I have this weird relationship going with Star Wars, where I find it really compelling but so much cheesier than most things I like. Last month I spent a couple of weekends rewatching the films in release order (and making sure I had actually watched all of them, because I’m pretty sure I missed a couple before) and checked in again. It still seems to be true. Even though Star Wars just isn’t it for me, there’s this part of me that can’t help but love it.
Bloodborne is one of those games that I know is amazing — the haunting atmosphere, the slick weapons, the genuinely terrifying monsters — but I have no will to play it myself. I actually find myself more interested in it now than earlier, because I see how positive the critical reception is. This is a game to be admired. It does things right. But I still don’t want to go in there myself. It looks dark and scary and difficult — all the things I don’t really enjoy in my video games.
I guess I play games mostly to relax, or to engage in a good story. Occasionally I like the challenge, as I do in Devil May Cry games, and sometimes I learn to love the gameplay enough that I replay on harder difficulties. But even then, I’m mostly playing to relive the story or try things in a different way, a la Dragon Age. (This time, I’ll be nicer to people and romance Leliana!) It’s very rare for me to want to play a game that’s going to repeatedly kick my ass.
That’s what Bloodborne does to players, which is exactly why I’m not just not interested. At least, I’m not interested in playing it. But if you want to know how I feel about the game otherwise, I can say that I’m very, very interested.
I’ve been watching my boyfriend play Bloodborne since it came out a few weeks ago. I’ve watched him topple the toughest giant only to get killed by another Hunter a few seconds later — and then he has to start the whole section of gameplay over again. He memorizes these difficult sections and learns how to draw out enemies one at a time to avoid an ambush.
But it doesn’t make it easy, even after several attempts. There’s always that enemy around the corner who hits a little too hard… and when you get their health down to that last inkling and decide to attack one more time — just once — instead of dodging, they kill you. That’s it. You should have dodged. I’ve watched that kind of thing happen. Bloodborne is an endlessly frustrating game.
That’s why I’m glad I’m not playing it — yet there are so many things to love about the game. As an onlooker, I don’t have the stress of dealing with enemies or the gamer rage that goes along with failing to make it through a section of the game for the 10th time. Instead, I have the breathing room to enjoy all of the good things about the game.
Bloodborne‘s greatest strength is its atmosphere. The game begins at twilight and later turns to night. Streets are spooked with creatures like wolves and carrion crows. You can hear the clank of a giant’s chains in the distance as you navigate past gothic cathedrals. Knock on a door and you might here a scraping voice inside with unkind words for you or some sort of warning. It’s clear from this ambience that you’re a brave soul to be a hunter in this world.
Another thing I love about the game is the implementation of online features. Sure, the world is frightening, but there’s a strange sense of communion with other players who appear as translucent ghosts as you explore and fight your way through. As you approach a giant, you might spot another player’s visage fighting him as if in some other world. You might even see him die, which adds to the sense of foreboding as you prepare for your next battle.
You can also pick up notes from other players that may offer hints of what is to come — and you can leave your own. These messages can be surprisingly useful. For example, a note might warn you of a beast around the corner or advise stealth in the upcoming fight. After defeating a group of tough enemies, I’m sure it feels rewarding — in a very unique way — to trace your steps back a few paces and leave a note telling future players to beware of an ambush, out of the goodness of your heart. You do get a little something if other players vote your note with favor, but that doesn’t feel like the purpose of the notes system. It’s about community. It’s about feeling like you’re not completely alone in this scary world.
Although my boyfriend hasn’t done this, I know that you can also beckon another player to join you on your journey for a time, or join another player. It’s always nice to have a friend, if you want one.
Regarding the environments and level design, my boyfriend complained at first about the game’s implementation of multiple paths in a level. I think he prefers linear paths — go down this corridor, fight these enemies, and you reach your obvious goal. However, after playing for several hours, he now talks about shortcuts he sometimes finds that allow him to avoid certain enemies, as if this is a good thing. Because it is a good thing. When Bloodborne kicks your ass over and over again, it’s nice to find an alternative route that lets you make progress a little faster. Even just the variety in the scenery can be a welcome relief when you have to replay a level again and again.
