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Bloodborne (PS4) review: Say hello to the most unforgiving PS4 game to date

Bloodborne is just like the good-guy math teacher you had in high school: tough as nails, but will give you the chance to succeed if you just apply yourself and focus.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Jeff Bakalar
4 min read

Bloodborne is just like that challenging good-guy math teacher you had in high school: tough as nails, but will give you the chance to succeed if you just apply yourself and focus.

The Good

Bloodborne is an immensely challenging yet endlessly rewarding action-adventure game that has the potential for hours upon hours of gameplay time. It makes clever use of an online connection and introduces unique mechanics within its combat and weapon systems.

The Bad

The barrier-to-entry on Bloodborne isn't easily bested. The game's biggest problem is its inaccessibility, to the point where you really aren't told what to do or where to go. To the mainstream or even seasoned gamer, it may seem insurmountable. So good luck with that.

The Bottom Line

Meticulously designed for a very specific hardcore audience, Bloodborne is a marvel along those parameters. But if you're the type of player looking for a way to unwind through a game, look the other way.

It may sound lame, but doing your homework is how you get better at Bloodborne, because just jumping in simply isn't an option. If you think you're just going to stroll into the undead city of Yharnam and start hacking and slashing the beasts within, you're guaranteed to break something in frustration -- whether it be a controller, something else in the room or a piece of yourself.

Just like the other games in the Hidetaka Miyazaki lineage (Demon's Souls, Dark Souls) before it, Bloodborne doesn't play like most mainstream titles. Comparatively, most of what's out there is way easier to progress through and complete. Bloodborne couldn't care less about accessibility and thanks to previous successes, it doesn't have to.

Because of this attitude Bloodborne certainly isn't something for the casual gamer -- it's not even for someone who owns a PS4 and likes action games. No, the audience for this kind of game is someone with a lot of time on their hands who is willing to submit to the experience entirely.

From Software

If you can break through the seemingly impenetrable barrier to entry, then Bloodborne might be for you -- the operative word here being "might." Only a fraction of those who take the plunge will ever reap the benefits hidden within, and an ever smaller slice will see the game through to its end.

I'm not trying to throw out scare tactics here, I'm just attempting to make it abundantly clear about what you're potentially spending $60 on. If your sole purpose for playing video games is to let loose and escape reality, Bloodborne might feel like the stressful day job you never wanted. Don't expect to be playing something that Bloodborne isn't: user-friendly.

That about sums up the consensus of mainstream criticism against Miyazaki's games. They're "too hard." But it's that level of hardcore difficulty that has spawned countless forums and online communities all obsessed with these games. Thousands of players devote hours on end to completely vet these adventures, sharing secrets and learning more about their worlds and characters within. Not many titles offer what was once a standard degree of adversity in gaming. Miyazaki's games preserve that maddening tradition but simultaneously pass as contemporary.

From Software

But while I'm right there with the player that rage-quits a session with Bloodborne, I'll also be the first to defend it.

Most times it feels overwhelming, unforgiving and straight-up sadistic, but there's a method to its madness. Everything in the game is deliberate and designed for a specific impact, even if it doesn't initially appear so. Early on, these moments of discovery gave me hope that it was worth continuing, even if I didn't understand most of the systems within and what function almost every item I discovered served.

There's not much of a tutorial in Bloodborne and there's even less in terms of hand-holding guides like objectives, maps and checkpoint markers. Just throw all of that out the window. You're going to need to change the way you think about games in order to play Bloodborne. The only help you'll get in agreeing to this futile undertaking is a smattering of oddly worded hints and ghost replays that other players can drop in the world.

Tiny phrases like "beware the ambush" or "take one more step" litter the world, only offering a glimmer of hope in what's otherwise an endless nightmare.

From Software

Up until now this may have sounded like an account of what it's like to play a game that seems as if it were designed by Satan himself. For what it's worth I can almost assure you Bloodborne was not.

Instead, consider the above a friendly warning. Because to the outsider, there's a lot drawing you towards Bloodborne's presentation.

For starters, the enemy design in Bloodborne is nothing short of awesome. From the lanky tree-people that drag axes behind them to the oversized ogres that use statues as swingable weapons, there's an impressive and terrifying variation of beasts to conquer. And that's really just the tip of the iceberg -- what creativity most of the game's roamers possess is only trumped by Bloodborne's horrifying boss design. If you make it far enough, you will see monsters that don't make sense -- that are too hideous to exist.

Each area in Bloodborne has a unique eeriness that seems to grow in front of your eyes. As you progress you'll unlock shortcuts that let you return to the area you died in (because you definitely just died) where you'll hopefully be able to recollect your blood echos, the game's currency.

From Software

So it's a bit of a tragic story when it comes to the discussion of Bloodborne's inaccessibility. There's a lot I'd want my friends to experience in here that I know they'll never see just because the first two hours will likely be the most painfully difficult stuff they've ever played, and that's assuming they don't encounter a boss.

It's a shame because there are innovative ideas in Bloodborne beyond its rough outer shell. Things like health regeneration in the combat system or trick weapons that can operate in both light and heavy attack configurations.

Nevertheless, the cost of entry into this club is heaps of time and patience, two precious commodities most people are in constant search of.

I wish I was the kind of person that could totally devote themselves to Bloodborne. So if you've got the mandatory prerequisites, more power to you.

Be sure to read GameSpot's review of Bloodborne