Lies of P review: No puppet strings attached
Although easily marketable as “Pinocchio: The Game”, Lies of P deserves so much more when assessing for its review. The joint effort of creating a single-player Soulslike title based on the iconic puppet, by South Korean developer duo Neowiz Games and Round8 Studio, Lies of P at first glance might look like its inspirations you've seen before; including Bloodborne, Elden Ring, Sekiro, or the genre namesake Darksouls; but new twists based on Carlo Collodi's classic novel does plenty to stand on its own.
Merging the classic tale with the gameplay of some of the medium's most popular games is a strong idea which from its announcement, has well-generated the wide appeal the developer was going for. Surface-level interest aside though, Lies of P also boasts the world, story, and combat to back it up - along with most of the accessible fun its creators intended.
Altogether, Lies of P is a stunningly fun Soulslike that works great for both genre newcomers and veterans. Culminating gameplay aspects from those which have come before and combining them with a unique twist on the source material, Lies of P feels as one-of-a-kind as the puppet who wished he could be a real boy that the game is based on.
The sharp difficulty spikes may put some off with grinding required to beat some bosses, but the progressively dark story, advancing gameplay, and elegant-but-sinister world are all worth the effort.
What is Lies of P about?
In the fictional but beautiful 19th-century European city of Krat, one which relied on the use of automated puppets created by master Geppetto, Lies of P begins after the "Puppet Frenzy". Soon following the automatons turn on the humans and massacring most of the population - and a new plague ravaging what's left - you'll awake in an abandoned train station as the humanoid puppet, Pinocchio.
Equipped with just your mechanical left arm, your starting weapon, and a strange voice guiding you, it's up to you as Pinocchio to work your way through the deadly puppets and the horrors that await, find Geppetto, save Krat from the terrifying chaos - and find out who he really is.
Initially thrown into the world to explore with little-to-no story context at the start if you're going in blind, Lies of P in its early hours relies on its hard-hitting combat, elegantly sinister world, and tidbits of lore dropped along the way - building up intrigue as you start to meet its slowly expanding cast of characters.
Even before getting hit by the first ferocious puppet out for blood, what's equally striking is the look of Krat altogether. Culminating with the gorgeously drab, gothic-like environments laden with blood, destruction, and corpses, is the still-underlying sleek but shimmering metropolis of what Krat once was.
As you walk through its early areas noticing Pinocchio and his surroundings glistening in the pouring rain, hearing the creaks and bustlings of a fallen industrial city overtaken by mechanical monsters and disease, it's easy to appreciate each stage's own characteristics and features which prevent your curiosity from ever being sated.
Soulslike combat with puppets
Those after a typical Soulslike gameplay, however, definitely won't be disappointed with Lies of P's combat. After having you pick one of three classes and weapon styles to fit your own style, you'll quickly get acquainted with the fact that fighting enemies in this type of game is initially challenging for the faint-hearted, but oh-so-satisfying to master.
As well as steadily introducing new enemy types as you play, some of which are interesting surprises for even more diversity, you'll be met with even base enemies with peculiar attack patterns which you regularly need to strategies your "guard, dodge, attack"-style gameplay.
You can dodge, yes - but mistiming might result in a brutally punishing smash as you get hit and lose HP. You can guard and still lose a bit of health, but a Perfect Guard executed at the right moment will block all damage and further charge your Fable Arts meter which you can spend to use the special attacks tied to your weapon.
Although, even if you think you've mastered the timings of one particular enemy before you try a Perfect Guard, that cheeky puppet might carry out a slowed attack to throw you off and follow up with a strike from a different direction.
Getting used to fighting off murderous mechanical butlers, policemen and attack dogs can be tricky at first, but you'll appreciate the fantastically smooth sword swings as you get used to it - even if you've never played a Soulslike before. That's even more so in the game's ideal Performance-centred mode on PS5 and Xbox Series X, aiming for 60FPS and 2160p upscaled resolution.
The alternative 30FPS-targeting Quality-centred mode does make for some visual enhancements like upgraded reflections and shadows along with a higher native resolution, but unless you've got access to a 120Hz display to utilise the optional High Frame Rate feature, the sluggish-by-comparison movement of enemies and Pinocchio himself does little else besides take away part of the experience.
What players may become even more enamoured with, though, is the numerous layers that have been added via the crafting system and build customisation. After unlocking your home base at Hotel Krat, you'll get access to an increasing number of ways to optimise your build of weapons, character stats, and even your mechanical Legion Arm for tons of creative experimentation as much as you like.
Most notably at the forefront, is weapon assembly. Either via the hotel's dedicated weaponsmith or one of the game's numerous Stargazer fast travel points, you can swap around the blade or handle of one of the game's many weapons of 30 types with a seemingly infinite number of uniquely crafted combinations - more than 100 according to the developer.
While you can buy weapon upgrades and items to aid in combat, the fact that Lies of P uses the same currency - Ergo - to level up your stats also means you may have to prioritise between buffing your character or enhancing your weaponry and stocking up your inventory.
Also, some of the extra systems to this extent may seem superfluous depending on what type of player you are, such as the Alter Handle system affecting attributes or the Durability system; the latter of which appeared to be nerfed due to difficulty feedback from the beta.
