Words that kill, an MGSV debrief : Part One – FOX Vs XOF

Blimey, those nine years passed by rather quickly. In Part Zero I outlined the events of MGSV: Ground Zeroes, in which Big Boss rescued Chico and Paz from Not-Guantanamo Bay only for Mother Base to be destroyed, most of his troops killed and for Paz to blow up right near said helicopter. Things didn’t go too well. Anyway, it’s now 1984, and after nine years of laying idle in a hospital bed in Cyprus, Venom finally awakens- the only survivor of the crash besides his second in command Kazuhira Miller. As I set up in Part Zero this part will be based around what I think of Chapter One of The Phantom Pain; its characters and main plot points.

Awakening: V has come to, Midge Ure and a Nine Year Coma

So the game opens proper with Snake gradually waking up from a coma in a hospital as Midge Ure’s cover of “The Man Who Sold the World” plays. Now, some people really don’t like the whole opening sequence and while I do agree some of it is a bit long-winded, there are parts of it I think are really strong. The opening ten minutes or so do a wonderful job of setting the tone/carrying on the tone set by GZ (delete as applicable), as in separate incidents days apart Big Boss is told by a kindly doctor that he A) Has been in a coma for nine years, B) Had one hundred and eight pieces of shrapnel, bone and teeth stuck in him, some of which is still there near his heart and stuck in his skull and C) His left arm is gone below the elbow. He wordlessly freaks out each time (in first person no less) and has to be drugged to calm down. With only a few lines of dialogue each time the game makes you fully understand Snake’s position, in contrast to how say, MGS2 would do it. Anyway the key points of the opening are that a man with a bandaged face calling himself “Ishmael” (also voiced by Keifer Sutherland) saves Snake from a woman who will be very important later, then guides Snake through an escape as the hospital is attacked by soldiers who are that this point unknown, a flaming zombie and a floating child in a gas mask (they’ll all have their own sections). This part of the game works fine as a tutorial but the actual story is somewhat sparse apart from the very start. It ends with Ishmael crashing an ambulance and mysteriously vanishing as Snake’s old friend/rival Revolver Ocelot arrives on a horse to rescue Snake. They’ve got to go to Afghanistan to rescue Kazuhira Miller, last seen in the helicopter at the end of GZ.

Diamond Dogs: Ocelot, Kaz and the new Mother Base

Ocelot gives Snake a snazzy bionic arm and sends him into Kabul to rescue Kaz from the Soviets, who are currently knee-deep into their real life occupation of Afghanistan. First of all, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan is a great backdrop for a game, especially one like this, and the bold, mountainous terrain makes for an interesting setting. Anyway to focus on the matter at hand, you rescue Kaz and some twat’s lopped off his right arm and left foot. On the way out they’re ambushed by incredibly fast, shaky soldiers who can pull long firearms out of thin air, but you manage to escape (again, they’ll be discussed later). To Mother Base then, now found in the Seychelles. Kaz set up a new private army in your absence: “Diamond Dogs”. Kaz and Ocelot form the two sides of Snake’s conscience- the red and blue oni, the figurative Angel and Devil on his shoulder (to an extent). Throughout the game Kaz is entirely fueled by two things; his love for Diamond Dogs, and an all-consuming lust for revenge against Cipher for apparently destroying the original Mother Base. He still loves and respects Big Boss but is more than willing to lambaste him for not immediately murdering people even tangentially related to Cipher. He has some levity, but he’s clearly a different man after everything that’s happened to him. Though he has a prosthetic foot he refuses to have a prosthetic arm, so he can remember the pain MSF suffered. Ocelot, in comparison, is cool, calm and collected. He’s responsible for training recruits, and always acts as a voice of reason, calming Miller down and willing to take risks if they’ll benefit Mother Base. I really like this dynamic because it adds character to Venom Snake, who doesn’t say much and instead relies on his actions. The gameplay focuses on dynamic choices being made constantly as you play the game, and this factors into that; do you listen to bloodthirsty Miller? Or Sly, cunning Ocelot? Ocelot also has a hint of his more malicious, MGS1 side that shines through during his torture signs. He may be calm and collected, but he’s a ruthless bastard when he needs information. As for Mother Base, it’s easily one of the most important factors of the story, even if it appears to take a back seat. I’ve seen people complain that the game doesn’t have much story, but the story is constantly unfolding: by going out and doing mercenary work, kidnapping recruits, killing fools and stealing resources you’re constantly building up Mother Base and spreading your representation throughout Afghanistan and Central Africa.

