft wrote the definition of the genre he more-or-less invented, he did it with the understanding that weird fiction was always going to be a niche taste. In his 1927 essay, Supernatural Horror in Literature, he declared that: "tales of ordinary feelings and events, or of common sentimental distortions of such feelings and events, will always take first place in the taste of the majority; rightly, perhaps, since of course these matters make up the greater part of human experience." Barely able to generate an income, chewed up and spat out by the pulp magazines, and finally, dying painfully of untreated stomach cancer ten years later, Lovecraft could reasonably have expected to be forgotten.
Humans have gazed up at the sky and wondered about their place in the cosmos since the very beginning. Do the same in a game like, say, Breath of the Wild, and you're presented with vivid images of clouds, stars, the sun and the moon. It's an important part of this and many other games that helps to create an illusion of a continuous space that stretches beyond what we actually experience within the confines of the game. The sky implies that Hyrule, despite being a fantasy world, is a part of a cosmos very much like our own, and we accept this even though we cannot fly up and check.
A note from the editor: Jelly Deals is a deals site launched by our parent company, Gamer Network, with a mission to find the best bargains out there. Look out for the Jelly Deals roundup of reduced-price games and kit every Saturday on Eurogamer.
Mention the city in the middle ages, and you likely either conjure images of streets awash in faeces and offal, or of a cosy collection of quaint houses reminding people of gallant knights and ladies. Even though cities harking back to medieval times have been a staple of fantasy games ever since the inception of the genre, they usually do little to challenge the clichés presented by Renaissance fairs or grimdark pseudo-realism. To make things worse, those sterile spaces function primarily as pit stops for the player, a place to get new quests, to rest, or to trade. It's difficult to imagine everyday life in those places once the hero is out of town. They're little more than cardboard cut-outs (I'm looking at you, Skyrim).
Archaeology doesn't get a very good treatment in popular media, and games are no different. The public image of archaeologists is dominated by pulp fantasy heroes, swinging and scrambling their way through trap-infested ancient ruins, one hand clutching a priceless treasure, the other punching a Nazi in the face. Of course, pulp heroics make for much more entertaining movies and games than Indiana Jones and the Afternoon of Context Sheets or Newly-Qualified Archaeology Student Lara Croft Spends Four Years Trying to Get a Stable Job. Even archaeologists grasp this, for all our protestations. Like lapsed Catholics who can't quite give up their patron saint, many of the archaeologists I've known would admit to Indiana Jones being a bit of a guilty role model. While writing this piece I tried to find a photo of my hard hat from my days as a field archaeologist, a promotional sticker from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull emblazoned across the back, but sadly, all record of this sartorial triumph seems lost.
From Software's Souls series is notorious for its punishing difficulty. Yet just being hard wasn't enough for some people. They needed to make things extra hard. Do things like completing the entire game without ever levelling up or using a shield. Then other people had to come along and put those already impressive tasks to shame by playing these games with cumbersome guitar or bongo controllers, completing a campaign without getting hit, or figuring out buff concoctions that can fell colossal bosses in one hit.
That's more like it. At the end of last year it was hard not to look back at our top 10 and let out a little sigh of disappointment: it was almost nothing but sequels and expansions, suggesting that the new generation was taking its time to find its feet. 2015, however, saw video games in fine stride. There's quality but also a staggering amount of breadth, a list that has something for everyone (as well as a few notable casualties, so rich were the pickings this year).
Hidetaka Miyazaki and From Software have an outstanding approach to narrative design, creating worlds where the systems and lore are intertwined from first principles. These are not games with simple stories, easy answers, or even good and bad - which is why fans find their heady brew of fact, myth, and suggestion so intoxicating.
The Old Hunters, Bloodborne's much anticipated add-on that's due out this November, sees what was originally planned as two DLC packs combined for one single expansion - and it sounds like it's the last DLC for From Software's PS4 exclusive.
As someone who writes about video games for a living and plays them in their spare time, it's fairly important that I keep up with what's new and fresh and exciting in this industry. And in 2015, I've been doing a rubbish job of that. You see, this year something like 90 per cent of my gaming time has been split between only two games: Bloodborne and Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate. And why wouldn't it? They're both Essential titles, after all. They're also quite similar! Both are known for their steep difficulty, bombastic bosses, varied weapons, deep combat, and cooperative multiplayer. And yet, only Bloodborne has seen any kind of notable success in the west while Monster Hunter has famously struggled to replicate its craze from Japan.
