Code Vein shows promise with its own brutal, original, and satisfying ideas

by on November 14, 2017

Thirty minutes of Code Vein down and I’d died, what, five times against the demo’s boss? Yep, sounds about right. While naturally I wanted to hurl the controller at the nearest wall (don’t do that – the floor is often much closer), there was also a big part of me keen to try again and again until I took that massive arsehole down. In the end, I didn’t, but you get the point – Code Vein has something going for it.

I figured I’d approach this write-up in my usual fashion: ignoring popular consensus and trying to come at it from another angle. But, well, it’s impossible – genuinely impossible – to talk about Code Vein without mentioning Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Oh, and Demon’s Souls. Code Vein is a game that very much wears its influences on its sleeve, and its influences are definitely from From.

That’s not to say this is a total rip-off of the Soulsborne games – there’s more than enough about Code Vein taken from the God Eater series. Unsurprising given a lot of the team, including the director, worked on the deity chomping franchise. The broader setup differs a good deal from God Eater, mind, with the previous games playing more as a Monster Hunter-alike.

Mechanically, though, the chunky, methodical approach to combat does feel more like God Eater than the Souls games – and this actually is where I started to worry a little. Combat is precise in the most part, with a satisfying heft to your ridiculous oversized sword and enough telegraphing of moves from opponents to be able to pick up on attack patterns. That’s all good.

But the actual act of jinking and diving, attacking and retreating, felt clunky – even unfair – at times. I was assured this is an early version of the game (the first playable build, no less), so things can and will change for the final product. Hopefully there’s a bit of work put into response times, as it’s a mite unfair having to wait for your attack animation to finish before you can dodge when a boss enemy isn’t even staggered by a strong attack. But it does feel like this is all part of the slow-and-methodical design on the part of the devs.

Similarly the frame rate was a bit on the poorer end of things. Again, total assurances this will be fixed for release, but the version I played, that I had in front of me, had ruinous frame rate issues. Games so inherently reliant on split-second timing can’t mess up your flow by slowing down to a crawl whenever there’s a lot of action on-screen. They just can’t. So I sincerely hope this issue is polished for the final release.

Other features are a bit more straightforward and serve Code Vein well – you have a list of powers that can be activated as and when you need them, so long as you have enough ‘ichor’ (MP, I suppose) to hand. Said ichor can be found around the world or, interestingly, gathered from enemies by using a charged-up claw attack on them, with each hit adding to your total held and the total ichor you can hold.

That’s a very nice system rewarding the daring and skilful among us, allowing you to use as many of your special powers – increased speed, shields, electrified swords and so on – so long as you’re able to hit the timing and accuracy of the ichor-increasing attack.

You’re also accompanied in Code Vein by one of a few partners at any one time. While your lead character is completely customisable, these set companions have their looks and personalities in place – but it’s not all bad, because they offer help in different ways. My partner for the demo, while full of inane quips, was incredibly useful – fighting and distracting enemies so my usual cowardly tactics were more impactful than usual, as well as bringing me back from the brink when one too many backstabs had whittled away at my health.

I’d have to play Code Vein a lot more to know if this partner system works well in the long term, but from what I saw it was a nice touch and added a layer of strategy to proceedings. Admittedly I all but gave up any time she fell in combat, which shows she was maybe a little too useful, but yeah – another area to keep an eye on.

Overall what I got from Code Vein was a feeling teetering towards the positive end of things. It’s instantly satisfying, has a bold visual style and introduces more than enough of its own stuff to make it stand out from the inevitable comparison-buddy of Dark Souls. There are issues with what I played, and with Code Vein out early 2018 there might not be a huge amount of time to fix them, but there’s hope here. One to keep an eye on, for sure.

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