REVIEW – Despite the great popularity that the games of the Soulsborne category (which, of course, includes Lies of P, which is the subject of this review) now enjoy, especially after the huge success of Elden Ring, and despite the various attempts that we have seen from time to time in the genre, there are (infinitely) few cases that have managed to approach the giants of FromSoftware. Especially when it comes to AAA productions, the landscape is even poorer, both in terms of quantity and quality. Just before we get our hands on the promising new Lords of the Fallen, the Korean Neowiz Games brings its own game to the genre with Lies of P. A game that in turn had managed to attract attention many months earlier thanks to interesting samples of its writing (something that the demo atmosphere helped with, of course).
Especially considering that it is the first major production of this particular development team, Lies of P is an ideal proposition for fans of the genre, to the point where we think it could easily claim the lead in Soulsborne titles not developed by FromSoftware. There are undoubtedly some issues that hold it back a bit, but they didn’t stop us from enjoying a game that understands and faithfully follows the rules that govern the genre in question.
Inspired by the fairy tale
Right from the start it is fascinating that the script is inspired by the famous Italian fairy tale Pinocchio. Of course, one shouldn’t expect a faithful adaptation, as the similarities to the fairy tale almost start and end with references to familiar names like Geppetto, Gemini and various talking animals, which here appear in the form of humans wearing animal masks.
Any resemblance ends here, with the familiar names only appearing to give an “essence” of the dark fairy tale. All the action takes place in the city of Krat and its surrounding areas, where mechanical puppets meant to serve humans have been turned into killing machines. Pinocchio is nothing more than another puppet, but he continues to fight for the humans. Later, the existence of the so-called Petrification Disease, a disease that has spread and turned various humans into monsters, comes to the fore. The script does not contain any special surprises and conveys a digestible and rather superficial plot. Furthermore, there is no special attempt to build up lore, which leads to the conclusion that the plot comes as an accompaniment to the action, nothing more and nothing less.
A missed opportunity is the personality of Gemini, the mechanical cricket that is always with us and occasionally comments on situations and settings. The actor who provides his voice is quite good, conveying a benevolent personality ready to help Pinocchio. Unfortunately, his reactions are so sporadic that for long stretches of the game we simply forget that he’s on our side. Otherwise, he would have provided a welcome note of camaraderie during the silent protagonist’s rather lonely adventure.
A love letter to Bloodborne, or just a copy?
Neowiz Games’ love for Bloodborne is evident from the very first steps, as it’s surprising that Krat’s neighborhoods are visibly similar to those of Yharnam, if only on an aesthetic level. Aside from the obvious similarities in the visual realm of the environments (the wooded surroundings again immediately bring back memories of similar areas in Bloodborne), there are also similarities in some of the bosses.
Lies of P walks a fine line between paying homage to Bloodborne and outright copying. However, given the particularly good work done in several key areas, such as enemy variety, combat system, technical area, etc., we believe that the creation of the Korean development team is on the right side of this imaginary line.
Those who watched the demo should expect a combat system that has been significantly improved so that the protagonist’s mobility is now much more responsive to our commands, with more emphasis on dodging. As a combat system, it is a cross between Bloodborne and Sekiro. The ability to block, while present, is almost prohibitive, as blocking again costs a chunk of your energy, though it can be gradually regained by attacking enemies.
Parry and stagger like a boss!
On the other hand, the emphasis on parrying is more than obvious. The synchronized pressing of the defense with the enemy’s attack means that we will parry his attack without losing energy, while at the same time bringing the enemy one step closer to the staggered state, a mechanism that is interesting for the tactics we use in combat.
This is how it works: if we hit an enemy enough times or parry repeatedly, a white outline will appear on his Energy bar for a while. During this time, if we hit him with a charged heavy attack, he will be immobilized, allowing us to perform a particularly powerful attack. Because the charged attack takes a significant amount of time, leaving us vulnerable to enemy attacks, proper positioning and timing is critical to get the charged attack in before the stagger time expires.
For most minibosses and bosses, getting the stagger right is crucial to significantly reducing their energy. Of course, the high mobility of enemies and their relentless attacks add an additional but welcome stress to the stagger conflict, making it a high-risk, high-reward proposition.
Dodging is a functional alternative to parrying, but the unstoppable attacks that most enemies often perform lead to the conclusion that parrying is not just an option, but a necessity for survival. In addition, some “red” attacks from enemies cannot be countered by anything other than a proper parry. Parrying is ultimately a defensive method that is both enjoyable and somewhat problematic in its use.
Parry for your life!
For the most part, enemy attacks provide enough time to understand when to parry, but the execution of the move is very strict both in terms of its timing and the “penalty” for failing to execute it. Unlike the use of parries in Sekiro, here we lose energy if we don’t get the timing right (which we can recover, as mentioned above, but with great difficulty). On the other hand, the achievement of the parry, while delightfully accompanied by the appropriate sound and visual effects, does not in fact offer a substantially large reward, i.e. one proportional to the difficulty of achieving it. The above does not negate the positive aspect of the combat system as a whole, but it does testify that it perhaps needed to be “tuned” a bit more.
