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Gothic Horror Gets Brutal in Bloodborne

For many people, life in Victorian England was difficult, but at least they didn't have to deal with crippling plague, widespread insanity, monstrous ogres or the insatiable undead. From Software's "Bloodborne" is a brutal action/role-playing game that combines a dark aesthetic with difficult gameplay to create something both unique and unexpected.

Tom's Guide saw a guided demo of "Bloodborne" at E3 2014, and we were immediately struck by its similarities to From Software's own "Dark Souls." Like "Dark Souls," "Bloodborne" thrives on a minimalist story, a gripping setting and gameplay that will kill you over and over if you give it half a chance.

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The demo followed a lightly armored protagonist who wielded both an extendable, serrated blade and a shotgun that resembled an enormous flintlock pistol. As he explored the surrounding city of cobblestones, gas lamps and imposing spires, he encountered crazed citizens who would attack without provocation, often from unexpected angles. The game does not take place in real-life 19th century London, but the Victorian Gothic horror influence is instantly recognizable.

Combat in "Bloodborne" is both vicious and uncompromising. The protagonist dug into enemies with his enormous blade, showering him with buckets of blood that stained his clothing as the level progressed. Similarly, even half-starved citizens could dish out a ton of damage, attacking with rusty shovels or fiery torches. As in the "Souls" games, enemies drop souls upon defeat, which the protagonist can presumably use later to enhance his stats and equipment.

During the demo, the protagonist explored back alleys, climbed ladders to rooftops, used a torch to illuminate abandoned buildings and avoided a murderous mob trying to stem the plague by burning monstrosities at the stake.

We also got a taste of the variety of grotesque enemies present in the game. From the beginning of the level, we could hear a distant, ominous banging. After tracking it to its source, the protagonist found an enormous ogre of a man, dressed in rags and out for blood. The fight against him looked especially difficult, as the protagonist used his shotgun to momentarily stun the ogre, slashed at him, then rolled away to avoid his huge reach.

The world is also home to fearsome werewolves, two of whom were attacking a fellow monster-hunter. A From Software representative explained that the world would be replete with encounters like this: Do you risk life and limb to intervene and save the hunter, or let him lure the enemies away? Saving him could mean his aid in a tough boss fight; letting him go could mean your own survival.

Enemies in this game are also much more sophisticated than those in "Dark Souls," and interact with each other in more meaningful ways. For example, human enemies can talk, and will often voice their displeasure with you. Rotting, zombified dogs will often accompany them. Should the dogs find you first, they'll bark at the top of their desiccated lungs to alert every other enemy in the area to your presence.

By far, the most interesting foe we saw was the level's boss: a giant skeletal minotaur with strips of rotting flesh still hanging off of its bones. For a creature with no muscles, it was surprisingly fast, but the protagonist could damage it by shooting its knees and carving off entire chunks of its skull with his sword. The battle was intense, gory and absolutely riveting — a confluence that fans of the "Souls" series know well.

The game looks gorgeous and leverages the PS4's hardware to create a detailed world with convincing effects, particularly the sticky, reflective texture of blood and the wispy tongues of fire on torches. The framerate had consistent problems, but From Software assured us that they were aware of this issue and would fix it well before the game debuted.

Overall, we were impressed with "Bloodborne," not just because it looks like a good game, but because it demonstrates considerable creativity and risk on the part of From Software. Fans adore "Dark Souls," but rather than just churning out another sequel, From Software took its beloved mechanics and put them in a wholly new setting. The addition of guns significantly changes the way ranged combat works, and improved enemy AI allows the game to have a faster overall pace.

"Bloodborne" has no price announced yet, but will be available for purchase in 2015.

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