Thursday, December 15, 2011

Review: Dark Souls. A Hateful Game, Made by Ass-Souls.

It's that time of the year when I'm desperately cramming as much of the year's offering of entertainment as possible, in preparation for my obligatory Top Ten lists and the inaugural 2011 Fruitless Pursuits Awards. I'm catching up on a number of video games that I missed, and one that really can't escape without comment is the punishingly difficult, humourless, cowardly punch-in-the-throat roleplaying/torture simulation Dark Souls. Crafted by bastards, never before has a game been filled with so much hate, not just for its audience, but for humanity in general. Dark Souls hates life, and makes every attempt to crush it.

Wanna' here more about my frustrating, spirit-crushing, tear eliciting adventures? Then do yourself a favour and join me after the jump!

So what I didn't tell you is that Dark Souls is pretty damn great! And that's high praise for a game that immediately leaps out of its flimsy case screaming, "FUUUUCK YOOUUU!!!" and then does everything in its power to kill you.

You play a hapless sap (my guy is a creepy, straggly black-haired miscreant called Wiseau) who has to traverse vast castles and dungeons packed with murderous undead, traps, and a billion ridiculously huge and powerful bosses that come screaming out of nowhere and set back your progress about a half an hour.

You see, the most important things in the game are souls, and each time you kill an enemy you'll harvest a handful of them. And it's crucial that you have a lot of them because they are essential for levelling up or purchasing items. But here's the catch, if you die - and you will - A LOT - all of your accumulated souls are dumped by your corpse. You'll then be spirited back to your save point (which is miles away) and ALL the enemies respawn, and then you'll have to battle your way back to where you last died to reclaim your soul cache. And if you fail, they're lost forever. And did I mention your weapons are slowly disintegrating? Oh and yeah, those giant fucking rats just poisoned you. Good luck with that!

Oh look what I have to look forward to! And I though the waist-high rats were big!
Here's an analogy to help describe the mood of Dark Souls. Imagine you've never played piano before, and then the largest, scariest criminal imaginable sits you in front of a piano and gives you a piece of sheet music for a song you've never even heard of. Then he asks you to play it. And every time you hit a wrong note, he paper cuts your knuckles and makes you start over. After about 30 frustrating and painful minutes you will finally hit the right note. Then you'll realise that now you have to find the second note. You are going to have some seriously sore knuckles.

Now the good news is that by the end of this hypothetical ideal you will be a really fantastic piano player. The bad news is that you will be in a constant stated of fear and misery. Welcome to Dark Souls!

Dark Souls demands perfection and precision. If you falter for a second, if you hit the wrong button, if you blink, or breathe funny, it is going to kill you. You need to bring your A game. I learnt this the hard way...

At first I was doing OK, killing all the low level skeletons and avoiding a ridiculously early boss battle when a huge armoured lizard man burst into a courtyard and started randomly hammering at me. I narrowly avoided him and made an exit down a corridor, but imagine my surprise moments later when I walked through a door and found myself on a balcony directly above him. I looked down at him and thought, "Look at him down there. What an ugly and intimidating bastard. I'm glad he's down there and I'm up here!" At which point he looked up at where I was, leapt high off the ground and smashed the entire balcony beneath me, and smearing my corpse by his feet. Dark Souls was sending me a clear message. "DON'T. DO. STUPID. SHIT."

The truth is, I haven't seen a lot of Dark Souls. I've been playing it a lot, but I really haven't gotten very far. My first really big obstacle was the second boss, the accursed Taurus Demon who attacks you on a narrow bridge lined with snipers. I must have died a hundred times against this bastard, even though I'd watched a youtube clip which showed me exactly how to kill him.

Oh no! No! Shit no!

(SPOILERZ). There's an obscure ladder to the right that you can't see when you first enter. You can climb up there and kill the snipers and then plunge down onto the demon's head for massive surprise damage. Then comes the tricky part, because you'll be stuck down there with him wildly swinging at you. "No problem," says I, "I'll just climb back up and dive bomb him again. And again. I know how boss battles work!" Then half way up the ladder he's swinging at me again and removing half my health. I finally scramble to the top, preparing to leap at him, and HOLY SHIT the hairy prick comes climbing up onto the turret behind me and totally murders me. Dark Souls does not play fair, or by any established rules. It will make you feel like a useless idiot.

But wow, when I finally managed to take him down on my thousandth attempt, I felt a sense of accomplishment unlike any that I've felt in a game this year. It was a bigger challenge and triumph than all of Uncharted 3. I was elated. And then I was shit-scared because I realised I still had to make it to some sort of save point. I stepped back into the open and was immediately almost incinerated by a surprise dragon. Now I'm pinned down by a big metal boar thing, snipers, and zombies and I don't know WTF I'm going to do. But I want to continue. And that's the game's biggest success.

Dark Souls is very visceral and extremely engaging. It demands 100% of your attention and you'll need to give it just that if you want the slightest hope of succeeding. Each area, and each new creature is so wildly full of surprises that you'll be desperate to see the next one. It's a slow grind of timid baby-steps, but the payoff is wonderful. It's really unlike any other gaming experience I've enjoyed this year. If you're made of tough stuff then it's recommended!


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  2. games like this make me swear like crazy. I'm looking forward to it

    (I deleted my swears)

  3. Interjecting to say this is NOT the most I've heard Luke swear whilst gaming. The dubious honor goes to Cooking Mama.