It is my job, as a columnist on a rotating weekend plinth, to have an occasional opinion about video games. Not just any opinion, though. I've won a Games Media Award, you know. And once you receive a perspex oblong from a profit-making industry event, it behooves you to have superior opinions. If I wrote a column called "Does anyone else think the last third of Bioshock just trailed off a bit?", you would be well within your rights to drag me into the streets and park a juicy man-queef on my tummy.
There's a book that I... Well, what exactly? Love is the wrong word for how I feel about The Montauk Project, after all. I am suspicious of its politics. I think it's sort of stupid and clumsily put together. Also, I don't believe a word of it. But I am fascinated nonetheless. There is something strangely rich about the kind of global conspiracy madness that The Montauk Project traffics in, something undeniably potent. I don't love it, then, but I am glad I came across it.
Despite its frame-pacing issues and long load times, Bloodborne is still very much worth the rush of commotion it's receiving this week. The game sits high in the hierarchy of quality PS4 exclusives, its only real competition in the gameplay stakes coming via From Software's very own remaster of Dark Souls 2, due out next week. With a new enemy layout, improved lighting and 1080p60 gameplay, the remaster's bid for relevancy is strong, but does Scholar of the First Sin keep up on technical grounds, or does Sony's exclusive steal the show?
UPDATE 28/3/15 10:40am: Our Bloodborne analysis is now complete, culminating in a new piece published today comparing the technology of the PS4 exclusive with the upcoming Dark Souls 2 remaster. Our tests reveal that playing Bloodborne in multiplayer mode can impact frame-rates significantly, resulting - at worst - in sub-20fps gameplay. Here's the video, but check out our full analysis for more insight.
UPDATE 26/3/15 2:35pm: Sony says that a new patch is in development to address Bloodborne performance and loading time issues, but in the meantime, we've compiled more loading data across a series of different hard drive technologies. If you're thinking of upgrading your drive anyway, and you're a committed Bloodborne player, our findings may help you to choose the kind of drive that offers the best mixture of value and performance.
Original Story: It's here at last. For anyone yet to pick up a PlayStation 4, and in particular fans of the Souls series, Bloodborne's release today could mark a justifiable tipping point. Having edged our way through the opening Yharnam city area, early impressions suggest another genuine triumph by From Software - and we can now provide a spoiler-free analysis of what's in store. The team's beautiful, horror-inflected world is no doubt a high point, but as with its previous games, there are also obvious technical issues that go alongside its ambition.
Editor's note: This is an early impressions piece, based on four days' play with Bloodborne. We'll be posting our final review later this week, once we've experienced the game on fully stressed online servers and once we've been able to spend a little more time in Yharnam.
Old habits are hard to break, especially when they're ones that kept you safe through trying times. When you walked through the Valley in the shadow of Drakes, when you descended into the toxic depths of Blighttown, and when you paced the gleaming ramparts of Anor Londo, the old sword and shield combo was a reliable fallback in Dark Souls. Block, slash, back off, wait. It was a mantra you repeated to yourself over and over, a song whose comforting words saw you through the darkest nights. Block, slash, back off, wait. Dark Souls' creator Hidetaka Miyazaki doesn't want you to get comfortable, which is why his latest title, PS4 exclusive Bloodborne, is taking that fallback away. And as suspected, learning to get by in a From Software game without relying on a sword and shield doesn't come easy - at least at first.
As someone who plays RPGs more than just about any other genre, I'm not really sure why to date I've always struggled to enjoy the Dark and Demon Souls games. I admire the precision of the gameplay, and the reduction of combat down to its purest forms, but there's something about the sheer weight of the games that I find stifling - I just can't bear to live in their worlds long enough to push much beyond the opening hour.
Farewell, sweet Earls Court, you've served us well. It's been a slightly bittersweet show this year - on the one hand there's been the awesome swirl of games and developer sessions, and on the other there's the fact we'll be saying goodbye to the home of EGX for the past four years this coming Sunday. Still, onwards.
Taking control of Bloodborne for the first time is a familiar experience, a comfort that quickly became my undoing. The sheer snappiness to the character movement, the targeting system, the way attacks buffer; everything comes together in precisely the same, satisfying concoction as Demon's Souls, Sony's exclusive from 2009. And then there's the strong flair for the gothic, with gloomy streets and the grotesque, gargoyle-etched décor paving a dark road ahead.
From Software's Hidetaka Miyazaki gets straight to the point. "Just to make everything clear," he tells a small audience assembled at Sony's booth to see Bloodborne, his recently announced PlayStation 4 exclusive, "this is not a sequel to Demon's Souls."