Bandai Namco announced its upcoming action RPG Code Vein earlier this year and it has been shrouded in mystery ever since. It’s been touted (and rightfully so) as an anime Dark Souls with little gameplay or storyline revealed. That changed a bit at NYCC this week as we got a chance to get our hands on Code Vein for an extended amount of time.
If you thought that the mystery behind Code Vein was intentional, than you were absolutely right. There is no doubt that Bandai Namco is hiding as much as they can about the game. Today, at NYCC, we played Code Vein for just about an hour. It was set up in between Dragonball Xenoverse 2, Nino Kuni 2 and Dragonball FighterZ. Each of these three games had representatives from Bandai on scene to help. Not so for Code Vein. There wasn’t a single soul around to help. In fact, the only time I did see a representative stop by was to hang up a sign telling us we get a free t-shirt if we manage to defeat the demo’s boss: The Queen’s Knight. By all means this was intentional, and it did provide some intrigue, but unfortunately I think it was for the wrong reasons.
Let’s start with the gameplay. I’ll admit I have been extremely uninspired by what I’ve seen so far from Code Vein. The environments are plain and bland, the gameplay has been repetitive and boring and the storyline is virtually non-existent. It is inspired by the Dark Souls games, however, so I figured I’d give it a shot. After all, game companies hide things all the time, and I couldn’t be very well informed if I didn’t play. The situation with no representative around was a bit odd at first, but it led to what was one of the most collaborative gaming efforts I’ve ever been a part of.
Imagine this setup: Two Code Vein game stations ready to go with about 50 people on line. A game timer of 15 minutes each starts as soon as you boot up the game. We could power through a bit of a level, or choose to go right to the boss as part of the demo. The controller layout was viewable but purposefully ambiguous. Moves had odd names but left no indication of what they actually did. This is where a very amazing twist began to take part. If you’ve never been to a gaming convention before, you should know that people do not talk to each other while playing games. We put our headset on, play and then walk away when the time is up. It’s just how it’s normally done, don’t ask why. Only once we are done do we begin throwing questions back and forth at each other.
Code Vein was so hard and mysterious, that each player had about 20 spectators behind them trying to help them. Now, normally this would honestly be annoying as hell. Instead, this became the best co-op gaming session I have ever taken part in. I had my son with me at the event, and even he turned around when he heard the constant cheering and said “Daddy, this is cool”. He’s 8 years old. We played for about 40 minutes and spectated for another 20. So many little nuances and mechanics changes are present in Code Vein. Shouts of “Try R2 and circle!”, “Dodge!” and “Heal, Heal, Hit him now!” echoed through the Jacob Javits Center. I really wanted to see the boss go down, but time after time we’d get roasted just as we got close. My son started to get bored, and even I was getting pissed off. Just as I was about to say “Come on Mikey, let’s go check out something else” – It happened. Someone took down The Queen’s Knight, and the floor erupted. In fact, a couple of guys came running from the Square Enix booth around the corner because they thought some special event was going on. You should have seen the disappointment on their faces.
Now, so far Code Vein sounds great, right? That experience was great, but don’t let it fool you. Unfortunately I found it was all part of a nicely played ruse. The lack of representatives, the ambiguous setup and forcing people to play while standing tightly together was an attempt to cover its flaws. It was like medicine. It didn’t cure anything, it simply masked the symptoms. Here’s how.
First off, the game is INCREDIBLY glitchy. Both demos were set up on PlayStation 4, and the framerate drops were awful. Every time an enemy would attack or I would use a power move, the rate would slow down. It got so bad that it resembled watching a film that would immediately change to half-speed. This made dodging much more difficult and only increased frustration. With Code Vein not releasing until 2018, I could deal with a little frame rate issues. After all, these can get ironed out before then. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the only issue.
Code Vein grants you a companion in your gameplay, and she is very helpful – When the game wants her to be. The game uses a system of healing via health swapping. If you die, she will heal you with part health. You can choose to heal her at anytime as well. The health used to heal comes from your own, so you’ll want to do so strategically. This sounds great in theory, but the execution is lacking. The reason is because everything you do in Code Vein requires a drawn out character animation. It takes so long to perform that you constantly die when you should be healed. Instead of getting some health from your companion, you instead find it to be game over because she got killed in mid-animation This isn’t just because it was hard either, I know what you’re thinking. I love trying to figure out strategy, but I draw the line at a game’s mechanics getting in the way.
Even simple character movements were glitchy. Most games see a character make a small turn in order to turn around when hitting the analog stick straight left while running right for example. Code Vein doesn’t do this. Instead, your character simply has his direction hot swapped. It’s almost as if the game gets paused, your character is turned around, and then the game unpauses. Something is missing from the animation, and it doesn’t seem likely that it will be fixed prior to release.
The camera also moves with a sort of momentum. If you turn the camera in one direction and take your hand off the analog stick, the camera movement should cease. In Code Vein. Imagine if you were holding a rope in your hand and swung your arm from side to side. Once you stop, the rope keeps going in the same direction until it simply falls. This is what happens in Code Vein. The camera continues moving briefly after letting go of the analog stick. This caused the enemy to rotate out of our field of view on screen, and low and behold, we died.
Another issue I found involved the soundtrack. There was essentially no in game music other than the swoosh of your weapon. Our character didn’t even make noise when he moved. All we heard were weapon strikes the entire time. As I already noted, a lot of these were hidden by the shear ambiguity and mystery surrounding the gameplay. The Dark Souls genre has a cult following to say the least, and guaranteed fans would have found these – Probably others. After all, I found this out during a brief hands on session at New York City Comic Con.
Code Vein has the pedigree to be a great game. Inspired by the Dark Souls games, it has a lot going for it. If Bandai Namco can fix these issues, along with whichever ones hardcore fans have found, then we might be in for a surprise. Let’s not forget about the story, which is still relatively non-existent. Unfortunately, it seems like these issues are systemic in nature rather than just needing polishing, and I doubt they will be fixed appropriately.
For now, Code Vein is set to release in 2018 on Xbox One, PS4 and Windows PC Steam. If you plan on picking it up, I suggest keeping a close eye on its development before you let yourself down.