The ultra-stylish, beautifully horrific, over-the-top artistry of Code Vein coveyed itself well to me during my brief hands-on time with the game at this year's Anime Expo. Though gameplay didn't impress me as much as I expected it to, the title is worthy of its comparisons to the Dark Souls franchise, if only for how Code Vein offers a challenge that seamlessly blends with its gothic anime aesthetic.
The premise of the game sees a customizable protagonist awake with a bout of amnesia, unable to recall prior events but still a member of the dystopian world's Revenant Society, whose purpose is to hunt the formiddable creatures of this post-apocalyptic land. The player character has the special ability to utilize elemental powers called "Gifts." These yield a variety of fun options depending on your playstyle, though should be carefully considered to capitalize on enemy weaknesses. It's fun to be able to pull off a successful chain of Gift attacks and see your foes crumble – especially after they've beaten you into submission more than a couple of times.
As far as difficulty is concerned, there's definitely plenty of that in Code Vein. Enemies take a good chunk of HP from you upon successful contact, and locales prove to make encounters even more difficult. For instance, I was forced to navigate through a tight corridor before reaching a boss waiting for me at the end of my demo. Lying for me in wait was a gigantic enemy that quickly swung a claw my way, leaving only a few inches for me to dodge out of the way with the controller's circle button. Like in Dark Souls, instinct will prove to be a key ally in getting through Code Vein, as there'll almost always be something waiting to kill you right around the corner.
Mechanically, the title plays a lot like the aforementioned FromSoftware franchise, too, especially when players realize that attacks and blocks are also mapped to the controller's shoulder buttons. The main differentiator that sets the properties apart, however, is Vein's inclusion of swappable AI companions. Each of these partner characters offers their own unique benefits to battle and is capable of reviving you should an enemy bring you down – a nifty feature for newcomers to the genre. Mistles, which act as the game's version of bonfires, allow players the chance to mix up allies as they see fit, in addition to recovering health, leveling up, and respawing every downed foe back into the world.
It's here where the game starts to get a little dicey. While AI companions are useful from both an offensive and defensive standpoint, prove to be sustainable distractions, and do sacrifice a bit of their own health to revive you, they can be a nuisance during more difficult segments. Players exercise no control over them, meaning these partners can very well walk up to enemies at their own volition and initiate a fight when you just wanted to sneakily move around them. While I never got the impression that I was babysitting these characters, I did feel like I constantly needed to reign them in. It was annoying and unnecessary, especially when considering how Code Vein is built somewhat as a survival experience and not a hack-and-slack title. Here's hoping developer Bandai Namco remedies this element before release.
Another issue I came across when fighting was wonky hit detection. Enemies were able to inflict damage even when I clearly rolled out of the way, and attacks from my character sometimes didn't register. This may have been a fault of my own, though the same did go for my AI companion, leading me to believe that the damage boxes in the game itself were slightly off.
As expected, Code Vein works on the fundamental principle of trial and error. Exploring new environments and dying from an attack out of nowhere never felt unfair, and only encouraged me to revisit my strategy on the next go. Successfully using your AI partner's own unique Gifts with your arsenal leads to a satisfying payoff unfelt in most franchises outside of maybe God Eater. Every character, move, and tactic feels essential to the experience at hand and allows you to breathe a sigh of relief after some particularly grueling moments, especially with bosses.
If Code Vein manages to fix some its mechanical problems by the time its set to release for Xbox One, PS4, and PC next year, it'll be in the running for one of 2019's best titles.