Game reviews: Bloodborne and Hard West - welcome to hell, and to gunslingers
Bloodborne: The Old Hunters will lead players deeper and deeper into hell, while Hard West takes a new trail through some familiar terrain
Bloodborne: The Old Hunters
When we first reviewed Bloodborne back in April this year, we called the PlayStation 4 game “an incredible experience” but one “only obsessive, multidecade hand-eye coordinators will truly delve into”. That still holds true, and it’s highly likely that eight months later, those who took our advice are still grinding away at its challenging hell of a virtual world.
Now, just in time for Christmas, comes The Old Hunters, the first and apparently only expansion pack for the game, available as a sizeable DLC release or a special edition disc alongside the original game. It supposedly clocks in at a hefty 15 hours, but developer FromSoftware seems very cruel, and those who dare enter its sprawling world will no doubt spend much of the holidays stuck in Sisyphean agony, dying endless deaths at the hands of its demon bosses.
The Old Hunters doesn’t follow the tried-and-tested expansion method of a couple new missions, a few new challenges. In classic Dark Souls fashion, it truly expands on the Bloodborne world, throwing players deep into a purgatorial realm called the Hunter’s Nightmare. It’s here that those whose bloodlust is never sated are sent, a Dantean labyrinth that recreates the original Bloodborne’s settings as half-remembered nightmares while pushing the boundaries of fear.
That’s most clear in its use of ancient frights: this being a world of Old Hunters, it’s only fitting that archaic weapons and olden monsters should populate. Whether it’s the delightfully named “Boom Hammer” or sacks of bloody amputated heads, immense saw-blade whips or beastly shark-men, the expansion takes all that was best about Bloodborne and amps it up through new combat methods that play up the old-world settings.
But it wouldn’t be much without its challenges, and again for those who truly appreciate games that never let up in the stakes department, The Old Hunters sends players through a hell that piles trial upon trial. You’ll spend hours, if not days, fighting off demons, but the satisfaction that comes from perfectly slaying with a ferocious buzz-saw to the brain is incredibly cathartic.
The Old Hunters isn’t just a worthy expansion to Bloodborne – it’s an entirely new world to the game that gives die-hard gamers the type of test few dream about, even if most would consider it a nightmare.
Ever since Red Dead Redemption sent gamers back in time to the blood-soaked days of the Old West, developers have attempted to chart new ways to shake up the trend, while distancing themselves from a pure rehash.
Most have failed, the limitations of that historic period being obvious, but Hard West successfully stakes its claim as a fresh venture into a cliché-ridden past.
“X-Com with gunslingers” is how many are billing the release, and that’s not far off, even if the label initially seems a little uninspired. The PC game features turn-based combat, alongside hints of the supernatural, with the story split into eight slightly connected chapters that each feature a different main character.
The gunfight goal for every one of them is simple and slightly tired, but it’s in the expansive world and role-playing aspects that the game truly makes itself worthy.
Choices are key in Hard West – the conversations you have, places you explore and posse you pick up all greatly affect such important aspects as finances, health and even your character’s understanding of the situation. It’s slightly hampered by the text-heavy progression of the story, but when the bleak voice-over kicks in, it all but washes away any poor concerns.
Fights, too, might be largely turn-based, but they’re shaken up through the clever use of luck stats and a card system. The former removes all randomness by assigning a luck value that determines the percentage of a chance hit. The latter more interestingly, ditches standard class systems for playing cards dished out to characters before a big showdown.
You can, for example, deal out the incredibly helpful shadow cloak when facing off against a particularly loathsome enemy, allowing you to not only appear invisible, but gain much-needed health.
It all adds up to an interesting take on the American West setting, one that isn’t far off from games of its ilk, but different enough to keep fans of the era preoccupied until the next take breaks new ground.