Wicked Butterfly: Quiet

Right. First off, let me say that I completely understand why some people really don’t like Quiet, and think she’s an awful character. But I really don’t. I love Quiet. Personally I think the explanation that she breathes through her skin and therefore has to expose most of her skin a bit daft, but acceptable. The Anime Kill la Kill had something similar and I love that too, my problem here is the meta reason for her to be dressed like that. See, series creator Hideo Kojima has stated that he personally finds her design sexually attractive, and that he wants people to cosplay as her. I’m fine with her outfit when the game isn’t sexualising her- she can’t help but be dressed that way, and it’s creepy when the game ogles her so much. For the most part, anyway; her posing in the helicopter is fine because it’s linked to you gradually building a bond with her and her and Venom Snake falling in love. Same for the now infamous scene of her playing around in the rain. As for her as a character: she starts off as an XOF assassin (more on them later) who kills Snake’s doctor during the prologue, and gets set on fire twice by Ishmael, the resulting burns cured by the same thing that gave her her powers (teleportation, super speed and inhuman sniping skills) and skin-breathing. She’s treated like an inhuman monster (Miller refers to her as “That thing” at one point, and is really horrible in his refusal to accept her, but Snake treats her like a human being, and over time she becomes an important ally. Also its nice to take her on missions and have her on the chopper- she’s a soothing presence. Plus she’s really, really good at killing people, and Stefanie Joosten does a good job of acting without saying a word.

The White Mamba: Eli and the Child Soldiers

Eli was a bit of a disappointment for me, though I’m not sure what I was expecting from him. He’s introduced as some kind of badass child soldier who arrives literally out of nowhere to take over a unit of other child soldiers after all the adults abandon them, and his opening mission is really solid. You make your way through an African village full of armed children (more on them shortly), make your way up to the top of a wrecked boat that’s run aground and have a fight with Eli that can be won entirely by just battering him with CQC. He’s taken back to Mother Base where he makes a nuisance of himself, but doesn’t do anything of real note until season 1’s ending, which I’ll talk about in the last section. I’ll talk more about Eli in part 2 (where he becomes more important), but for now know that I found him really annoying (partly because I hate children) apart from that first fight. As for the child soldiers, they’re disturbingly realistic. The first time I encountered them I felt genuinely uneasy about the concept, and if you fight them you discover that they’re realistically crap with their weapons. You can’t kill them either, but you can knock them out/tranquilise them. There’s a section that appeared in the trailer to be Snake killing a load of them, but it turns out he’s faking their deaths so he can take them back to Mother Base where Kaz insists they be given an education. That’s it really, they’re not in it much.