On the other hand, there are some improvements to the usual formula of the genre’s gameplay rules. One of them has to do with Pulse Cells (the equivalent of Estus Flasks), which, as usual, are limited in number and replenished at each checkpoint. If we use up all of them, the game allows us to recover one (and only one) if we get enough hits on enemies.
It’s a mechanism that works very well, especially in boss fights, where, for example, if we run out of Pulse Cells at a key point in the fight and are one step away from death, instead of losing all hope, there’s always the possibility of regaining a Pulse Cell, tipping the scales back in our favor. Also ingenious is the use of Quick Item Slots, where we can cleverly place items between two categories that we select as active by tapping up or down on the gamepad crosshairs.
This method makes it even easier to alternate the use of items during combat, making it a simple solution to item management, but one so important that we believe it is very likely to become commonplace in games of this genre.
Staying on the positive side of the title, weapon customization is an area where Lies of P stands out, allowing us to mix the hilt of each weapon with any head (blade, heavy, etc.) we wish. The hilt always determines the attack animations and the stat the weapon scales with (motivity, technique, advance), while the head determines the damage, attack range, and other characteristics in general that have to do with net damage. In addition, each handle and head has its own special moves, which are very useful in combat. It’s quite possible to make a weapon that has the hilt of a sword with a giant pliers head. It is a type of crafting that is easy to use and allows you to create weapons that you can completely customize and adapt to your playing style.
We should also highlight Neowiz Games’ truly remarkable effort in the variety of enemies we encounter. Until the end of the adventure, which lasts about thirty hours, Lies of P never stops introducing new enemies, while also containing a large number of mini-bosses and main bosses.
The animations are detailed and varied, and their reactions to hits allow us to maintain a constant aggressive tactic. The boss fights are up to the task, presenting us with highly challenging battles against well-designed and imposing enemies. Here, of course, we must complain about the particular zeal of the development team in frequently confronting us with boss fights that, after falling, gave us the unpleasant surprise of a second stage.
When this happens repeatedly, the element of surprise is lost, and the (almost) artificial increase in difficulty begins to annoy, when the first phase of each battle is already absolutely demanding. Nevertheless, the combat system remains enjoyable, and the constant enrichment of the bestiary is ultimately the driving force behind our engagement. Remarkably, the vast majority of boss fights include the option to summon an NPC for assistance, which makes the fight noticeably easier without making it a walk in the park.
It should be mentioned at this point that Lies of P follows a linear structure in its level design and avoids opening up the adventure to multiple, simultaneously available paths. There is always a single path to the next boss fight, whose defeat marks the opening of the next area, and so on. Of course, there are opportunities for exploration in all sorts of alleyways, but they are nothing more than minor deviations from the path. Of course, we don’t mention this as a negative, but simply to point out Neowiz Games’ philosophy behind the level design, an area where they do it very well, leading us from area to area without “confusion”, but allowing a sense of exploration at the same time.
The visual area, on the other hand, is a bit uneven. The lion’s share goes to Krat, which as we said is very reminiscent of Yharnam, but there are at least some areas with a more personal character, such as an abandoned shopping mall and a museum. These areas actively show that Neowiz Games could have relied more on its strengths in this area to deliver an experience truly separate from its main inspiration.
The same goes for the enemies, where the dummies are well-designed and quite creepy at times, thanks to their nervous movements and expressionless mechanical heads. The mechanical bosses are also impressive and imaginatively designed. For some inexplicable reason, however, we are confronted in large parts of the game with various monsters that offer nothing we haven’t seen before in terms of visual kinematics. This situation intensifies in the final hours, when the environment changes radically, leaving the belle époque aesthetic behind to the point of seeming out of place.
Overall, however, Lies of P has far more positives to offer than negatives, providing a satisfying experience where the variety of enemies (albeit uneven in places) more than supports its length. In addition, the combat system is generally up to the task, constantly pushing us to “try again” when we get stuck in various tricky spots, and conveying the feel of hits through the numerous weapons quite satisfactorily.
In all of the above, we should keep in mind that Lies of P is Neowiz Games’ first AAA creation, which automatically puts them on our radar for new and improved creations, having made an admittedly strong start in that category. It’s no small feat for a developer to be the best alternative to FromSoftware’s games in its first effort in a very demanding genre.
+ The combat system is thoughtful and challenging
+ Wide variety of enemies and boss fights
+ The linear course design is excellently executed
– The defense mechanism works, but needs refinement
– Visually too tied to its source of inspiration, Bloodborne
– In some places, dirt will be unexpectedly difficult
Publisher: Neowiz Games
Developer: Neowiz Games
Style: Action-RPG, psychological
Release: September 19, 2023.