Dark Souls, Probably the Second-Hardest Game You've Ever Played

Today, Dark Souls, and if you've played Demon's Souls, you already know whether you're picking this one up. If you haven't played Demon's Souls, you really should, though you'll need a PlayStation 3 for the privilege. Not so Dark Souls, which developer From Software wisely built for both the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Like its predecessor, Dark Souls involves jogging through dreary milieus hacking, slashing, chopping, dismembering, and mostly dying. Not-dying is part of how you win, big surprise, but as in the last game death is partly a betting game: You wager souls collected from the slain against your ability to push through an area without expiring. Save up enough and you can upgrade your skills and sundry kit. Die and those souls are lost until, having re-spawned, you make your way back to your death spot to touch a bloodstain and restore them. But die before you touch the bloodstain and they're lost for good.

The reviews are all thumbs up so far. GameSpot's review, in need of an editor to clip paragraphs of meandering, adverb-flush ambience-romanticizing no one cares about, scores it 9.5 out of 10, calling it "an extraordinary role-playing game that transports you to an awesome and menacing world you may never forget." (See the review's latter half for the actual gameplay evaluation.)

Game Revolution, less circumspect about it, praises the game as "challenging, briefly terrifying, [and] often maddening...with plenty to explore, experiment with, and beat your head against." The math: 91 out of 100.

And last up, let's hand the mic to Telegraph, whose reviewer reports "No video game released this Christmas runs contrary to prevailing fashion as hard or fast as Dark Souls. And no video game is quite so exciting or exhilarating." Final score: 100 out of 100.

Happy times, then. I'll be off later today to snatch a copy for myself (no, they didn't send me a review copy, and yes, I foolishly forgot to ask).

Oh, and don't forget about Rage, id Software's Fallout-Borderlands riff. It's doing considerably less well in the standings, despite Jesse Pinkman's plug in one of Breaking Bad's less inspired product placement spots. Can you teach an old id Software new tricks (like how to make an actually great game, not just a pretty game engine)? Gaming Age doesn't think so. Neither do 1UP and Strategy Informer.

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