Old Diné: Code Talker, Vocal Cord Parasites and The Devil’s House

Midway through Chapter One the child soldiers you rescued give you a mission: go track down their friend, who is apparently being held at a place called “The Devil’s House”, a guarded factory hidden away in a misty valley with a radio nearby that’s playing the radio broadcast from “P.T”. The friend in question dies, but Snake does discover what ends up being Skull Face’s ultimate weapon, though he doesn’t know it at the time. He finds people with blisters and sores all over their chests, with headphones inserted into their throats. The Devil’s House is one of the more overt examples of horror in MGSV. Patients strapped down to beds with horribly engorged lungs, blood all over the place and hints of a bizarre experiment that you can’t quite put your finger on; it works really well. It’s also not overdone- it’s the only time the horror elements are so out in the open. Turns out the one man who can help you out is a hundred year old Navajo Biologist named “Code Talker”, whose help you seek when soldiers at Mother Base begin showing the same symptoms as those in The Devil’s House. I like Code Talker a lot. It’s nice to see a Native American character in fiction that doesn’t have some kind of stupid magical powers, and instead is an interesting character with a background in science, brought into an already diverse and interesting cast of characters. It’s revealed that what causes the symptoms are a strain of parasites that react to the host speaking a certain language and consume their lungs, hence the headphones in throats. Skull Face forced Code Talker to develop different parasites that target different languages in order to wipe out different ethnic groups. Or so you think, for now at least. The true nature of his plan and his reasons are yet to come. For now though, I find the parasites to be an interesting idea. As I’ll explain when I talk about Skull Face they fit his character and backstory well, and they’re a lot different to the usual plans villains have in games.

The Ultimate Deterrence: Metal Gear Sahelanthropus

Quite a short one, this. The new Metal Gear (“METAL GEAR?!”) is named for one of humankind’s ancestor’s that apparently walked upright. So, Sahelanthropus can walk hunched over like MGS1’s Metal Gear Rex (it also looks quite similar and even roars) or stand up straight like in the picture above. Skull Face had MSF’s head scientist Huey Emmerich (he’ll have his own section in Part 2) build it as part of his plan for a sort of peace through nuclear deterrence, out of a sheer terror much like the one Metal Gear Rex was said to potentially cause in people. He sicks it on you twice; first time you have to hide from it, second time you have an all-out fight out in the open. Its place in the story is something of a footnote really; it’s not Skull Face’s main weapon, it’s destroyed at the end of Chapter 1 and Metal Gear Rex is still the coolest. Still, it’s a nice design, and the part where Snake desperately tries to escape from it, then has to fight it is enjoyably tense.

Sans Lingua Franca: Skull Face, his plan, XOF and The Skulls

Here we are then. The big bad, for now at least. Skull Face is both a short-term and long-term villain, a man entirely instrumental to Big Boss’ heel-turn even though he’s hardly in the game. Born in Hungary and horribly burned in an attack on a weapons factory as a child, he was moved from captor to captor, constantly forced to speak new languages and effectively abandon his heritage. He was recruited by Cipher head Major Zero (Snake’s CO in MGS3) as his XO (executive officer), and as FOX was born, so was XOF. While Big Boss (then Naked Snake) went off on covert operations for FOX, XOF were their incredibly secretive clean-up crew, “The other side of [their] coin”, in Skull Face’s own words. By the time the game is set XOF are his own personal strike force- heavily armed, highly trained soldiers that carry out his every whim. They’re also the soldiers who raided the hospital in the prologue. Fed up with being in Snake’s shadow he decided that Zero’s plan to support America with Cipher chided him very much the wrong way, and so developed the vocal chord parasites to wipe English from the face of the Earth. See he isn’t trying to wipe out certain ethnic groups. He wants to wipe out the World’s dominant Lingua Franca, then supply nuclear weapons that he controls so no one will be able to communicate and everyone will be scared of everyone else’s nukes. I find it interesting that Skull Face’s plan is like something a really twisted Bond Villain would come up with in some eighteen rated film left on the cutting room floor, because MGS3 is one big homage to James Bond. Whereas Big Boss abandoned his country to basically become Colonel Kurtz (more on that in Part Two), Skull Face is very much a theatrical villain- his face, his Cowboy outfit, regularly hamming up his dialogue, it’d be funny if he wasn’t so utterly horrible. What I mean about the long-term and short-term villainy is that even though he doesn’t appear in the game for very long, pursuing him is what causes Big Boss and Kaz to become demons- they kill and kidnap for money, kidnap soldiers for their own army, steal resources and cut a bloody swathe through Afghanistan and Central Africa all to get their hands on this man with no care for the consequences. I love Skull Face as a villain, and I love how he works as just a really despicable cog in a larger machine. My only problem is with how he dies, at the end of Chapter one. See that little boy with the gas mask I mentioned right at the start (he’ll have his own section is Part Two) works for whomever feels the most hate, hence why he sticks around with Skull Face. But then he gets swayed over to Eli’s side due to the hate Eli feels for Snake, takes control of Metal Gear and crushes Skull Face. After fighting Metal Gear Snake and Kaz brutally mutilate Skull Face and leave him for dead despite his pleading for them to kill him, and Huey puts him out of his misery. My problem with this is the idea of a child apparently being so angry with being beaten by Snake that he out-hates a MAN WITH NO FACE, WHO CAN’T SPEAK HIS OWN NATIVE LANGUAGE ANYMORE. A man who’s made a career out of coming up with the most horrible tortures thinkable as part of a larger plan to wipe out an entire language. It just doesn’t make sense to me, and it’s the biggest problem I have with the story in Chapter One. What’s important with Skull Face is his lasting ramifications, and what his presence does to Snake and Kaz over the course of Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain. He’s also one of my favourite villains in the series, despite his small amount of screen time. It’s also worth briefly mentioning “The Skulls”, despite them not having much importance in the story. They are the incredibly fast, shaky soldiers I talked about back in the “Diamond Dogs” section, and they’re the weakest special unit in a Metal Gear Solid game. Granted they have really strong competition in Foxhound and The Cobra Unit, but despite having neat powers there’s no real pay off for them, and they have no real impact on the story other than when you have to fight them, unfortunately.

