Code Vein Review - A Bloody Mess
Code Vein, the new Souls-like game from Bandai Namco, is a bloody mess. Okay, so it's not THAT bad, but for a game that is getting such high scores on prestigious platforms like Steam, it really makes me scratch my head. In Code Vein, players take on the role of a Revenant, taking on a vampiric form that has been brought back to life by a parasite known as BOR. The Revenants need blood to survive and keep themselves from going crazy and turning into berzerking Lost Revenants. There's way more to the story if you're willing to sit through the agonizing cut scenes and molasses-paced dream sequences and comb through your memories in order to piece together what's going on. Me? Not so much. I skip every cutscene. And now you're all saying, "Well that's why you hate the game!" And that may be.
But before you judge me, hear me out. I may be having such a tough time with the story because I am not much of an Anime fan, and for a game that has been nicknamed "Anime Souls" by its community, you may simply have to possess a love of Anime to get the most out of this title. But I promise you, I have practical complaints about the execution of this game. Like every good deliverer of criticism should do, I would like to start with the good things.
The controls aren't too bad. For the most part, they mirror that of familiar Souls games so if you have any experience whatsoever, you will pick up on the controls very quickly. Aside from the sprint and attack buttons being different between the console versions of Code Vein and Dark Souls, you'll become accustomed to playing within a few minutes. Thankfully, Code Vein offers button remapping, so it honestly might be worth switching the controls to the Dark Souls/Bloodborne controls we all know and love.
From the epic title screen organ music to the random encounter battles, Code Vein has some incredibly ear-pleasing soundtracks. The organ music will give you goosebumps! The combat music will amp you up and urge you to plunge into battle, screaming with sword in-hand! Code Vein's musical tracks are of cinema quality and should be in the mix for game soundtrack awards.
It seems like games these days just can't get certain things done right, even something as simple as cooperating with your friends. Code Vein does this masterfully and I want to kiss the feet of the person in charge of this decision. Unlike Dark Souls and Bloodborne where you need a special item or consumable to summon your friends, in Code Vein, you simply Send a Distress Signal and anyone Searching for a Distress Signal will be brought into your game. You can even put a friend password in so that you can easily find your chums. No more cryptic bell-ringing or writing on the ground with stones. Just meet up and play, for the love of Pete!
The Not So Good
Not ALL aspects of Code Vein's combat are bad. The Blood Code and Buffing mechanics are actually really innovative and feel fresh. Where the game begins to dip in quality, however, is in the consistent execution of these mechanics and the environments in which they come into play. Code Vein's combat can quickly turn into a hack n' slash free-for-all with very little skill needed to fight. You DO have to be careful, don't get me wrong. However, Code Vein is FAR more forgiving than it's uncle Dark Souls, so you're able to let your guard down a little more. In my opinion, that dilutes the overall experience. One of the reasons the Souls and Bloodborne games are so good is because they constantly tests your ability to think, improvise, adapt, and become a better fighter BECAUSE you have been careful and are learning. Code Vein combat is just boring unless you're willing to grind, unlock every Blood Code and Gift, and enjoy endlessly mixing and matching fighting styles through trial and error.
One of Code Vein's biggest weaknesses is its UI. The menu is a bit of a mess and features items you've acquired through your journey that are scattered across the screen, all looking oddly familiar to one another. Seriously, every item's icon is made up of three lines in any given direction and an arrow of some sort. They barely even change the colors of said items. It's near impossible to quickly spot the difference between them to the point that I have given up even trying. I don't even look at my items on-hand. In Dark Souls and Bloodborne, items were intentionally ambiguous yet still enticing enough in design to make you want to experiment with them. The navigation map in Code Vein....ugh....is by far one of the worst maps I have ever seen in a video game. Your footsteps leave markings as you travel the areas, but as the game progresses, the areas become more and more enigmatic, (more on that in the next section) making your markings more of a distraction than any kind of welcomed aid. And for whatever reason, you're not able to zoom in and out on the map, place markers, or view any kind of map legend. So good luck trying to recall where you've been, especially in environments that all look the same. Which leads me to...
The environments in Code Vein are by far THE WORST part about the game. At later stages, navigating the environments makes the game almost unplayable. The environments are bland, boring, muddy, and ALL LOOK THE SAME!!! In the Cathedral of Blood area, the ENTIRE cathedral, including walls, floor, sky, everything... all of it is white. It looks like someone just ran out of time and couldn't texture or color the environment. That, combined with the fact that it's one of the longest, most maze-like areas in the game, makes the idea of wanting to progress any further worse than the idea of getting out of bed on a Monday.
I cannot say enough about how bad these environments are laid out. You end up spending most of your playthrough just wandering in circles, hoping to stumble across the one correct ladder that leads to the exit out of the 26 ladders you've already climbed. For me, this took the game from earning nearly a 8 or 9 and dropped it below a 7 score. Your game environments should present the players with obstacles, puzzles, and challenges. They should not, however, directly inhibit your player's ability to play your game normally. Dark Souls and Bloodborne have perplexing environments, but they're thematically built into the gameplay and world itself. They didn't just create four walls and a room for players to run around in. There's attention to detail in those games, and Code Vein came along to suck the lifeblood from that detail, leaving us with an uncauterized wound of mediocre gameplay.