Seeing Bloodborne behind closed doors, it was evidently clear this once beastly project has its roots in the developer's lauded Souls series. From Software may be approaching the PS4-exclusive action-RPG as an original property, but in that hands-off demo, differences and similarities were both patent. In short, Bloodborne felt both familiar and unfamiliar.

For example, killing enemies produced a familiar sucking noise indicating something gained, but it wasn't shown if this was experience, souls, or whatever. There were glowing lights floating in their corpses, but it wasn't clear if these were items to be picked up. Entrances were engulfed in white light, enemies burst into view through barrels, the camera sat familiarly behind the hero - who's customizable, by the way - and the combat looked methodical and strategic. As director Hidetaka Miyazaki explained, the three major layers From wants in Bloodborne are exploration of the unknown, truly perilous combat, and a unique online concept. You could easily attribute those qualities to any Souls game.
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Bloodborne (E3 2014)

Of course, it's not that simple. The demo's cursed 19th century setting was a once great gothic city called Yharnam, and it had a recognizable architecture and flavor. The hero constantly passed elegant railings and lampposts, while gargoyles and statues gazed down on the cobbled streets below. A mob of infected citizens held their torches high, shambling past the deserted stagecoaches beached ominously on the roadside.

Somehow, despite the cursed enemies parading it, the city felt more real than From's usual fare, or at least disconcertingly tangible like the grim, nightmarish London of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Also, even in "beyond alpha" form with a choppy frame-rate, the technical aspect was an obvious step up to anything we've seen from the studio. Under the dark moonlit sky the detail in the roads and buildings shone out, as did our hero's dark grey trenchcoat as it quickly became splattered in the blood of his victims.

That's another thing that stood out as different: Blood, and lots of it. The hero had two weapons to hand: In the right sat a huge saw attached to a bow-like handle which he was able to slice vertically and horizontally to devastating effect. In the left, a blunderbuss was an equally effective short-range firearm that boomed weightily through enemies, especially when triggered as part of a counter-attack animation. I didn't see dismemberment, but every swipe, slice and shot seemed to elicit the "blood-splattering combat" promised on the demo's introductory slide.

Miyazaki explained From wants "trick weapons and firearms" to be a fresh focus of the combat, allowing players to shift into a more active style of engagement. The Dark Souls director wants fights to constantly feel epic, to feel like an on-the-edge matter of life and death: "When you're facing an enemy, you're facing death," he summarized. At the same time, From plans to make penalties for death not as severe as past fare. In the demo our hero survived unscathed because the difficulty had been deliberately dialed down. Within minutes Miyazaki chuckled as he noted the hero would have died already in the real thing.

Another fresh element was the transformative nature of the saw weapon. The hero was able to extract and retract it into longer and shorter forms of itself, giving the weapon different ranges (and presumably different feels). I only saw it feature briefly in the demo, but I could see From taking that concept in a number of directions, particularly with the introduction of firearms. Again, this was hard to truly gage so brielfy, but the possibilities make it interesting.

Apart from the mysterious, dark setting, what most impressed me in the demo was the inventiveness of some of the enemies. After hearing a loud banging on a large gate, our hero winded round to the other side. There he found a lumbering hunchbacked giant caped in black, his face disfigured, and his right hand gripped around a slab of concrete. He swung his rock-clutching arm through rotations, looming over the hero imposingly. Even with the difficulty reduced, he seemed a tough enemy to fell.

The "blood-sucking crows" were even more memorable. These human-sized beak-snapping beasts didn't fly for some reason - maybe because their bellies were so bloated - so instead they alarmingly lunged forwards on their fronts, seemingly increasing with size at they spread out their wings and jumped menacingly towards the camera.

There was also an interesting scenario involving a non-player character clad similarly to the hero, found fighting off two snarling werewolf-like things. Miyazaki explained there was a choice here to either help the NPC defeat the enemies or just move on and leave them be - it wasn't noted what would happen if the hero also took on the NPC.

Abandoning the NPC proved significant, because if the hero had helped he'd have served as an ally in the eventual boss fight. Considering that was with a lanky horned demon with an exposed ribcage and tendrils running down arms that he punched venomously into the ground, an extra hand could've been useful. According to Miyazaki, counters and firearms were the best way to go, but as the fight slammed into a mess of arms, blunderbusses and blades, I wanted to get my hands on Bloodborne to find out for myself.

Understandably, From wants to keep things mysterious for now, and it's likely a lot of ideas are still being formulated. And, while it's clear there are Souls-like elements to Bloodborne, a lot of that mystery surrounds the newer aspects. For example, Miyazaki said the "unique online concept" will be something different to the Souls games, but he wasn't prepared to put any more detail to it than that. Project Beast may be finally out of the cage, but much of it still remains enshrouded in dark, gothic shadow.
[Images: Sony Computer Entertainment]

This article was originally published on Joystiq.