Eurogamer Expo 2011: Dark Souls hands-on
Does anyone remember the point’n’click game on the Commodore Amiga called Dark Seed? Based on the imagery of H.R. Giger, it saw the protagonist awake with a severe headache and a seeping loss of reality. Click on the wrong option or take too long and the migraine turned quite violent, resulting in the character shrieking in pain as his head exploded and the game ended. Dark Souls shares that game’s unforgiving spirit. You will die. Repeatedly.
The demo opened with six characters to select from. Choosing the one that most resembled a Christian Templar, I was taken to an old, moss-covered castle. Reading a few scrawls on the floor that taught the basic controls, this small outside area led to a small room inside the castle. Here a fire could be lit, acting as a respawn point for when some gigantic beast would inevitably swoop down and destroy you.
From this room were two paths. One lead out onto a bridge, whilst the other could be opened via a switch to reveal a set of ascending stairs. Taking the bridge, a humongous wyvern was awaiting me at the other side. Now, I’ve never played the spiritual predecessor Demon’s Souls and was about to be taught a rather harsh lesson. Heading towards it – believing the game wouldn’t put such a creature against me straight away – I was soon fleeing in terror as it leapt forward and engulfed the entire bridge in searing flame. Rolling back into the room with a small amount of health remaining, a quick decision was made: let’s take the other route.
The audio provides a real terrifying depth to the monsters residing inside the castle. The clinks of your armour gives a real sense of sluggish movement and vulnerability as the creatures stomp and smash towards you; their sounds can be heard with crystal clarity. Within minutes the tension was through the roof as death was never far away and every new location brought a new horrible thing intent on murdering me.
To survive you can make use of varying attack methods, defence, magic and items. The demo didn’t explain all the controls, but a quick press of every button soon resolved that issue. Each weapon has a light and heavy attack, with the shield capable of blocking or parrying an incoming attack. The character I selected could also cast spells with the shield unequipped. A heal spell came in handy, however, the lightning spell was bordering on useless. When cast, a lightning spear would appear in-hand and then be thrown where you were first looking. As everything moves it rarely hit its mark, and there was no indication of a more accurate aiming method.
Even with a grip of the commands, it was best not to go back and even look at that wyvern. The world occasionally looks blurry and dated at times, with rough textures clashing against the bright sunlight reflecting from metal plating. It can look both lively and ugly within the same screen; though the monsters always look stunning. Dead bodies are also eerily light in weight, being thrown about like limp rag dolls. But it’s clear that Dark Souls is all about the atmosphere, RPG grinding and formidable bosses, and it achieves this without fault.
Just as Konami and developers Vatra Games defecated all over my dreams and rang the death knell of the Silent Hill franchise with their recent woeful trailer, Dark Souls has shown me that survival-horror never truly died, it just hid in the cracks of the gaming world, occasionally entering the realm at night to still scare the living shit out of us in other genres. Depressingly difficult, I was left intrigued and wanting to play more; to see what was around that next corner and find out if the wyvern could be defeated.