impulse87's Blasphemous (PC) review

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Blasphemous Review

Blasphemous is a game that intertwines old and new in many ways. It borrows liberally from both classic and contemporary games; employs high definition pixel graphics; and wraps everything in a Gothic setting that feels fresh and unique. Blasphemous' biggest differentiator is perhaps its fiction, which stands in stark contrast to a world filled with sci-fi and fantasy tropes. And I loved it. I can see how it could be off-putting, if not offensive to some players of a particular religious persuasion. However, the game treats its subject matter with a level of somber seriousness that felt perfectly catered to the experience of playing the game - which is consistently grotesque and violent, albeit beautifully rendered in a pixelated art style that somehow manages to avoid feeling painfully retro. It's hard to convey exactly how gorgeous and detailed parts of the game are - I'm sure they must have built some tool for transforming more modern painting techniques into pixel art. The soundtrack is also noteworthy, although it lacks variety as it maintains a similar theme throughout most of the game's fifteen odd hours.

In terms of its gameplay, Blasphemous is clearly inspired by Dark Souls and the broader Metroidvania genre; prominently lifting familiar mechanics and conventions. However, as a big fan of both of the above, my experience with the game didn't quite satisfy my demand for either one.

Let's start with the former. Beyond adopting similar checkpointing and health-management mechanics, Blasphemous is certainly also a challenging game. It doesn't take long before players are presented with branching pathways, and I personally happened to go down the more difficult route first; leading me up through an icy mountain with precipitous drops and a perilous wind mechanic that would alter the trajectory of my jumps. I died so many times. However, conquering this steep challenge (both physically and metaphorically) was the most engaging experience I had with Blasphemous, as every other subsequent section of the game failed to present the same stark difficulty and feeling of triumph - the bosses, although menacing, generally only required a couple of attempts to best. At times, Blasphemous' difficulty feels more like a chore than a challenge, especially when backtracking through areas.

Segue into the game's open world environment. Blasphemous isn't a strictly linear game, but many of its level designs are. Although the player will occasionally open up organic pathways to previous sections, the primary ways of getting around are through teleporters and impossibly long elevators which typically bookend larger areas; the world simply doesn't feel that open. And backtracking is never fun. The game is very methodically paced, and it never really gives you any tools to circumvent this, even when returning to earlier parts of your journey.

The game world itself is beautifully depicted in muted tones that feel appropriate to the setting, though a couple of areas felt a little too drab and grey for me personally. (A large part of the open world experience is discovering new environs, and as such I prefer more distinct and vivid locales.) The narrative follows an unobtrusive format that should once again feel familiar to Dark Souls players. Dialogue is sparse and cryptic; barely enough to give you context for what's going on. The game does however double down on the player's ability to extract lore from items they acquire along the way. Beyond an initial description, many items offer a secondary lore screen. Investing in reading these is recommended as they help flesh out the world and provide context for the various locales and characters players encounter on their journey.

Blasphemous is a good game, on the verge of being a great game, and I think it's one that fans of action-platformers will enjoy. Though if you're coming to the table hoping for a Castlevania or Dark Souls type experience, you might leave feeling a little unsatiated.

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