So Skull Face is dead, everything’s peachy and Big Boss and friends can look to the future. Until it all goes horribly wrong, of course. Coming up in Part Two:

See you there.

By James Lambert

Words that kill, an MGSV debrief : Part Zero – Here’s to You

When I reviewed MGSV: The Phantom Pain I only scratched the surface when talking about the plot. I planned to write a big feature on it, diving into all the characters, key plot points, and what I think of it overall, focusing purely on the story side of things. I feel like it’s been long enough after the game’s release to get this ball rolling, and so here it is; “Words that kill”. If this goes well, I might do it for other games too. Part zero will focus on Ground Zeroes, then parts one and two will focus on chapter one and two of The Phantom Pain respectively. Full and thorough spoilers for both games follow.

Pre-Mission: The Nuclear inspection, Chico and Skull Face’s torture

First off, Ground Zeroes is really, really dark. It’s easily the darkest and most harrowing Metal Gear Solid game, despite its length, yet a lot of its horrors happen off screen. The only reason Snake infiltrates Guantanamo expy Camp Omega is because MSF volunteer Chico is captured there, and it’s very likely he’ll give up sensitive information. In hidden tapes recorded by Chico you discover that new villain Skull Face (easily the nastiest, most genre-savvy villain in the series) mercilessly tortured Chico and Paz (more on her later) with various methods ranging from beatings to heavily implied sexual interaction (Chico is underage) and rape, culminating in having most of her internal organs removed to fit two bombs inside her. It’s grim stuff, even through the medium of audio, and it helps set a precedent for both TPP’s tone and its penchant for conveying key plot information through tapes. On the first run through the main “Ground Zeroes” mission it’s physically impossible to have heard all the tapes inside the game, so all you know is this: the IAEA are hosting a Nuclear inspection of Mother Base, MSF head scientist Huey Emmerich is supsiciously in favour of it and accepts without anyone else’s permission, and Snake has to go rescue Chico and Paz. Paz is a double agent who tried to steal Mother Base’s Metal Gear, so your objectives in regards to her are to bring her back alive for interrogation, or make sure she’s dead if that’s not possible. A number of tapes outline how the inspection will be handled, and document the frustration of Chico suddenly going off by himself to rescue Paz from a heavily guarded military base, despite being a child.

