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From the moment you start your long (very long, for most of us) Demon's Souls remake journey, two things are overwhelmingly obvious. Firstly, the game looks just unfathomably gorgeous running on the PlayStation 5. Secondly, developer Bluepoint Games have pulled off the astonishing achievement of encapsulating the rigid preciseness of the original gameplay from 2009's PlayStation 3 release, while adding in some of their own improvements to make everything feel tenfold better. And yes, it is still an absolutely brutal experience.
Since its initial release over a decade ago, Demon's Souls enjoyed a brief spell as a cult legend before exploding into the iconic Soulsborne series we know today. Not quite a fully-fledged member of FromSoftware's Dark Souls and Bloodborne posse that arrived in its wake, the combat in Demon's Souls was near revolutionary in its merciless difficulty, and helped spawn a whole new genre of masochistic gaming.
Fast forward to 2020, and that agonisingly moreish gameplay loop of spawn, die, die, die, lose all hope, die some more, then just for good measure, die, is still as perfect as it's ever been in the first remake to grace the PlayStation 5.
Demon's Souls aficionados will be delighted to know that the core gameplay of FromSoftware's title has been rigorously kept intact by Bluepoint, and dare I say improved upon with a few quality of life checks. It's very apparent by going back to the first game that the series, though having extremely strong roots, has progressed a lot over its lifespan. The lack of bonfires and Estus Flasks takes some getting used to, but it's balanced out by other, non-intrusive changes. For example, you can now drop off excess items you find to your stash in The Nexus from anywhere in the game, and this is - no exaggeration - an absolute life saver. That's to say nothing of the visible weapon durability on the HUD, and a quick-access toolbelt for your items.
Everything that made Demon' Souls so granularly difficult, and rewarding, is still to be found in the 30-plus hours of play time you can expect from a single run in this remake. That's if you're coming at the game completely new at least, but even seasoned veterans can expect a good nine hours of just gameplay, which is to say nothing of stopping to weep at the often indescribable beauty of the realms of Boleteria.
If you're coming at the game as a rookie, the countless deaths you're about to suffer will be eased ever so slightly by the PS5's violently rapid load times, which take you from death knell to ready to adventure in under five seconds. The DualSense controller also hints at what it might eventually be capable of, and makes the experience of playing Demon's Souls that much more enveloping. The in-built microphone swooshes satisfyingly when you apply pine resin to alight your weapon, while projectiles fired will whizz past letting you know how close you just came to getting impaled. The 3D audio technology is firing on all cylinders and adds layers of aural experience scarcely seen before in gaming.
Each of the game's five realms (and The Nexus which serves as the hub between them) offers its own unique flavour of suffocating and gothic architecture and locations, riffed upon, polished and fully realised in the PlayStation 5's internal GPU. Each friend and foe feels like a unique soul, if you'll pardon the pun, with faces that you might only see in passing given all the love and attention you'd expect from the most big-budget of cutscenes on the previous-gen machines. At times it almost feels eerie to be experiencing such high levels of detail in these usually ignored areas, but I suppose it's something we'll get used to as the years progress.
A special mention has to be given to the jaw-dropping lighting (and consequent shadows) that bring the decaying world of Boletaria to life. Or death. Whichever you prefer. The ray-traced environments, replete with claustrophobic castle walls and overgrown stately gardens are undoubtedly the star of the show whether you opt for fidelity (4k at 30 fps) or performance (upscaled 1440p at 60fps) mode. There's even the optional filters to bring back that languid green tint from the original, but Bluepoint's own spin on the visuals should really be experienced first before you try them out. Oh there's also a photo mode which now allows players to pause the game to get a better look at their surroundings, which is probably going to outrage and delight Souls fans in equal measure.
There are a few very minor chinks in the game's otherwise all-encompassing armour, though. The menu system, while having received a welcome update for readability and clarity, is still mildly frustrating and confusing to use, and feels quite dated by modern standards. Like the game's story there's an impetus on the player to figure it out rather than being shown the way. So too the game's famously finicky multiplayer. Never really properly explained and underwhelming to use, it could have been communicated and implemented better this time around. Ultimately though, these are things you can live with, arguably part and parcel of the Souls experience.
In a game that's about making smart decisions rather than having the best equipment, the Demon's Souls remake, as a product, ultimately has both. Bluepoint's processes of marrying the old and new have resulted in a truly stunning effort, making a decade-old critical darling a bona-fide system seller in 2020. Truly a remarkable feat, this should be picked up by anybody buying a PlayStation 5 whether you've played the original or not, and is a must-have for early adopters.
Pros: visually stunning, precise and unforgiving combat, a next-gen system seller
Cons: underwhelming multiplayer options
For fans of: Dark Souls, Bloodborne, hating yourself
Demon's Souls Remake is out November 12th on PS5. PlayStation 5 code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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