Dark Souls II
doesn't just want to kill you. It wants to see you suffer. The latest instalment of the notoriously difficult series by designer Hidetaka Miyazaki is addictive, substantial and beautiful. It is also an exercise in sadomasochism.
It begins with the barest hint of a story. You are afflicted with the terrible curse of the undead. Only by acquiring "souls" from your dead foes will you have a chance of regaining your humanity.
From there, death comes in a torrent. Punched by a mummified corpse? You're dead. Angered the pigs behind the local well? Dead. Eaten by pigs. Fell into a ditch? That agonised shriek and spray of red mist means you are probably, once again, dead.
But the most torturous part of Dark Souls II is that each death makes the next one come more swiftly. Failure means your character comes back a little weaker. Eventually you will be re-spawning with only 50 per cent health as dozens of enemies fling themselves at you, trying to rip out your increasingly zombiefied heart. Only using one of your rare, limited-edition "human effigies" will restore you to full human health.
The flip side? Well, the huge, beautifully illustrated worlds. The gameplay. The way your character progresses seamlessly between levels and advances in skill. But most of all, there are no other big-budget modern games that will make you feel the way you do when play Dark Souls II.
You can gleefully frag your way through Halo in a night. Clock Assassin's Creed with ease. Metal Gear Solid? Simple by comparison.
None of them can offer anything like the visceral joy, relief and, for shame, sense of accomplishment you feel standing over the disintegrating corpse of one of the big bosses in Dark Souls II after hours of dying by its sword.
I want to give it one star, a last bitter revenge for the pain it put me through. I can't. This is the best game I've played all year.
Dark Souls II hurts, but it hurts so good.