I like how the set-up is somewhat limited, and the gory details can only be found when it’s way too late, and everything’s gone wrong. The tapes show that Skull Face is a bad, bad man, and that he’s going to be very dangerous for Snake when The Phantom Pain rolls around. It also casts suspicion on Huey (more on that in the next section), and along with being shown the mission’s outcome in trailers, helps create real tension when you’re on the mission.

Ground Zeroes: Infiltrating Camp Omega

Our first look at Skull Face shows how important he is. I won’t talk about his true allegiance until Part One, but for now just know that he is completely unrelated to the United States Marine Corps, and yet has the complete run of this USMC-manned base. Everyone salutes him and quietly gets the hell out of his way, every other prisoner is moved aside while he addresses Chico, and he and his men are personally chauffeured to their own private choppers. He mentions a “Trojan Horse”, which gives a pretty big clue as to what’s about to go down. Anyway, this is Camp Omega, an American Black Site on Cuban Soil; the US Constitution doesn’t apply here, so it’s your basic “Detain and torture indefinitely” gaff. The key things here are threefold. Number one, you get to see the inner workings of this place, and they don’t look good. Prisoners are kept outside in cages with bolts drive through their Achilles tendons to stop them walking. You get the feeling that even worse things went on here, but they’re either hidden away, or happened before you got here (which they did, in terms of what happened to Paz and Chico). It’s helped by the fact that it’s the only mission in the game set at night, and in the pouring rain. It’s got a great mood, is my point. Anyway you find Chico and he has the aforementioned foot bolts, he freaks out and starts shouting and Snake has to choke him out. Again, at this point you can’t have listened to the tapes, so you have no idea what’s happened to make him so terrified. He has a headphone jack in his chest though, and I have no idea how it got there. He tells Snake that Paz is death, and in a move I found genuinely surprising and somewhat disturbing the first time around, the tape Skull Face gave him that was apparently “Here’s to you” by Joan Baez and Ennio Morricone (a recurring motif throughout the game) is actually a tape of Paz being tortured while that song plays in the background. The tape leads Snake to Paz though, who’s barely conscious, babbling to herself and clearly in a bad way. The finale of the mission involves getting her onto an MSF chopper, and that’s it.

The mission’s strongest aspect is being able to see the atrocities of Camp Omega for yourself. The key, recurring theme of Ground Zeroes is demonstrating what Skull Face is capable of, and actually seeing the state he’s left Chico and Paz in nails that. In terms of tone and mood it packs more into this one mission than some games manage in their entire running time. However, arguably the most important section of the game is next, where everything comes to a head.

The Aftermath: Mother Base destroyed, mission failed, where is Zero?

So those bombs inside Paz I mentioned earlier come into play here, big time. Snake and Chico have to hold her down while an unnamed MSF medic opens her up without anesthetic and pulls the bomb out of her guts, as the game holds the shot of her screaming and thrashing for longer than a lot of people would like. The bomb’s out though, and everything’s fine. Except it’s not though, because that nuclear inspection? All a ruse (“The Trojan Horse is in!”), and now Mother Base (MSF’s home and base of operations) is all but destroyed. Barely anyone makes it, but Snake, the medic, Chico, Paz and Snake’s second in command Kazuhira Miller manage to escape in a chopper. Paz gets up suddenly, mentions something about there being a second bomb, and leaps out of the helicopter. The bomb goes off though, and gives everyone in the chopper a wall of flame to chew on, then for good measure another chopper crashes into yours. So you’re buggered, well and truly. To tie up the story two things happen: several slides of text about how the IAEA state that the nuclear inspection never happened various countries deny any connection to MSF, and a stinger at the end has audio of Skull Face insisting a freshly-tortured Paz tell him the location of Zero- head of Cipher, old friend of Snake and apparently connected to Skull Face. She agrees to tell him the location just as the tape is turned off.

