Review: Code Vein (PS4)


Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Code Vein
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (29.34 GB)
Release Date: September 27, 2019
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Original MSRP: $59.99 (US)
ESRB Rating: M

Gameplay:

If you are a Dark Souls purist, then you can stop reading now. Code Vein is not a game for you. However, if you are a fan of the genre and looking for some twists on the same mechanics and gameplay, keep reading and keep an open mind. For all of those who have been interested but intimidated by the genre, this is the most accessible game to date.

Code Vein starts in a small enclosed tutorial area. Just enough is explained to point the player in the right direction while still leaving plenty for the player to discover on their own. I left the tutorial area feeling overwhelmed, but I think the new terminology was a big part of that. While trying to understand and process the mechanics and systems of the tutorial, you are told that you are a revenant whose blood code was somehow broken which allows you to learn other revenants’ blood codes. Gifts can be unlocked in each blood code and inherited. Passive gifts are free while active gifts consume ichor. Wait… What?

You are a vampire that can learn classes and freely change between them. Passive and active abilities can be unlocked in each class and later the abilities can be used with other classes. Active abilities consume mana. I guess without the new terminology, Code Vein lacks a certain flair that proper anime vampires should have. Once out on my own it did not take long for me to have a firm grasp of the game.

There is more story, with lots of cutscenes, than most people would expect for a game from this genre. Memories can also be found while exploring areas. Not only are some abilities gated behind these memories, but walking through them reveals important past events and the motivation driving main characters.

Code Vein dives into stereotypical anime and RPG tropes. Although none of the vampires remember much of the past, your character wakes up with amnesia. You are the “chosen one” with special abilities, the only revenant capable of saving everyone else. Finally, there is a character with large breasts that are barely covered.

Some of the mechanics are going to feel familiar. Haze is collected from slaying enemies and is lost if the player dies twice without recovering the haze in between. Resting at Mistle Flowers restores your health, giving you a chance to level up or buy new abilities, and revives all the enemies. Character movements are locked in their animations and combat is composed of a light and heavy attack. Players can block or dodge enemy attacks while consuming some stamina. What sets Code Vein apart is pretty much everything else.

Everyone starts with the same class but are quickly introduced to a second. Within a half a dozen hours I had a handful of classes to choose from. You can change classes on the fly but the game doesn’t pause when you bring up the menu.

In addition to whatever stats your character has from their weapons and clothing, each class has four slots of passive ability slots like increased health or using less stamina when dodging. Each class also has eight active ability slots that are special attacks or temporary buffs. While the active abilities consume mana, ichor can be recovered through consumable items or attacking enemies. This means that these active abilities don’t have a limited number of uses before resting is required.

Killing enemies fills up a bar for all equipped abilities. It doesn’t take too long before they become inherited and those abilities can be used with any class. Players are not only encouraged to experiment with the different classes, but mix and match the abilities as well. While I eventually found a core build that I mainly used, switching to a class with a different attack style and strategy helped keep the game feeling fresh.

Code Vein has a mini map that shows your steps so it is very clear where you have been and what is left to explore. Items that dead enemies drop even show up on the map.

You also have an AI companion who is quite helpful. He assists in finishing off an enemy with a sliver of health left after you have exhausted your stamina or distracting one enemy while you fight the other.

Code Vein is still challenging and you will be severely punished for making a mistake, but having a companion helped me survive a few areas early on that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. I was able to learn the combat mechanics without getting frustrated and rage quitting. On the other hand, I can’t practice parrying because if I stop and wait for the enemy to attack my companion will finish him off.

After completing the first area, the player is introduced to Home Base, which is a small safe haven for a band of revenants as they look for a way to reverse whatever has cause the land to dry up of blood. You can chat with a few characters to get a little more information about the world and lore. The main reason to keep coming back is the shops. Players can buy items, weapons, and clothing. More importantly, you can upgrade your weapons and clothing with haze and materials found while exploring.

All of this combines into a free flowing character build for whatever is needed. The first main boss uses venom attacks. I started with a high survivability class that still had a decent amount of mana. I took a passive venom resistance from one class and an active venom cure ability from another. I then leveled up the armor with the most venom resistance and my favorite weapon. Voilà, a character build custom built for the boss. The boss was still freaking hard. I had to grind and level up a few more levels for that little extra bit of health.

Finally… Victory! After the dust settled and I started to think about the boss fight, I started to see a small crack in the whole companion mechanic. I spent a lot of time dodging attacks and curing us when hit with venom. However, I don’t feel like I did the majority of damage. Not that I did nothing, I attacked during every open window I had and a few times when I shouldn’t have. I have no evidence to back this up but my AI companion seemed to have been mixing it up with the boss more than I was and did a little more than his fair share of damage.

The player and companion have an ability to give each other health by sacrificing some of their own, even after someone has died. If you engage a group of enemies, or one of the larger enemies, and walk away while your companion stays behind, there is a good chance he will be killed. The added assistance of the companion in combat and them reviving you after you have died is not an easy thing to balance. I was taken aback at first because being helpful in any way is usually not a part of this genre. After getting the initial shock, the developers did a good job overall of balancing and building the game around having a companion.

Visuals:
Whether the bright anime style of Code Vein is better than the dark gothic style typical of the genre is a personal preference. I enjoyed the anime art style and being outside in the sunlight along with bright colors. That said, the underground environments and abandoned and destroyed city centers felt bland and boring. While the various colors on the characters stood out, the environments blended together.

Upon death, the enemies turn into embers and float away. This is a cool effect to watch if another enemy isn’t breathing down your neck.

The game performs great. On the PS4 Pro, I noticed no frame rate issues.

Audio:
There is a character creator at the beginning of the game that offers real customization. Players are also presented with numerous choices for a voice to vocalize their grunts and cheers. While a nice touch for people who deep dive into character creation, I would have preferred to not have a silent protagonist during the cutscenes.

At home base there are a couple of radios you can turn on. When I first turned the radio on the music was jammin’. I had just completed my first area and the music had me ready to get back out there and kick some ass. And then every time after that when I went back to the home base the same song played and it is on repeat. After a while I just turned the radio off. Partly because the song got old and because when I would talk to other characters, depending on the camera angle, the music would be louder than the VO.

Online/Multiplayer:
There is co-op multiplayer. However I was never able to find someone to join my game or join theirs. One of the issues of playing a game before release.

Conclusion:
Code Vein was obviously influenced by other games but is much more than a simple clone. The developer made some choices, like the mini map, that don’t necessarily make the game easier, but less needlessly frustrating.

Being able to freely change between the classes and mix and match the abilities is a great addition to the game. Having a companion and their ability to revive you after dying was a bold design choice. It will be blasphemy to some, but that is fine, there are other games out there for them.

For anyone who has ever been interested in, but intimidated by, the genre, Code Vein is the best jumping on point so far. It is still freaking difficult and even infuriating at times. Having a companion doesn’t mean the game is holding your hand. Code Vein simply points the player in the right direction and is just a little more approachable and friendly to new players.

Score:
8.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Matt Engelbart

Matt Engelbart

I love all things video games. When I am not gaming I am watching the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, BBQing, and reading.

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