That’s another thing about Bloodborne that doesn’t appeal to me personally but seems very well-implemented: the grinding. You can barely even call it that, but I guess that’s what it is. When you die in Bloodborne, you have to replay the area again. Enemies respawn, and you need to go find your Blood Echoes wherever you died last. Sometimes enemies steal them, so you have to defeat that enemy to retrieve the Blood Echoes. These are the things you need to level up your character.
On the other hand, you can also leave the area — go back from whence you came — to spend your Blood Echoes on leveling up or new items like those always-useful Molotov Cocktails. For instance, upon reaching the cathedral where a new boss was located, my boyfriend decided to go back to the Hunter’s Dream (the safe area) to fortify his weapons and level up with his current Blood Echoes, rather than risk losing them in a fight that would probably take him a few tries and would require him to retread the entire level each time he failed. If you’re close to leveling up, sometimes you can just play through part of a level for the sake of earning some Blood Echoes to achieve that.
I’m not into this kind of replaying, but considering how challenging Bloodborne is, it makes sense. You’re not grinding for the sake of grinding, you’re just learning how to manage the game. You’re optimizing your time with it. If you’re going to die at the next boss battle, you might as well go back and spend your current Blood Echoes — or return so enemies respawn for you to fight again, leveling yourself to steel for the next battle. Just because I don’t dig it in general doesn’t mean I don’t dig the way Bloodborne does it.
It reminds me of another game that I didn’t really enjoy, let’s say: The Last of Us. I wanted to play the game for the story — and it’s totally worth it for that — but the game was challenging to me. I wasn’t stealthy enough for it. It required a lot of patience, and it was scary. I didn’t like the atmosphere. I was stressed out most of the time. I felt the same way about the first Bioshock game, actually. So I don’t usually bother with those game without good reason, and for me, Bloodborne doesn’t motivate me to play even though it does inspire me.
I’m curious to see more of the game. It’s beautiful and ghastly, and even though I don’t want to be there at all, I still love watching it.
Halo 3 and 4
It’s official: I’ve now completed two Halo games in my life. I played some co-op with a friend a long, long time ago, but just once — and I was terrible. Then I played some Reach a while back. But the motivation to actually finish a Halo game came from playing co-op. Legendary difficulty is really brutal, especially for someone as bad at FPS games as I am, but as long as one person stays alive, the other respawns when it’s safe. That’s led to a few instances of keeping one person in safety while the other charges into danger.
Recently I played the indie iOS game Heartbeats, developed by Kong Orange. I was looking for a little sci-fi puzzler, and that’s exactly what this is – although “little” might be selling it short. Sure, it’s not a lengthy game, but it’s challenging and full of heart. It feels important somehow.
The game breaks up the story and puzzles by individual screens, each telling part of an old man’s story as he looks back on his life. It’s an intergalactic tale, good for my sci-fi itch. Every screen is beautiful with hand-drawn illustrations that help tell the story and are involved in the gameplay in some way, because each screen is also its own puzzle.
Weaving a good story is a major achievement for a video game, and it seems that lately we’ve become a little obsessed with this. While we gamers still love our side-scrolling platformers and the modern versions of them installed on our smartphones, there’s been a trend in recent years: We want stories. We want cinema. This is especially true when we’re going to throw down $60 for a game we’re going to play on our flashy new consoles with the great graphics, as displayed on our big, HD TV screens. Let’s have an experience.
Recently I played the first episode of Telltale Games’ Game of Thrones series with my boyfriend. It was difficult — first of all, because I had to wait an entire month until after we were both back from the holiday break and could play together. (He’d already downloaded it, so it was waiting in San Francisco. Otherwise, who knows what I would have gotten up to over the break…)
But you know what’s more difficult than waiting weeks to play a game you’ve been looking forward to for months? Playing a game — specifically a Telltale game, with moral decisions to make that require quick thinking — with someone else.