"Code Vein is, for all intents and purposes, a Soulslike, but one that eschews the fantasy setting in favour of an anime-tinged post-apocalyptic future not unlike God Eater, or even Vigil Games' Darksiders series. "
Bearing the tagline "Prepare to Dine," Bandai Namco were unmistakably channelling their beloved Dark Souls series with the announcement of Code Vein earlier this year. However, this is not a From Software title; it's being developed in-house and happens to be the latest project from God Eater series' writer/director Hiroshi Yoshimura.
Code Vein is, for all intents and purposes, a Soulslike, but one that eschews the fantasy setting in favour of an anime-tinged post-apocalyptic future not unlike God Eater, or even Vigil Games' Darksiders series. Code Vein adds flavor to the formula with a vampire motif — the protagonists are Revenants, undead hunters who must quaff a steady supply of blood, lest they become mindless ghouls dubbed The Lost. Players venture out into crumbling urban areas in search of blood, while slaughtering any Lost that get in their way, some of whom may be former allies. Yoshimura promises this will be the subject of much drama throughout Code Vein.
I had a chance to play a fifteen-minute demo build of Code Vein at October's MCM London Comic Con. I took control of a silent young man in a trenchcoat and gas mask (assumedly player-creatable in the final game) who was partnered with AI companion Mia Karnstein, a tough young lady in a fetching ushanka frequently seen in the game's promotional materials. The demo opened in a ruined multistory warehouse overrun with Lost: presented here in the form of overgrown humanoids dressed not unlike my character, except with tentacle-like proboscides hanging from their malformed faces.
As Mia and I stalked through the darkness, she'd whisper an alert if we encountered an enemy unawares. In true Souls fashion, I took point hacking, slashing, and rolling away from hits, while Mia provided support from the rear with a rifle. She yells for the player to come to her aid if she ends up in close quarters combat, but she also manages to hold her own as a melee fighter quite competently. By holding R2, I had access to a number of shortcut blood draughts keyed to the directional pad that each bestowed a different temporary buff, such as extra agility or elemental weapon effects.
Dotting the warehouse every so often are growths of Mistletoe, Code Vein's version of Dark Souls' bonfires. Once a growth is activated, it functions as your last checkpoint, as well as a spot you can rest at to fully heal, or level up by expending Haze. I was surprised to find that leveling up simply increases your level and all stats, rather than allowing a choice over what stat you'd like to level. It gives the impression as though there's only a single way to build your character, although this may be a temporary constraint of this demo build.
In true Souls fashion, Haze is gained from defeated foes, and player death respawns you at your last-touched Mistletoe sans Haze, with a single chance to regain it all from the creature that landed your killing blow. When I died, it was a little difficult to determine which
monster was holding my goodies — all enemies in the area were of a single variety, and none of them had a telltale visual cue that they were my target. Eventually, I just killed the right one and retrieved my Haze, but some kind of signposting would've been appreciated.
Eventually, I climbed to the top of the warehouse and came to a ruined highway, which happened to be an arena for the boss, an overgrown mass of steel called The Queen's Knight. Brandishing an oversized halberd and shield, the Knight made a beeline straight for...Mia! This allowed me to land a number of heavy attacks into its back and knock off a good quarter of its health, at which point it turned its attention to me and fired off area-of-effect sweep attacks that were difficult to dodge. Not only did its halberd have quite a reach on it, but the Knight was also able to zoom around the battlefield quite quickly, leaving me no time to complete my lengthy healing animation. I was killed, but found myself revived instantly. This happened a few more times until Mia was taken out, at which point my death was final and kicked me back to the last Mistletoe. Whether AI companions have the power to revive the player during boss fights, or if this was just a conceit of the demo, remains to be seen.
I must admit, Code Vein didn't make the strongest impression. It's difficult to talk about it without mentioning Dark Souls, and I wish there were more instances from which I could observe its divergence rather than its slavish copying of mechanics. Although there is much room for anime- and/or sci-fi-inspired Soulslikes, Code Vein's first impression is unambitious and unremarkable. Its world and monsters are bland and drab, especially compared to the out-there nature of the studio's earlier God Eater titles. Furthermore, the build I played was incredibly janky and had difficulty maintaining 15fps without
any enemies on screen, dipping even lower when I was mobbed by a group of foes. It doesn't feel good, and in a game that demands precise and careful movement, this type of performance just isn't going to cut it.
Despite my underwhelming first impression, Code Vein still doesn't have a hard release date outside of 2018. The concept itself is intriguing, so I hope that Bandai Namco Studios can iron out the kinks before launch.