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Code Vein

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2019


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PC Review - 'Code Vein'

by Cody Medellin on April 3, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Feast on the blood of enemies through a journey across a massive interconnected world to unlock its mysterious sanguine past in this grueling action-RPG.

The most succinct way to describe Code Vein is that it is essentially a Dark Souls-like game with an anime aesthetic. As seen in our previews, it adds some gameplay mechanics to the formula and sometimes clashes with the fundamentals in the sub-genre. A good amount of time has passed since our last preview, and with the final game in hand, it's time to see if our previous concerns about the game have come to pass or have improved.

Long ago, a war with humans led to the defeat of an evil queen. As her last act of defiance, she brought forth an airborne virus that transformed almost all of the humans into vampire-like creatures known as Revenants. While immortal, the Revenants rely on blood from special trees to survive. One side effect to the new atmosphere is that anyone who dies or becomes exposed to the poisonous air for long enough becomes part of the Lost, creatures who are bigger and more feral than normal Revenant. You play a nameless vampire who has magical blood, and along with your companions, you must learn about your special purpose in order to save the world.

On the one hand, you have to appreciate the attention the team has placed on narrative. Code Vein takes every opportunity it can, from the cut scenes to the chatty characters, to fill you in on the world and its lore. Some of the people running this game were also involved with God Eater, so that should be expected. On the other hand, any of the misgivings you may have had about that story's narrative are also present here. The story is determined to play out each and every anime stereotype you can think of, from mostly one-dimensional characters to your amnesiac character who is destined to save the world. The tale unfolds at an almost glacial pace, and you'll go through some long sequences to get to a little bit of lore. There's even a scenario where you can fraternize with others at a hot spring. Your opinion about these trappings will determine whether you can enjoy the story.

The core gameplay loop liberally takes notes from the famous From Software litany of similar adventure games. Fighting is like performing a dance, as you'll spend a good deal of time waiting for an opening or to dodge a combo before you go on the offensive with an attack combo. Mindless slashing drains your stamina meter and leaves you open, since you have no way to defend yourself quickly enough, but you can use some of your power to give yourself some buffs or use a special attack. You can also initiate one-hit kills if you time the attack at the right moment, and that rewards you with some cool kill animations that make you invulnerable for a short while. Death is constant, since even the weakest foe hits hard, but the game is generous with checkpoints so you can refill your health and mana in exchange for resetting the area's enemy count.

If you're coming from the multiplayer beta test earlier this year, you'll be happy to note that the combat has improved since then. Enemies can get staggered if you hit them at the right time, so even if you can't keep them in a stunned state with a flurry of attacks, the fights feel fairer now that they behave similar to you. It's also easier to tell when they'll go for an attack, so you'll only be surprised by sudden hits if you weren't paying attention. These were the main complaints from the beta, so it's good to see the issues addressed in the final release.

The combat system may seem familiar, but there are a few things that make it feel different in a good way. The first is the ability to change your classes on the fly. While the classes eventually boil down to a mage, ranged fighter, and swordsman, the ability to change each one at a moment's notice gives you a pretty wide range of attacks and makes it easier to adapt to the different creatures and bosses. There's even an option to combine certain traits from each class, so you can create unique builds like you would in a roguelike. The only knock against this feature is that the game never pauses when you're doing these changes, so you'll only use it when you know that no enemies are around or when you reach a checkpoint.

The second major thing is the constant presence of co-op via an AI partner. This might not seem like a big deal since other games have done something similar, but they usually show ghosts of players. While this game lets players jump into your world via invitation, they're not present for very long, so they're treated like a power-up rather than a partner. Your AI companions are almost constantly there, and while their chatty nature can quickly get tiresome, their extra attacks makes them invaluable allies. They can also draw enemy attention away from you, giving you a few free hits in the process. The only issue is that you can't govern their behavior with commands to stay back or go defensive, so they're always aggressive. This may be fine for some of the lesser minions you face, but it can become problematic when their gung-ho attitude means alerting several foes at once rather than you systematically attacking enemies one at a time. Prepare to save them often when their aggressive nature mucks up the situation.

Despite the AI partners' flaws, you'll come to rely on them when you discover that the difficulty spikes whenever you're solo. You'll see this happen before you meet the game's first boss, as the minions suddenly outnumber you and it takes much longer to dispatch them. It almost feels like the game was balanced only with AI in mind, so these sections can be frustrating.

The other frustration comes from the level design. There are a few levels with inventive design, but more often than not, you'll go through drab sewers or fields filled with rubble that's positioned to create a makeshift maze. That means you'll go through a number of crowded corridors with little room to dodge, and that can make battles feel repetitive. It also doesn't help that the levels are full of shallow pits, and the instant death that occurs with a misstep will make you sigh (or worse).

Graphically, Code Vein looks nice in some areas. The environments have a postapocalyptic theme, but there's only so much rubble you can take before you're immune to its "charm." Most of the items sport decent lighting and clean textures. There are also lots of particle effects at play, with every foe dying in a shower of sparks. Speaking of enemies, the development team has done a good job of making them look grotesque but recognizable as former Revenants, while everyone who has yet to turn looks anime perfect. Special attention has to be given to the character creation system, which is obscenely elaborate and provides plenty of options. Often, you'll find that the created characters look out of place with the rest of the cast.

The audio is also good, depending on what you're paying attention to. The music is good, and even though it isn't as memorable or as haunting as the games it takes inspiration from, it fits the mood for each scene and level. The effects are fine, and the voice acting is quite nice. In typical Bandai Namco fashion, they've spared no expense when it comes to hiring a bunch of anime voice acting luminaries to round out the cast. That praise is heaped upon both the English and Japanese voice cast, so both sub and dub fans will be happy.

Code Vein should be applauded for doing something different with the Dark Souls formula. It's great to be able to switch out your classes at will and combine them, and the almost-constant presence of co-op is a real selling point for those who may not want to jump into the deep end of this emerging subset of the genre. The rest of the game, from the story to the level design, feels bland, and the combat falls apart when you suddenly have no AI companion by your side. If you don't mind a heavy dose of anime in your action game, Code Vein may be worth checking out.

Score: 7.0/10

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