Nevertheless, if you're a fan of weapon customisation, you'll have no trouble spending hours trialling different weapon combos of varied stats, attributes, and Fable Arts special attacks to fit your playstyle or discover new ones.
Legion Arms - Fullmetal Pinocchio
In tandem with what style of weapon you’re using, you’ll also need to incorporate the Legion Arm, your interchangeable left arm each with more models of different abilities to choose from as you move forward on the story.
Fitting the Steampunk aesthetics of the game, each arm has its own individual uses making it ideal for varied enemies and situations, sprinkling another layer of fun and strategy into the combat.
For example, the first additional arm you unlock, Puppet String, works as a grappling hook that hooks enemies in and makes them stumble closer to you - quick for getting extra hits in and good for crowd control by isolating enemies to pick them off one at a time.
Larger puppets, however, are immune to Puppet String’s grapple hook albeit small tokens of damage - making Fulminis, an electricity-based Legion Arm, more ideal by inflicting damage as well as slowing down hulking foes like those in boss battles. One unlockable among options later in the game is even a flamethrower called Flamberge which is great for inflicting Fire damage.
Those who've played past games that incorporate prosthetic mechanics like Devil May Cry 5 and Sekiro: Shadows will feel right at home, but the Legion Arm is but another delightful addition to Lies of P's already plethora range of experimentation.
Difficulty issues still might not be for some
As elaborated on in a Twitch stream appearance that was reported on by Dualshockers, game director Choi Ji-Won went into making Lies of P with the main goal of being more accessible and fun for those who've been put off by the high difficulties of other Soulslikes. As a whole, this is absolutely true - to an extent.
Lies of P is still minimally difficult on the level that the Soulslike genre is known for. Be that as it may, it's mostly the good type of difficulty - one where a player new to this manner of game is pushed out of their comfort zone to further strategise, hone the right play style, and revel in the thrill of victory when it comes in the game's engaging boss fights.
In fact, even if you initially still feel ill-equipped to deal in Lies of P's standard level of combat, there are extra mechanics in place to help make things easier if you wish to use them - like using the P-Organ skill tree to unlock more Pulse Cells for HP recovery or acquiring an AI Spectre to help you in boss fights.
However, even experienced Soulslike players may find issues with one or two of the bosses encountered following those in the Lies of P demo, with such a sharp difficulty curve in spots that may make some players want to tear their hair out.
While some troublesome boss fights in certain stages are optional, allowing you to merely return later for extra rewards when you’re at a higher level, certain campaign bosses for some will be impossible to beat without spending ample extra hours grinding for Ergo to invest in your stats and continuously restock on combat items - keeping players from indulging in more of the brilliant narrative it’s put such an emphasis on them experiencing.
In the context of Lies of P's appeal, being a more approachable alternative to Soulsbourne games which also emphasises on story, adding in extremely tough bosses is still fair enough when optional. After all, Lies of P works great as a Soulslike for beginners which can push those unfamiliar with the genre to experience the higher difficulties it's known for if they so wish.
Gamers experienced with Lies of P's genre or those with a general affinity for high-difficulty gameplay may not find an issue with these difficulty spikes at all. Be that as it may, when a huge initial selling point of a game is being a lower skill barrier to entry for the Soulslike genre, all before bringing it back up to prevent you from experiencing more of the brilliant tale it's put such a big focus on - paired with the developer not wanting to add an easy mode - it feels like Lies of P is pulling back the accessibility it originally promised.
Lies of P is regardless a good time overall, but casual players still may be tempted to drop off further if they have little patience for initially invincible bosses.
A story true to the source material
When you are able to progress through the campaign though, it's more than a worthwhile payoff. As well as a gothic horror hack-and-slasher iconic to the Soulslike genre, Lies of P’s own identity as a Pinnochio story always lies subtly at the centre of it all before shining brightly at key points.
Starting with only his instinctive drives moving him forward with allies like the cricket puppet Gemini to help fill in the gaps, much of the story in Lies of P centres on Pinnocchio’s identity - discovering his human nature through the narrative, the treasures he finds like the records to play at Hotel Krat for full enchanting soundtracks, or using the unique Lying System.
The latter not only hones in well on the source material but is also a creative way to label a decision-based mechanic for players that will affect events around its ending.
All of that comes together through the use of compelling side quests, many involving human Stalkers and citizens stricken by the Petrification Disease, immersing you even more into the tragedy that is the city of Krat and its inhabitants. As a result, you may only feel more empathy and motivation to give them hope, mirroring that you wish Pinnochio would feel in finding his "real boy" humanity.
The further you get through the story, journeying through more of Krat in solving its mysteries, you'll only feel more driven to end the madness, fulfil Pinocchio's personal arc, and see how it all ties together.
Lies of P is a brilliantly enchanting Soulslike for both those new and experienced with the genre - bringing together the gameplay of counterparts and its source material for a unique experience altogether. Albeit with some obtrusive difficulty spikes along the way, an extraordinary combination of its world, combat, and narrative will still make you want to see more when you've overcome its obstacles.
For a game based on a story that's been told what feels like an endless number of times, Lies of P feels one of a kind.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5. Review code provided by the publisher.
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