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While it's fairly clichéd to make the comparison these days, given the ubiquity of 'X but Dark Souls' assessments, Code Vein really does deliver an anime-styled twist on the much-beloved FromSoftware formula that's served gamers well from Demon's Souls to Sekiro. A gritty, miserable world full of hellish enemies that will end you at the first opportunity, but mixed with a vibrant energy and a tremendous character creator, this is a first-rate gaming experience.
This vampiric action-RPG has you play as a revenant: an undead spirit that's back to do battle and slake a thirst for blood. After designing your hero, from what colour eyes they have to what they wear and how they talk, you're immersed in a world where the term 'post-apocalyptic' really isn't strong enough to describe the scene.
The world of Code Vein is grim - really grim - and there's a morbid obsession with blood. Sound familiar? There's also the sad fate awaiting revenants who become "lost". It happens to any revenant who is "defiled", including the nice ones. This mostly happens when revenants don't consume enough blood, which leads me to my next point...
Humans don't have it particularly sweet in this world either, as their blood is what revenants feed on, basically turning them into sentient Capri Suns. Throughout the game you'll see that not everybody views humans as meat bags, with some revenants instead feeding off the blood they donate in a less violent way. Not every revenant is so respectful, though.
Combat is all about that hack and slash goodness, with a genuine need for guarding and dodging if you don't want to be mercilessly cut down. Enemies are not gentle with you, nor should you be with them. They also really like to toy with you, surprising you with nasty sneak attacks that can genuinely make you jump. It's great!
It's also important to be patient, study your opponents and attack at the right time because, more often than not, these enemies will make you pay for trying to rush through the game. There's nothing worse than being caught in a wave of attacks because you refused to bide your time, trust me. Figuring out how and when to strike a foe feels so rewarding too, so it's easy to see how Code Vein's gameplay will get its hooks in you.
There's a wide array of weapons in game, each more suited to different Blood Codes (more on those, in a moment) and play styles. Will you prefer a gigantic, two-handed hammer or a more elegant one-handed sword? Perhaps you prefer attacking from a distance with a rifle? Whatever you like, Code Vein's got it for you.
While there's no denying that Code Vein is going after the Dark Souls market (the games even share a publisher, in Bandai Namco Entertainment), it has a less isolationist feel thanks to a genuinely joyous co-op mode that really lets you make the most of playing as a duo. When playing online, you simply send out a distress call and another player can enter your game world at your discretion. Or you can answer a distress call and join somebody else in their game.
The co-op is a fun feature of Code Vein, but there are limitations. Working as a pair, you can't heal or replenish items at checkpoints, putting a limit on your playing time together. You also can't level up or return to your base. It feels like this has been done to offset the clear advantage of teaming up; but in reality it just leads to a lot of leaving and re-entering that bogs the experience down a little bit.
Despite this drawback, it's totally worth working together in Code Vein thanks to a variety of play styles and strategies you can employ. Also, games tend to be more fun with friends anyway, right?
As for these play styles, your character is able to utilise a variety of Blood Codes, which are basically this game's term for classes. You've got your basic fighter, heavy and support roles, as well as more that can be unlocked as you progress, which offer wider skills and abilities, known as 'gifts'. For instance, the Astrea Blood Code caters more to explorer types.
Throughout the game you'll find bonfi... I mean mistles, which serve as autosave checkpoints where you can also add to your map, level up, and more. These mistles revive fallen enemies too - another way in which they mirror the Souls series' bonfires - but at least it keeps you in a job, right? It's actually a convenient way to farm XP when you feel the need. The last mistle you used is also where you'll be revived after you've fallen.
If you get killed in battle, you won't just look stupid, you'll also lose your haze. Haze is the collectible substance that you use to level up your character, so it's basically XP. Dropped haze can be recovered when you return to the scene of your demise, but it's a time-consuming reminder that you should be more considered in your approach instead of getting brutally done in by a nasty old lost, or after walking off a cliff as a friend of mine hilariously did (RIP Julian's revenant).
When playing solo, you have an AI accomplice, who fights by your side and can even heal you when you've been downed. However, they're not invincible and you need to help them out too or else they'll perish, and you will be all alone in an unforgiving environment. You can revive your fallen comrade at a mistle, but as that brings back enemies you defeated on your way to said objective, it's not always the wisest move to immediately become part of a pair again.
How you use your AI friend can be vital. Whether it's as a welcome distraction against bosses, or as a simple healer for when you're taking too many blows, there's no end to the tactical value your stalwart companion offers.
The story of Code Vein is delivered in a simple way, with traditional cutscenes and dialogue, but it's still plenty enjoyable, and you'll find yourself genuinely invested in some of the characters you meet. The game's world is bathed in tragedy and darkness, and the plot devices make you feel the weight of this ravaged, decimated land.
However, there's enough light in the miserable darkness to keep you pressing on, and these happier moments are well delivered. Seeing characters standing by each other and doing the right thing can be quite uplifting, especially when considered against the game's despair-filled backdrop.
One downside with the game is difficulty spikes, which present themselves as early as the second boss, the Butterfly of Delirium, which is horrendous. Maybe it'll suit those of us who love a challenge, but the way the difficulty ramped up out of nowhere was a nasty shock. Even with the AI assistant, and a human friend playing co-op too, it took multiple tries to beat. I know that's what Code Vein is about, but it felt disjointed compared to the rest of the game. Other bosses were damn difficult too, but not as bad as this blasted, barely dressed beast, so be warned.
Code Vein is a huge game with plenty of locations to revisit and replay, masses of enemies, an epic story, and multiple endings. It's seriously hard to put this thing down, because the gameplay is luxuriously addictive. Exploring a level for the first time offers a welcome air of excitement as you map out its various twists and turns, and going back to a previously explored area is equally thrilling because you know the place and its myriad dangers.
The animation is very good when you consider that you actually make your own character, who appears in cutscenes exactly as you crafted them. It's not always smooth, but it's worth noting how impressively done this is. The world itself is stunningly put together too, with clever uses of light against an apocalyptic canvas to create a sense of hope amid the anguish. Honestly, I spent a good amount of time just gazing out over the battered landscapes, imagining what was once there in Code Vein's history.
In short, Code Vein is a must for fans of dark, gruelling third-person combat games who want a decent co-op mode. A gripping story, an inhospitable yet eerily beautiful world, and a fully customised character of your own make for an experience that gamers of said specific persuasion won't want to miss.
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