Critical Consensus: Bloodborne is the first great PS4 exclusive
From Software's latest has the critics saucer-eyed with admiration - the stream of 9s and 10s starts here
In a cross-platform age it's difficult to assess the importance of exclusive games. The PlayStation 4's imposing lead over the Xbox One was built in a variety of ways, some entirely unintentional, but it wasn't entirely built on a foundation of games found only on PlayStation. Or even partly, for that matter. When Eurogamer assembled a list of the best games for Sony's console, all but 2 of the 15 chosen could be bought and played elsewhere.
In fact, there's a solid argument that, when it comes to AAA console exclusives, the Xbox One has yielded more for its audience than its ever so successful competitor. In short: Titanfall, Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2, versus Killzone: Shadowfall, Infamous: Second Son and The Order: 1886. PlayStation 4 is rightly leading the field at this point in time, but the console proposition is now broad enough to sustain that kind of a lead even when the exclusive games - once the most important feature of any given platform - simply aren't there.
"The best thing about Bloodborne is that you don't really know anything about it"Eurogamer
Nevertheless, when Uncharted 4 slipped into 2016 it was a considerable blow for PS4 owners, drawing attention to the gaping, 'PlayStation exclusive'-shaped hole that previous games had tried (and largely failed) to fill. Now, however, PS4 owners can turn to From Software's Bloodborne for reassurance that the console's major exclusives will remain competitive with the multi-platform behemoths and the plentiful supply of vibrant indie releases. It may be a different prospect to a new Uncharted, but it's no less valuable.
The critics all agree that Bloodborne is somewhere between very, very good and a legitimate masterpiece, though a great many of the biggest outlets are holding off before they dish up final verdicts. Kotaku, for instance, had only played 20 hours of Bloodborne when the embargo lifted. Polygon managed 40. Eurogamer went with an enigmatic "four days" as the duration of its stay in the jaundiced world of Bloodborne. In each case, the eventual review was teased with early impressions - albeit 'impressions' based on nearly two entire days of play.
This is the sort of treatment normally reserved for the very biggest releases, but that's exactly how From Software's games are now regarded. That reverence may not translate exactly in terms of sales, of course, and that's unlikely to change with Bloodborne. As Eurogamer points out in its intricately detailed impressions, Bloodborne's pre-release promotion has been subdued, relying to a great extent upon existing enthusiasm for Demon's Souls and Dark Souls.
"It has been three-and-a-half years since the release of Dark Souls. And in that time Hidetaka Miyazaki and From Software's A-team have been developing Bloodborne. In the age of teasers for teasers, countless countdowns, and previews and leaks galore, the best thing about Bloodborne is that you don't really know anything about it."
"If you just wait for openings to attack like you typically would in Dark Souls, chances are you're going to get overwhelmed"The Escapist
Well, you could probably guess at least some of the details. There's no getting around it: Bloodborne may stand apart from the Souls games in name, but it retains the fundamental 'learn through failure' philosophy that made them so distinctive. As The Telegraph points out in its glowing, five-star review, where Bloodborne departs from that lineage is in its tone - even its worldview.
"The pendulum has swung from games about living to a game about killing... Much of the pre-release speculation surrounding Bloodborne has focused on the system of health depletion and regeneration and how it differs from that used in [Hidetaka] Miyazaki's previous designs. Indeed, it is this that veterans of the director's work will immediately notice as the biggest deviation and the one that has the greatest impact on how you play.
"Every time you take damage you are given a small window of opportunity within which to earn it back by inflicting wounds on your enemies. It needn't be the enemy that harmed you, any sorry soul will do. This, in combination with a comparatively swift set of reflexes, focuses your mind more on attack than defence. Killing over living."
That shift in tone dissipates out into every aspect of the game's design. In its 9 out of 10 review, The Escapist describes Bloodborne's enemies as, "just about the most aggressive enemies you'll ever encounter in a video game. They're fast as hell, they flail towards you with combos that seemingly never end, and can close the distance at an alarming rate. If you just wait around trying to find openings to attack like you typically would in Dark Souls, chances are you're going to get overwhelmed."
Balance is provided by movement and combat mechanics that favour a much faster, more agile and more aggressive approach to combat, and not in a button-banging God of War sense. You are no longer waiting for gaps, you're creating them with dodges and offensive moves. For Jim Sterling, the face of The Jimquisition, this presents a barrier to entry for even the most devoted fan of Miyazaki's games.
"The Hunters' weaponry swings faster, hits stronger, and covers wider arcs in order to face multiple foes at once. Dodging is more responsive, with armor weight no longer a factor in determining one's maneuverability. As well as a melee weapon, players are armed with a gun in their offhand, predominantly used to fire at the right moment to stagger an opponent while its swinging and open it up for a tremendous counter-attack.
"Once it clicks, the artistry of the slaughter is hard to deny"Jim Sterling
"As someone who always played highly defensively in Demon's/Dark Souls, the switch to a more aggressive playstyle took some getting used to, but once it clicks, the artistry of the slaughter is hard to deny as one's Hunter ducks and weaves, lets loose a salvo of silver bullets, and closes in with a toothed saw, hammer, or whatever other weapon you might uncover."
Sterling gave Bloodborne top marks, a 10 out of 10, even as the major sites from the old world of consumer-facing journalism sat on their hands in the pursuit of a more objective view. It shouldn't matter much, because when the Polygons of the world finally unveil those numbers it's entirely likely that they won't stray far from the upper reaches of the ten-point scale.
"I knew from the start that Dark Souls was brilliant, but it took months until I appreciated just how deep and complex a masterpiece it was," Eurogamer says at the end of its impressions. "The most important thing about Bloodborne is that, despite the surface similarities, it plays and feels very different. Who knows how I'll feel in a few months? But first impressions are easy. Bloodborne is brilliant."
One of the most talented game designers alive has given the critics a masterwork to poke and prod and pore over, and the hardest, most loyal part of the PlayStation audience a reason to gloat about an exclusive release. For Sony, this is money very well spent.