Overall, Ground Zeroes’ story actually does a really good job of setting up The Phantom Pain. Everything that happens in the game shows off Skull Face’s skills of manipulation, his ruthlessness and the lengths he’ll go to. Camp Omega and the events that take place their are bleak and harrowing, and it marks a definite transition between the MGS of the past the new MGS. The stage is set for The Phantom Pain, and the key questions to have going into it are:

What is Skull Face’s connection to Big Boss?
Who does Skull Face work for?
What happened to Huey?
What happened to everyone in Snake’s helicopter?

See you in 1984.

By James Lambert

Life is Strange Review

Telltale pretty much has episodic gaming sewn up tight these days. Between their general quality (though it varies) and reckless willingness to throw themselves at several different source materials at once they’ve staked their claim to the genre, much as David Cage has staked his claim to games that are actually interactive films. Why is this relevant? Well, not only is Dontnod’s “Life is Strange” an episodic title, it also is to Telltale’s work what “Until Dawn” was to everything David Cage makes. Though while I would never put Telltale’s work on the same level as a hack like Cage, the comparison is apt in that “Life is Strange” completely shows up Telltale and sets a new standard for episodic games.

Set in a preppy American University known for its Art programs, Life is Strange centers on Max, a young photography student who, during a moment of extreme stress, discovers she can rewind time. From there the story focuses on her reconnecting with her best friend Chloe (whom she hasn’t seen since she moved away five years ago) then investigating a missing woman in a “Twin Peaks” sort of way, while a load of horrible shit happens around them. The story pulls few punches, and its focus on Max’s time powers and the consequences of using it means it can take a different approach to events, which it pulls of quite well for the most part. Said time powers are integral to the plot from the moment they’re introduced, but pleasingly are never explained, they’re just there. Its most interesting uses lie in the gameplay, but the story does have some real stand-out moments, particularly when Max has to continually rewind in order to stop a seemingly inevitable disaster. The characters are quite stereotypical but not to the point where it becomes detrimental, but they all work fine, and certain reveals that seemed a bit daft at the time make more sense now they’ve had time to sink in. There are a couple of stand-outs that are sympathetic and have some good depth to them, and overall the story is a tight, well-crafted experience, with a lot less fat than you’d expect a story about time travel to be. The biggest problem is the dialogue, that’s full of weird, cringe-worthy slang made even worse by the fact that I know people who actually used to speak this way when they were younger (Max genuinely says “Oh noes” at one point, out loud.), though you do get used to it. Or at least I did. But then I’m one of those bloody young people you see swanning about with their heads full of eyeballs, bending down and standing up in the same day. I’ll elaborate on it more in the gameplay section, but the choices deserve a mention here; much like the narrative, the time manipulation element frames them in a new light. Given that when you’ve made a choice and seen the results play out you can instantly rewind and take the other choice (they are almost uniformly binary), making a snap decision in a short space of time is no longer an excuse for making the wrong decision. But then the game doesn’t have a lot of “wrong” decisions, really. There are a lot of gray areas, and a lot of pretty grim things going on. The episodes work best when focusing on Max and Chloe’s investigation or the more drastic events taking place around campus (including a particularly depressing suicide by a character I really didn’t want to kill themselves) and everything else can get a bit fuzzy really, but the story still has enough interesting beats to keep your attention for the five episode duration.

The gameplay is where it really is a step above Telltale. In terms of playstyle it’s somewhere between the first season of “The Walking Dead” and “Heavy Rain”- a lot of story focused cutscenes, but a lot of actual walking around and interacting with the environment. There are a few inventory puzzles and non-timed conversations, but the focus is the aforementioned time rewind mechanic. Max has limited control over both time and space- you can only rewind time a short way, but you can chain them together, and no matter how far you rewind time Max will stay in the same spot, holding the same items as when you started rewinding. The game breaks you in slowly at first, with the odd optional choice involving moving forward, rewinding time to get someone/thing out of your way, then proceeding peppered into more straight forward “Hear the answer to a question, rewind and answer it correctly” problems. Then something finally clicks; when you start rewinding time without the game telling you to, the game really hits its stride. Once you get the hang of it you start to rewind time by choice, to, say, cover your tracks while searching for evidence, or to solve key problems with no explanation from the game. By adding in the element of space manipulation on top of time manipulation the game feels genuinely fresh; you feel like you’re solving problems with your own wit, cunningly using the tools presented to you. As I said earlier the choices differ from the “Telltale” mold by having no time limit, and giving the option to rewind and consider what path you want to take. Some might say that the lack of urgency damages them, but it really doesn’t. By giving you literally unlimited time to choose, you have to be completely certain you’ve made the choice you’re comfortable with, because you have no excuse not to. Like the time powers it’s a different approach that pays off nicely.

