(Namco Bandai for Xbox 360)
By Mike Delano
Mood is a tricky thing in video games. Sure, it’s easy enough for a developer to set the mood of a game on the surface by tweaking the environment and sound to create a believable fantasy world. But does the gameplay in these worlds tie in at all with the mood? Whether Nathan Drake is in a hopeless or triumphant or confused point of his adventure, he’s going to be using third person shooter mechanics regardless. It’s up to the player to remember how they’re supposed to feel during the action, based on the previous cutscene or maybe some audio cues from their character.
Dark Souls has no such disconnect. The mood of the game – sheer terror, btw – is consistent throughout, and it’s communicated to the player not only externally through a bleak, desolate world, but with every step the player takes through this nightmare. Developer From Software wants you to feel helpless and scared, and they don’t need cheap monster closets or absurd difficulty spikes to achieve this goal. You’ll rarely be without the necessary tools to defend yourself and conquer your enemies, but your enemies are forever bigger, nastier, quicker, and more powerful than you are. With every tentative step you take, you could be cut down instantly and thrown back to your last save point with the hope that you won’t make the same fatal mistake again. You like rooting for the underdog? The underdog is you.
The hostile world that Dark Souls creates is truly something special. It’s survival horror in the truest sense, and as harsh as it is, it’s never less than compelling. The unhurried pace of the combat is addictive, and charging unaware into the varied, gorgeous environments is just as fun the first time as it is after you’ve figured out the necessary strategies (with several deaths between those two trips). Rest assured, you’ve never felt this naked and vulnerable before in a full suit of armor.