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TGS 08: Hands-on with Demon's Souls (PS3)

Jem Alexander

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"Nothing but a player?s decision and a tactics of using various weapons are important than anything that you really need to think to play." This line, taken from the official Demon's Souls site blurb, should make you feel as scared and confused as I felt when I got my hands on the game. My first thought, "ouch," remains scrawled at the top of my notes and, sadly, it's all downhill from there.

Gallery: Demon's Souls | 41 Photos

Immediately the demo begins and I'm confronted by a character customization screen, allowing me to change various aspects of my appearance. I didn't tinker, mostly because I wasn't sure what did what thanks to the language barrier. Customizing my appearance would've been a waste of time anyway, as the camera sits behind the character for the majority of the time and his face is hidden by a large medieval helmet.

The gameplay starts in a courtyard in front of a large castle. A small fountain lies ahead, slowing down the game with its unnecessary, though meager, particle effects. Despite some fairly decent graphics, the game has an overwhelming sense of being old school. In the top left lies my health, mana and stamina bar, something that is beginning to feel dated in third-person action games post-Uncharted and Gears of War.

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Graphically, the game looks good. Textures and models are quality, if a bit generic. However, currently the game is best viewed in screenshots as the frame rate is offensively bad. There are particle effects used in the first area that bring the speed of the game down to a crawl, but even past here it doesn't speed up by much. A lot of the gameplay in the demo relies on you bashing breakables apart. Not only do these stand out from the background, breaking any feeling of immersion, but destroying the various barricades, tables, shelves, carts and barrels creates even more slowdown.

"There's plenty of time for the frame rate to be tightened ... but you have to wonder why Sony saw fit to reveal Demon's Souls so early."

The game is only 65% complete, according to Sony's factsheet, so there's plenty of time for the frame rate to be tightened. Having said that, you have to wonder why Sony saw fit to reveal Demon's Souls so early (though it is due out in '09) and at a public show, of all places. Where people are standing in 60+ minute lines to play these games for 5 minutes, Demon's Souls is not going to make anyone say "I'm psyched for this game!" Especially when Resistance 2 was playable only a few feet away.

Gameplay is simple hack and slash and is set in a medieval fantasy world mixed with Japanese horror. In this demo I, a sterotypical European knight, clad in plate armor, fought off armored zombie guards in a castle setting. R1 and L1 are used to attack and defend, respectively. Different weapon and shields can be switched out of these slots and item pick-ups are equippable to the triangle button.

Combat suffers from a lack of lock-on functionality and I found myself missing my target simply by facing slightly to their left. Likewise, zombies lunged at me, missing by miles. Once you've maneuvered your character to the correct position, fighting consists of little more than pushing R1 a few times, with maybe a timely press of L1 every so often.

As I wander around and through the castle a lot of my time is spent destroying the various objects that I come across, as mentioned above. This can look great, despite the frame rate drops. Tables with books and cups and plates on them will fall into shards of wood and the objects will tumble around realistically. Breaking all of these large, wooden objects makes you feel powerful as they all fall in a single hit of your sword.

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Unfortunately the illusion was broken when I reached an area where a crossbow-wielding armored zombie stood atop a seemingly flimsy wooden structure. My sword bounced off the wooden scaffolding and I was forced to climb up behind the zombie to destroy him. Inconsistencies like these lead to an overall feeling of low quality.

Overall I was less-than impressed with Demon's Souls. The game has been shown too early, but also too late. It feels anachronistic when you look at the state of the video game industry today. When a game feels dated before it's even out, you have to consider whether it's worth making it at all. Who knows, though. Maybe FROM Software will pull the other 35% of development out of the bag and create something PS3 owners will be proud to own. I won't be holding my breath.

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