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Demon's Souls for the PlayStation 3 finally comes to the UK after gaining cult status in Japan and America. The atmosphere of this challenging action-RPG captivated my imagination long after I had finished playing it. Even between play sessions I was perpetually playing it in my imagination. No other game can offer such an experience that drips with tangible fear but gives you such ultimate rewards.
Set in a medieval fantasy world that's desperately seeking redemption from the encroaching Demon, Demon's Souls: Black Phantom Edition for the PS3 takes you on a dark and difficult ride through the nightmarish land of Boletaria. Eschewing the modern hand-holding elements of most games, Demon's Souls thrusts you into its world and expects you to bring light to a dark and foreboding place.
This 3rd person, action RPG might not seem an enticing game at first glance, but its atmosphere and visceral combat combined to create an unusual compelling experience. From the very start you know this is a very different game to what's come before - the overwhelming sense of oppression and the dire in-game consequences of death meant the experience lingered in my mind after I had put the controller down.
Freeing the kingdom of Boletaria from the invading Demon menace is your only goal but the journey to complete this task is full of character, challenge and fear. The shambling corpses in the first level are a perfect example of how the mundane turns into the dangerous. Easily defeated, these enemies don't appear to offer much challenge, but make a small mistake or a false swing of your weapon and they can defeat you with ease sending you back to the Nexus, Demon's Souls hub-world.
I found myself planning and strategising during the day, analysing the levels to the same extent as I did old dungeon crawlers.
Once you die in this game you remain dead, existing only as a spirit until you defeat a Demon and regain your body. Souls, the game's version of experience points, are also lost when you're defeated and only if you return to the site of your defeat and touch your own bloodstain will you regain them. These harsh game play decisions means the game instils a constant state of fear regarding your progress - you inch forward, aware that around each corner might lie an enemy that could defeat you in one blow.
It's an experience that stays with you long after your blade is retired for the night. The shambling corpses of Boletaria Castle and the Mind Flayers in the Tower of Latria lurk deep within your psyche thanks to the oppressive and fearful nature of the game. This isn't to say Demon's Souls isn't a pleasurable experience. It might be the most demanding game you'll play all year but it's also the most rewarding. Fighting through a level, keeping your own fear under check and finally defeating the large spider boss that's caused you so much trouble ranks up there as one of gaming greatest moments.
Far from being irritating, unfair or annoying to play, Demon's Souls has somehow built an addictive experience out of these game play conventions. It might not be easy at first, but for those gamers decrying that games have become too easy then this is an example of how they can still kick your ass. I found myself planning and strategising during the day, analysing the levels to the same extent as I did old dungeon crawlers back in the 90's, and eagerly awaiting my chance to dive back into Boletaria.
This exclusive PS3 title has to be seen, experienced and dreamed about in order to appreciate its genius.
Giving a sense of relief is the integration of multiplayer. At any time in the world you can see ghosts fighting invisible enemies or travelling from one point to another. These are other players, fighting their own fight against the Demon horde and although this integration doesn't help in any tangible way - it does foster a sense of comradeship, a feeling that you're not totally alone.
The real multiplayer is where things get really awesome and involves warping into other players' worlds to help them in their struggle. By using the Blue Eye Stone you can be the proverbial knight in shining armour and this useful co-op mode is essential for taking down some of the more arduous boss demons.
But Demon's Souls doesn't just give you a chance to be helpful - it also grants players the opportunity to wreak havoc within another players' world. By using the Black Eye Stone you begin a deadly game of cat and mouse as you become the titular Black Phantom. Hunting down and slaying a human opponent allows you to regain your body and boost your health points - as well as giving you the thrill of the hunt.
These aspects alone make Demon's Souls a compelling purchase but the real joy of the game is the exploration of the dark land of Boletaria. No other game has such a presence and foreboding spirit. It's unlike anything on any game system and this exclusive PS3 title has to be seen, experienced and dreamed about in order to appreciate its genius.
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