In the third of our only-marginally-not-aimless gaming chinwags that are proving such a hit with the late-night, post-pub crowd, Editor Matt Hill and News Editor Gerald Lynch analyse their gaming week, casual and otherwise. This week has been mostly playing Bloodborne… or trying to.
M: So, Bloodborne embargo down annnnnnd... I have very little to say about it, because I’ve got about two minutes into the game, despite having been on it for hours. So you may have to hold this week’s end up. I am rubbish.
G: Eeek! Well, I have to admit to probably not having got much deeper into the Bloodborne labyrinthe than you. It is tooooough. It’s like being in a horrifically abusive relationship, pleasure and pain in equal parts. It’s “Fifty Shades: The Game”, but with more werewolves, gaping wounds and (so far at least) a lot less sex. Zero sex, in fact. So, actually, not like Fifty Shades at all -- but it’s just as masochistic. How far have you got so far then?
M: I can’t. It’s embarrassing. I think I’ve spent more time in the character building studio than I have killing anything. I ended up seeing how many other game characters I could make from the same basic beardy guy template. It was much fun.
The Borner 1886.
The Borne of Us.
Max Borne 3.
So yeah. I made a lot of these guys.
G: Ha! Well, I’ve got a little bit further than that. Not much further in the grand scheme of the game, but enough to know that I love it and resent it in equal measure. For starters, I already prefer it to Demon's Souls and the Dark Souls series.
M: Yeah, well, Bloodborne is a huge step on visually from what’s gone before, that much I can attest. The 50 foot of game world I’ve seen is absolutely cracking. The detail on that stagecoach I stride past for the 100th time in the hour is the bomb.
But seriously, I got about as far in the others as I have here. I feel a fraud talking about this series, to be honest, and would push any hardcore fans in the direction of Kotaku UK’s Keza MacDonald, who is pretty much the acknowledged oracle. These games make me hate myself, which is kind of the point I guess, but I fail their test every time. I wish I had the patience and thought under such duress, I did once, many years ago, a time before I went to work for my fix of that. In that sense I can understand why they’re declared these throwbacks to a bygone age, when games played like games and chicken tasted like chicken. I really respect them, but I don’t enjoy them, and they reduce me to a frustrated mound of flesh. And then I put Olli Olli 2 on, and everything is alright again.
I think there’s a comparison to be made between the two, actually, although I realise this is now the third Fireside Chat in a row where I’ve mentioned Olli Olli 2. Make of that what you will. See, you "die" constantly in Olli Olli 2, way more than Bloodborne. But the whole game is set up to make that process painless. The soothing soundtrack (which is so breezily cool, and my most played ‘album’ this week aside from the Hotline Miami 2 soundtrack, so go game music), the instant respawn with a triangle tap. I have the patience here, I get up and go again, it’s tuned into whatever it is that makes me like gaming.
Bloodborne, on the other hand, is punishing - that’s the point. The length of the loading screens when you die and restart may be necessary because of the amazingly detailed world and stunning visuals it conjures up, but I also think that’s also the point, dragging out the process of getting back into the game to make you assess the gravity of the situation. It lays it on thick – it even brings up the title header every time you die, suggesting finality. It’s oppressive.
And for that reason I don’t think I’ll ever really get to its inner workings, its detailed and nuanced combat, which I jealously hear people rave about but can’t share the experience of, which I could on a similarly nuanced but less-RPGy actioner like Metal Gear RIsing Revengeance. Eurogamer/Guardian/RPS writer Rich Stanton is great on the Metal Gear/Souls/Bloodborne stuff, too. I read him and I wish I was able to play it in that way.
Speaking of Metal Gear Rising Revengeance…
G: A career in character modding will always await you after Giz dries up Matt! The point you make about the loading screen is a very good one -- I totally agree that the time for reflection between each battle hardens your resolve, allows you to commit to memory the mistakes you made before.
A little background -- I read Keza’s influential Demon's Souls review “way back when” before we were colleagues (for those that aren’t aware, Keza reviewed an import version before its release on these shores, which basically was so glowing and intriguing it effectively brought about the western release of the series. So you’ve got her to thank / blame), and thought, “Yep, this is my dream game”. I got it and got so annoyed with it I ended up breaking a controller. I got lured back in by Dark Souls because the world is so lush, got marginally further and then once again my living room wall became intimately familiar with my gamepad. So it’s as a glutton for punishment that I return to Bloodborne, knowing that I’ve been shit at the games that spiritually precede it.
And you know what? I think I finally get it. That doesn’t mean that I’m any good, but I ‘get it’. Let’s have a look at the opening area, which I’ve now faced probably nearing 30 times. First time I met the first Undertaker-looking bloke, he mullered me. Went back, nearly killed him, then he mullered me again. Then I did him, in. And his two mates around the corner. And the next four. And I started to think “You know what, I can do this!”.
And then I got to this funeral procession thing where there are about 15 blokes with scythes and rifles and pitchforks and attack dogs and flaming torches, and I thought I was going to cry. It is SO MEAN. It gives you a false sense of security, then just hammers you -- madmen waiting around blind corners, people shooting you from vantages points initially out of reach. I did the whole controller throwing thing again.
But here’s the kicker -- knowing I had to have this chat with you today, I went back in. I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. And I took on that mob about 20 times. AND I BEAT THEM. Methodically, basically cacking my pants anytime one of them made a run at me. And I got a new set of armour, and now I’m out there, battling away. I’m exploring, I’m cautious and terrified. It’s exactly how you should feel when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. In that sense, it’s the most realistic game I’ve ever played. You SHOULDN’T be able to take down 20 blokes in one go; you SHOULDN’T be able to sanely stare down an axe-wielding undead troll man. But when you do, even if it mean you barely inch forward, you feel more superhuman than in any game I’ve ever played.
M: I think, if we wanted to, we could get into what this says about the player on a deeper level. Does that say that while many people, including yourself it seems, play games to feel superhuman, that is not what I look for, subconsciously? Or can we read into any game if we can find a level that is in tune with us? I told myself it was the medieval setting in the Souls games that hadn’t grabbed me, not one of my favourites, and Bloodborne’s Hammer horror/steampunk/Lovecraft/Resi 4/all-the-things-I-like overcoat was going to seal the deal. But it hasn’t, at least not so far, it holds me at arm's length so far. I need to break through the pain barrier, I'm am waiting for the epiphany. I am clearly not made of stern enough stuff.
But remember, we have Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida willing our sorry asses on.
G: Ledge. OK Matt, let's set a challenge for next week. Reckon you could get out of the first zone by next week’s chat?
M: I’m not making any promises. I may need you to Share Play me to safety, but I’ll certainly try. Before we go, I know Bloodborne as clearly captivated you this week, but you had time for anything else?
G: Other than my ongoing struggle against Dragon Age? I think it may have *technically* slipped into the week before, but I absolutely smacked my little brother at Age of Empires: HD Remaster. A more gentle game, for more simpler times, when a decapitation was only four pixels high and you could destroy a whole civilisation in the time it’d take you to get past the first bloke in Bloodborne. Blimey, Bloodborne makes the historical horrors of medieval warfare seem rather endearing by comparison.