Code Vein: hands-on preview

It has been dubbed “Anime Dark Souls”. A lazy categorisation, but it’s easy to see how the comparison might arise. Code Vein is an unforgiving action role-playing game, where you will die over and over again, fight infinitely respawning enemies, and be expected to learn the intricacies of combat if you expect to succeed. You’ll also swear a lot and perhaps throw a controller or two. Sound familiar?

According to the press blurb, Code Vein is set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, where the consumption of blood grants power. Exploration is key, and the full game will be open-world; though just how open remains to be seen. The Tokyo Game Show demo was set in a dark cavern – dark, but lit well enough to avoid excessive fumbling. I found a shortcut during one of my excursions, hidden behind a few breakable crates, which led back to my original spawn point.

So far, so Dark Souls.

While the setting is quite familiar and unremarkable, the characters are highly stylised. They stick out from the host of other Souls-clone leads, and bring a bit of colour and life to the usual dungeon crawling. You can create your own character, though the extent to which you can customise your avatar is not immediately clear. However, it’s safe to assume that the anime-style art direction will be retained, no matter how appalling your creation. In the demo, my character and AI partner Mia were a welcome flash of colour in an otherwise overwhelmingly dull dungeon.

The protagonist and his buddy are Revenants, vampire-like beings that gorge on blood to unlock special abilities known as Gifts. This idea of feeding on blood is central to combat, and the key to staying alive for any extended amount of time. You hack, slash, dodge and block, searching for the right window to get your licks in, before retreating to safety. Do the wrong thing at the wrong time and you’ll be dead in seconds, sent back to the original spawn point, minus your souls Haze (which you can re-collect before your next death).

I spent the demo fighting in tandem with my Mia. This was an interesting take on what is usually a rather lonesome genre. By draining blood from the wretches that patrolled the cavern, and timing dodges and attacks perfectly, we attained Focus Mode, which boosted our speed and power. I was also able to activate Gifts, sacrificing blood to enable buffs for myself or my partner. We healed each other, chained attacks, and even shared our health when one of us was floundering. Mia was especially useful for drawing aggro, though there were limitations to how much of a beating she could take.

The weapons were unremarkable, and I couldn’t for the life of me settle on the distance at which attacks would hit and where they’d fall short. This may be down to the game, the monitor, or even just me being shit and tired, but this warped sense of depth was a consistent problem from start to finish.

The monsters that kept kicking my arse were fairly uninteresting, at least compared to my pair of Revenants. The demonic creatures tended to hang out in groups, and were of three varieties as best I could tell: standing up ones, sitting down ones, big ones. There may have been more variety further into the level, but like everyone else I saw playing, I never made it far from the starting point before dying and starting from scratch. At one point, in an attempt to get out of the dungeon, I decided to sprint past as many enemies as possible and climb a ladder that I’d seen in the distance. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t go very well. The creatures were wise enough to give chase and more than happy to gang up on me. When I made progress, it wasn’t by fluke; it was because I watched, learned, and got better; and that was hugely satisfying.

It was difficult to get an accurate impression of Code Vein in such a short demo. I’m sure that it will require and reward patience and mastery of its mechanics, something that you can barely touch upon in a twenty minute demo. So we’ll just have to wait and see.

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Written by Matt M

Matt has been a gamer ever since Father Christmas left him a Master System II in the early 90’s. Santa was clearly a Sega fan, as a Mega Drive and Saturn would follow in later years. Matt has long since broken free from the shackles of console monotheism and enjoys playing a wide range of games, almost as much as he enjoys meticulously ordering them on his living room shelves.

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