Overall, Life is Strange is a big success. The story is emotionally investing and, along with the gameplay, has an interesting, gripping approach to the age-old theme of time manipulation and the consequences there of. It’s gripping, troubling and thoroughly worth your time if you’re even remotely intrigued by the concept. It’s a breath of fresh air after Telltale’s recent output, and I’m intrigued to see where Dontnod go from here.

By James Lambert


DLC Review- Bloodborne: The Old Hunters

Been a while since I last wrote a DLC review, and “Dead Kings” turned out to be mediocre at best. I love Bloodborne- it’s one of the year’s very best and it’s enveloped me like no other recent new I.P has, but does it need extra content? Does “The Old Hunters” add anything to the already hefty experience, or is it just a waste of time?

Set in an alternate dimension known as “The Hunter’s Nightmare”, the content feels like a condensed version of the main story, moving from beasts through awful Kin-based experiments to an Eldritch location where you dance a brutal tango with a cosmic horror. I do mean brutal. Even by the main game’s standards some of the encounters here will kick your head in repeatedly. By the time I had ground enough to beat the DLC’s final boss the last stages of the main game were genuinely trivial, and I had to get roughly two-thirds through the game in order to beat its first boss. Said bosses are oddly inconsistent. There’s a beautiful, gruelling fight with an important hunter (seen in the cover art above) that is, for me at least, without equal in the entire game. However, it also has one of the worst bosses in the game, and a boss that’s literally just one from the main game, but on fire, arbitrarily more difficult, and really bloody cheap. The final boss is horrible (in a good way) in design and lore and offers an erratic, brutal bout, but lacks the grace of the aforementioned hunter. The areas are a mix of familiar but warped and brand new and all of them make good use of the admittedly short time you spend in them, packing in a whole lot of new lore and implication for you to find as you move through them, always pushing forward. They do, however, vary in their scope. The first area, a twisted, misshapen hybrid of Cathedral Ward and Old Yharnam is large, open and filled with new weapons and outfits also containing the DLC’s only optional Boss, while the other areas feel more streamlined. Well, except for the last one, where going the wrong way means sprinting out into open water or a whole load of “Uzumaki”-style Snail people. I won’t say any more about the story because it’s managed to re-enact the feel of the main game’s story arc in a fraction of the time, but suffice it to say that it’s filled with interesting, bleak, horrible shit that feels right at home in the world the main game created.

The new weapons run the gamut from novelty but not particularly useful to really damn cool and slightly out of place, though there’s an explanation for that. The weapons introduced here belong to the very first Hunters- inexperienced, untrained masses who end up drunk and intoxicated on blood due to their rudimentary killing methods leaving them soaked in Beast blood. This is a place where feral Hunters go to hunt forever, trapped in a nightmare of never ending death that’s all formed around a horrible secret key to what started all this madness. The best things I can say about “The Old Hunters” are that it’s more Bloodborne, and that it feels necessary. So to answer the question I posed above, yes this DLC does add something to the experience- it fills in pieces of the puzzle while posing a few new questions of its own, adds a whole load of new weapons and provides the single best fight I’ve had in this game, and in any game for some time. It makes you crawl on your knees through a mile of broken glass, but I wouldn’t have it any other way; if you own Bloodborne, buy this. If you don’t own Bloodborne, buy the Game of the Year version.

By James Lambert