Preview

Dark Souls

Could it be that the hardest game ever just got harder?

You better believe it. Demon's Souls was undoubtedly one of the toughest games out there and it made no apologies for being that way. So when From Software announced that they were building a spiritual successor to their dungeon crawling masterpiece anyone who'd ever sweated out a session on Demon's Souls started salivating again like one of Pavlov's dogs.

Dark Souls retains the still-beating heart of Demon's Souls - a dark and rich environment, deep and rewarding combat system and a thirst for challenging gamers to their very limits without patronising them in any way - but now it brings a whole new meaning to the idea of co-operative multiplayer gameplay.

Our demo begins, as you'd expect, at the bottom of a dark tower. The feel is almost identical to Demon's Souls with the hero wreathed in a sphere of gentle light keeping everything close by illuminated in even the darkest of dungeons. As we move into the darkness we encounter our first monster and it's a large armoured warrior. Thankfully, for the purposes of the demo our character is a bit tougher than usual, a fact that we should be grateful for because the demo only gets tougher from here.

Up a dark and dusty staircase and round a corner another tough battle leads to a narrow bridge. Of course, the narrow bridge is trapped with a large swinging pendulum blade requiring some careful timing to cross. One wrong step and you're cast down into the darkness to face another of the large troopers, if you survive the fall.

Everything in Dark Souls draws from a quintessentially Western RPG influence, despite being a very Japanese style of action RPG. From Software is heavily guided by their love of the Fighting Fantasy adventure books and Deathtrap Dungeon especially oozes out of every pixel in Dark Souls. This is not only reflected in the game's atmosphere but in the more simple details of the game.

Across the bridge we return to some tight corridors but off it there's a room with a couple of chests in it. The first one contains useful trinkets, the second is something else altogether. Dark Souls takes full advantages of subtleties. Traps are easily avoidable to those who can pick up the slight differences. In this case the second chest is a mimic, a monster that can shift shape and pretend to be objects in order to get he drop on hapless heroes.

It's worth noting that From Software has managed to retain the balancing perfectly with the control system. It feels every bit as comfortable to use as it did in Demon's Souls. It is the same easy-to-learn-tough-to-master control system that helped make Demon's Souls so compelling.

Back to the tower and as we continue up the tower the combination of tight corridors and narrow bridges repeats itself another couple of times with the number of pendulums increasing along with the speed that they are swinging. The number of guardian monsters increases as well with two coming at you across the last bridge. Coupled with the increased number of pendulums this presents the kind of challenge that we have come to expect from Dark Soul's predecessor.

The final segment of the demo really stands to illustrate, not only the grandeur of the battles that take place in Dark Souls but also the importance that co-op will play in the finished version of the game. Across the last bridge and up the stairs and we come out onto the roof of the tower. Waiting for us is a giant warrior monster hurling huge rocks from the top of the tower. Right now we're tackling the creature solo and even with our character's stats beefed up it is one of the toughest boss battles around.

After circling the behemoth a few times and getting in some good shots at the creature we succumbed to a swipe from its massive weapon and the demo was over. This is really the point where the potential of the new co-op mode will come into play. It was not on show at this point in time but it will make it possible to team up with friends to take on the biggest foes in Dark Souls making them more easy to handle for less experienced players.

Dark Souls is shaping up to be every bit as impressive as Demon's Souls was. The visuals have been improved while retaining the atmospheric darkness of the Demon's Souls. It also has retained the intense difficulty without being ridiculously frustrating. The addition of co-operative multiplayer, if handled correctly has the potential to add the final piece of the puzzle, uniting a community striving for the most challenging dungeon crawls around. From Software has built on the solid foundations that they created with Demon's Souls, what will be a very special package indeed.

There may be more high profile titles but few will be more intensely accomplished than Dark Souls. This could very well be the alternative game of the year.

Dark Souls is out on PS3 and Xbox 360 on October the 7th in the UK and Europe.

PS4 Review
The Evil Within
Can Shinji Mikami's twisted new world revive the fortunes of triple-A survival horror?