BLOODBORNE (2015) // PS4

A hunter is a hunter, even in a dream.

Being a Dark Souls fan this one has been on my wishlist for years and I was excited to finally have a system to spend time slashing my way through the beasts of Yharnam to discover what the rituals of the Paleblood Moon were for. So here I am, five years late to the party.

It did not disappoint.

And as the hunt wears on and the moon rises, things become somehow even more nightmarish and terrifying. Townfolk transform into monstrous things. Secrets that should have remained hidden threaten to splinter reality itself.

The waking world and the frontier of nightmares blur together when the blood moon rises.

You find yourself lost, wearing away your resources and ending up forced to rely on wit and skill to survive, barely scraping through an ambush with your life and then… you reach a gate that looks familiar. One that only unlocks from this side and suddenly you’re back to safety and familiarity, drenched in the blood of the creatures you have slain. You are a hunter.

Now you must venture out again, a little further this time. Madness is everywhere and by the time the night is through you won’t be the same as when you started.

The atmosphere is fantastically forbiding, punctuated by mad screams and cries and howls. You can sense a boss arena approaching. The moment the incredible soundtrack picks up your blood goes hot as you face off against one of dozens of the bosses, all if which are absolute masterclasses in creature design.

The “plot” or what can be said of the story is told through the environment and tiny scraps of information absorbed by curiosity and player conjecture. Things are rarely laid out plain and a lot of the fun is untangling the implications of discoveries and inferring from unreliable information. You could very easily go the entire game and never understand anything that’s really happening and yet still be compelled to push onwards and seek more. The beasts are only the tip of the iceberg. Much more terrifying things await, just beyond the fringes of insight.

World design in Bloodborne is probably the apex of the developer’s catalogue, and this says a lot considering the superfluous work of previous FromSoft games. Narrow gothic alleys wind and tangle around each other, pushing you down into deeper and darker forgotten paths, surrounded by brilliantly horrifying beasts and nightmares that lurk and creep and can cut you to ribbons in moments if you aren’t quick on your feet and ready to strike back.

Combat is fast, visceral and mean — the classic FromSoft action RPG style twisted to encourage aggressive tactics and favour higher risk/reward strategies. Attire is largely cosmetic and the selection of weapons is greatly stripped back compared to Souls games, with a greater emphasis on knowing movesets and learning to dodge and parry effectively. It’s pushing you to embody the Hunter and once you’re past the initial learning curve it’s a blast to play.

Online multiplayer is also the most refined and balanced it’s ever been. Calling for help from other players opens you up to invasion from hostile parties but otherwise you’ll largely be left to tackle things on your own. The challenge can be steep, but it’s never truly insurmountable and sometimes all you need is that extra person to draw the attention of a boss off you so that you can take it down.

I’ve noticed that a decent number of streamers have taken the time in this pandemic to finally get around to playing Bloodborne as well and it’s just as interesting to watch someone else slowly unravel the puzzlebox of mechanics and worldbuilding, everyone coming to their own conclusions and developing their own strategies to survive the unforgiving night of the hunt.

It speaks to the quality and expansiveness of the title that five years later it can still have an active, vibrant community with no additional content being added. Even having slain every last nightmare I was ready to drop my character (Doctor Bueno) right back into NG+ to do it all again. I rarely ever go for platinum trophies in games anymore but this one is calling me back in.

We are born of the blood, made men by the blood, undone by the blood. Our eyes are yet to open.

Fear the old blood.

THE LAST OF US: Part II (2020)

What a ride. Brutal, bleak and uncompromising in its determination to make you feel every twist of the knife and to question your part in how far Eillie is willing to go for revenge.

It’s significantly longer than I was expecting, which at first I thought was a fault, but the back half actually contains and surpasses much of the emotion and spectacle of the first, and of the original game, and I found its bolder choices always backed up its thesis statement that violence begets violence.

This is an unpleasant lesson, of course, and Naughty Dog’s stubborn refusal to sway from making you truly feel that these are almost exclusively terrible people while investing significant time and effort into making you empathise with them is a large part of what will make this game stand out long after the naysayers have gotten over the fact that this is not a fanservice sequel but rather a direct continuation of the consequence of the choices that very flawed people made in the first game.

Yes, it is at times tropey. Yes, it is at time quite ham-fisted in what it is trying to convey. Yes, it seems like it could have ended cleanly in more than a few places. But ultimately it’s unafraid to shy from the sort of harshness that makes something like The Road both miserable and incredible at once, and that lingers long after the credits.

It is staggeringly well crafted, beautiful and horrifying to look at, emotionally draining and tense throughout.

Ignore the hate, make up your own damn mind. There’s an incredible, one-of-a-kind journey into darkness to be found here.

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.

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