Among that esoteric breed of people who class themselves as committed gamers, no developer currently inspires greater reverence than the Japanese company From Software. It's famed for its no-compromise approach, and anyone who has played the action-RPGs Demon's Souls or Dark Souls will testify that your on-screen self must expect to die – a lot.

So, naturally, it was seen as a major coup when Sony announced that Bloodborne, From Software's latest action-RPG, would be a PlayStation 4 exclusive. Fortunately for Sony, given that recent PS4 exclusives like Drive Club and The Order: 1886 turned out to be damp squibs, Bloodborne lives up to the hype with plenty of panache.

However, a note of caution is required: Bloodborne is very hard indeed. Especially during its initial stages. So hard that there's every possibility that those with lower-than-average button-bashing skills may swiftly find themselves locked into an Edge of Tomorrow-style loop of repeated death and become frustrated before the game has properly begun.

It's not a case of drawing on a reserve life or respawning a few minutes behind where you died either. Perish and – after a harrowingly long loading screen that'll make you want to actually die – you'll go all the way back to the beginning of the given section. Cue swearing in abundance.

But this is one of the reasons why From Software is held in such high regard. It likes to test gamers' skills to destruction and throw them in at the deep end.

Persevere, though, and you can expect to find yourself sucked into Bloodborne's twisted game-world to an astonishingly deep, and probably obsessive, degree.

Superficially, Bloodborne operates on much the same premise as the Dark Souls games: it's an action-RPG in which you play a nameless hunter tasked with killing all the beasts you encounter in a harsh, Gothic setting. Everything you kill earns you Blood Echoes, which are the game's currency.

Sony Computer Entertainment / From Software / Japan Studiomob01_1407930681

But subtle differences in comparison with From Software's established modus operandi endow it with a distinct gameplay flavour which is wholly its own. It places much more emphasis on the action, rather than RPG, element – so instead of having to mix hack-and-slash-type attacks with shield-defence, you must hack with your right-hand weapon and wield a gun in your left, which causes no significant damage, but stops attacking beasts temporarily in their tracks.

Once you take on one enemy – and singling out individual enemies from groups by flicking pebbles at them is a key mechanic – you can expect others to follow swiftly, so flurries of activity have replaced the more tactical confrontations that typified Bloodborne's predecessors.

But as with Dark Souls, Bloodborne is all about working your way through the game-world, a few hundred yards at a time, by killing all the enemies you encounter, until you get to a new lantern that you can light so it works as a spawn-point.

Often, you must overcome a boss to do so, and Bloodborne's bosses are every bit as fearsome and freaky as devotees of From Software's oeuvre would expect. Subtle change-ups (such as encountering a rooftop machine-gunner, or the introduction of beasts with poison-attacks) prevent proceedings from feeling repetitive, and there are quieter sections that add a sense of ebb and flow.



Atmospherically, Bloodborne is as gothic and creepy as they come. It's mainly set in Yharnam, clearly a once-great city, with echoes of Victorian London, which is now in the grip of an outbreak that has turned most of its inhabitants into semi-zombified creatures, werewolves and other exotic beasts.

Sony Computer Entertainment / From Software / Japan StudioChalice_Dungeon_5_1426158641



Atmospherically, Bloodborne is as gothic and creepy as they come. It's mainly set in Yharnam, clearly a once-great city, with echoes of Victorian London, which is now in the grip of an outbreak that has turned most of its inhabitants into semi-zombified creatures, werewolves and other exotic beasts.

Some terrified inhabitants remain, locked in their houses, but otherwise Yharnam has been abandoned to you and your fellow hunters. There's no conventional storyline, but what amounts to a story emerges cleverly, as you traverse the city and discover short-cuts that open up new areas. In a way, the environment and, to an extent, the grotesque menagerie of beasts within it, is the story.

Bloodborne offers a really meaty single-player element, but you can jump online with it, too. In general play, you can ring a bell to summon another online player in the same area of Yharnam, so you can take on a tricky sequence co-operatively. And you can acquire chalices which, innovatively, can be used to create unique "procedurally generated" dungeons. In other words, the potential is there for you to immerse yourself in Yharnam and its environs for months. And there will undoubtedly be a steady flow of downloadable content down the line.



It isn't perfect, mind. You do occasionally encounter slight frame-rate issues, which From Software says it is already working to address with a patch. There's an occasional raggedness to it which can see you getting stuck in obscure corners. And there are times when the camera works against you, which is very annoying for such a hard game.

Sony Computer Entertainment / From Software / Japan StudioOnline_6_1426158647



It isn't perfect, mind. You do occasionally encounter slight frame-rate issues, which From Software says it is already working to address with a patch. There's an occasional raggedness to it which can see you getting stuck in obscure corners. And there are times when the camera works against you, which is very annoying for such a hard game.

Verdict

If you're a Demon's Souls or Dark Souls fan then Bloodborne is an absolute must. It's a better-looking, more engrossing and combat-driven evolutionary twist on From Software's previous titles that will have hardened gamers coming back for more.

But it isn't a game for everyone – some simply won't have the patience to learn the peculiar rhythm and language that it imposes on you. It's hard as nails, which in the early stages will reduce some gamers to throwing expletives at the screen and the game itself to the depths of eBay.

But finishing it, as with any of From Software's games, is akin to being awarded a badge of honour as far as gamers are concerned. Bloodborne is the ultimate gamer's game, and the first truly compelling PlayStation 4 exclusive. If, that is, you can handle the challenge.