Code Vein game review – anime souls
Yet another Dark Souls clone tries to beat FromSoftware at their own game in Code Vein, but at least vampires and co-op offers something different…
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but with no sign of a new Dark Souls game from FromSoftware it’s been down to other developers to fill the gap in the market. That’s what we said about The Surge 2 and that’s also the case for Code Vein, both of which, in a typical example of the games industry’s farcical inability to schedule itself sensibly, managed to come out during exactly the same week. Few people are going to have the time or money to dedicate to both, so the obvious question is which is better. And do either of them add anything new to the genre?
The Surge 2’s big gimmick is that it’s set in a dystopian sci-fi future of out-of-control robots and run-down technology. Code Vein’s setting is a little harder to explain and while it has obviously been influenced by the world of anime it’s not trying to copy anything in particular and is instead set in a post-apocalyptic city in which what are essentially vampires fight over dwindling supplies of blood.
You play as one of these Revenants, but there’s no feeding on human blood, as instead the most reliable source of claret comes from things called blood beads, which grow on plants. If a Revenant doesn’t drink enough blood then it turns int a monstrous Lost, who are your primary opponents for the game. The whole almost-but-not-quite vampire thing is a bit weird but while the story goes off the rails by the end it’s not the plot or set-up that is the game’s main problem.
Although your initial goal is simply to secure a steady supply of blood beads the story soon takes on a more epic scope, but its most interesting feature is providing you with an excuse to play the entire game with a computer-controlled ally (you can also summon human players for short periods of time, just like Dark Souls). Your computer ally is optional but not having to fight alone is a real novelty for a Dark Souls game, even if incorporating the feature has created some unfortunate compromises.
In terms of gameplay the basics of Code Vein are almost identical to Dark Souls. This is a third person action game where you use a variety of melee weapons but a fairly limited number of different moves. Instead, combat is focused on timing and positioning, with most enemies able to kill you in just a few hits – but using attacks that can be learnt and countered using the right tactics.
When you die everyone but the bosses reset, so you have to fight back through them all again, while you also have to retrieve lost Haze, used to upgrade your character and their equipment. Not only is there the equivalent of souls but also bonfires, unexpected shortcuts through levels, and a role-playing style upgrade system.
What’s unique to Code Vein is that, unlike other characters in the game, you can switch classes whenever you want, which alters which weapons and equipment you can use. There’s also an impressive range of active and passive skills that you can pick and choose from, many of which work independently to the classes. This opens up a wide range of different abilities, from projectile magic attacks to status buffs, and lets you create character set-ups that feel very unique to you.
The freedom you’re given in character customisation is one of the game’s best features, although it does undermine the more traditional role-playing elements – making many of the individual stats largely irrelevant. There is a bigger problem though, in that the combat itself is nowhere near as satisfying as Dark Souls or other clones. There’s a distinct lack of weight to your attacks, even when you’re wielding gigantic hammers and poleaxes, and while the combat is difficult it’s never quite satisfying enough to justify the effort.
Although there’s a wide variety of different enemies they all act disappointingly similarly. They’re often strangely slow to enter combat or make any attempt to pursue you, to the point where getting in some good attacks early on is almost always the most important tactic. There are some exceptions but, crucially, the bosses are often equally dull and require none of the careful analysis and strategising of Dark Souls or Bloodborne. Most of your time, in fact, is spent trying to make sure they don’t kill your team-mate, as they constantly throw themselves into battle and ruin whatever other plans you might have had.
It’s having that second character with you which seems to be the root cause of the repetitive combat, with the game preferring to throw multiple enemies at you at once rather than a smaller number of more competent ones. We’re glad the game tried to do something different but without better artificial intelligence, or more variety, it doesn’t work as well as it should.
It also doesn’t help that the whole post-apocalyptic setting is just as bland and repetitive as the combat, with the most interesting-looking areas being those that rip-off Dark Souls the most directly. We’ve not been greatly impressed by either of this week’s Dark Souls clones but while Code Vein has more unique ideas The Surge 2 is more competent, and when you’re playing a game this difficult that matters.
Neither game is going to leave a mark though and there’s nothing here for FromSoftware to learn from, beyond perhaps some elements of Code Vein’s character customisation. It’s never wise to settle for second best but that’s what both this week’s SoulsBorne wannabes are and we’re becoming increasingly less interested in seeing anything else in a similar vein.
Code Vein review summary
In Short: A muddled and underwhelming Dark Souls clone that has a few unique ideas but fails to back them up with compelling combat or exploration.
Pros: The character customisation and class system is very flexible and varied. Having a computer-controlled ally is interesting, even if they lack a proper sense of self-preservation.
Cons: Combat is weightless and lacks depth and variety, with samey enemies and disappointing boss battles. Bland and repetitive backdrops and increasingly silly story.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Bandai Namco Studios
Release Date: 27th September 2019
Age Rating: 16
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