Lies Of P - Master Of Puppets (Review)
Lies of P
Released: September 16th, 2023
Developer: Neowiz Games, Round 8 Studio
Publisher: Neowiz Games, Fireshine Games
Systems: PC, PS5 (reviewed), Xbox Series S/X Review copy provided by publisher
If there’s one glowing thing I can say about Lies of P, it’s that it commits… and it commits hard.
Standing out from the teeming hive of Soulslikes is difficult, with a seemingly endless line of games emulating From Software’s landmark series. Lies of P took a bold approach by baffling its prospective audience with a truly ludicrous concept - what if Pinocchio was Bloodborne?
It’s an unquestionably stupid idea, but here’s the thing about stupid ideas - if you take your own silly nonsense seriously enough, you might convince the world it’s brilliant.
Lies of P doesn’t achieve brilliance, but at times it gets damn near. It takes its ludicrous conceit so seriously one actually forgets the absurdity, at least when the tenuous fairytale references aren’t making a player cringe. At once gloomy and beautiful, there’s a lot to love about a game that took one comical idea and turned it into something of surprisingly high quality presented with utmost confidence.
On the flipside, it has a tendency to indulge in frustrating difficulty spikes, self-contradictory mechanics, and a mimicry of Bloodborne so convincing it goes a touch too far.
Get used to hearing the word “puppet” a lot while playing, and I do mean a lot. Yes, the whole game’s about puppets, but it’s such a nonthreatening word that characters repeat with a tone so grim I couldn’t help but shake my head.
See, the city of Krat has been brought to the brink of destruction by the Puppet Frenzy, an amusingly named event in which the autonomous servants that brought Krat prosperity simultaneously flipped out and started battering people to death.
There’s one robot - sorry, puppet - who hasn’t lost the plot, however. He’s called P, presumably because outright calling him Pinocchio was somehow considered ridiculous for this game, and he’s been tasked with ending the Puppet Frenzy with the aid of his curious ability to lie - something puppets are explicitly designed to be incapable of doing.
Lies of P meets a high standard, with a consistently high level of polish that I wasn’t expecting from a game that originally seemed fit to occupy the niche of “Eurojank” games. This is no such enterprise - it’s a tightly directed experience that looks great, plays as solid as iron, and has the distinction of being perhaps the smoothest running experience I’ve played all year.
The Bloodborne comparisons are immediate, from the moody gothic aesthetic to the quick-paced combat that de-emphasizes defensive play in favor of counters and pressing one’s attack. Even evasion is less important than usual for a Soulslike. Lies of P centers much of its combat around perfectly timing P’s guard stance to cancel out damage and strike back when able.
I’ve never been fond of parrying, which is why I didn’t enjoy Sekiro despite desperately wanting to. I like to block. I like to dodge. I can never nail timed blocks, often guarding too early and getting my head caved in for my trouble. Lies of P is the first game I’ve ever played where I actually felt like I got it. I’m not sure if the window is more generous, but I do know I got along with perfectly guarding far more than any other action experience.
It’s a good thing too, because this game goes out of its way to make the mechanic crucial. Dodging, while nowhere near as ineffective as it was in the demo, isn’t massively reliable, and blocking normally still results in taking damage, though much of this damage can be recovered by attacking back a’la Bloodborne’s Rally system.
More vitally, many enemies and especially bosses launch devastating strikes - telegraphed by a windup animation in which they glow red - that not only negates regular blocks but can’t even be dodged. The only way to defend against them is to nail a perfect block… or just run the hell away from them provided it’s possible.
Perfectly stopping an attack is incredibly pleasing thanks to a gorgeous audiovisual notification when successful, the colliding blow pinging off ineffectually with a loud clang and shower of sparks. It never fails to feel good.
The trouble is that Lies of P, like its protagonist, is a rather deceitful little shit, putting a huge emphasis on perfect reactions while filled with enemies whose attacks routinely fake the player out with false flags and disorienting movements.
While I understand not clearly telegraphing every single attack, even common enemies can have a moveset that boasts both lightning quick strikes and misleading delayed ones, the subsequent confusion seeming to purposefully contradict a core gameplay mechanic. Larger enemies and bosses combine this with relentless assaults in which windows of opportunity seem miniscule at best, and advantageous positioning is impossible due to their uncanny ability to face the player at all times.
Fighting is nonetheless manageable most of the time, but the combination of overt aggression and confounding animations result in a number of difficulty spikes that have at times felt hopeless. One thing From’s games always had going for them was that every battle, no matter how difficult, always felt eminently doable, and from that feeling came the encouragement to keep going. Not to harp on meaningless gamer cred, but to meet the tiresome retorts off at the pass - I consider myself decent at Soulslikes, maybe not brilliant, but I’ve gotten through them all at a solid clip.
Lies of P is the first time I felt like I had to truly grind to effectively power through some of these bosses.
It’s also the first time throwable weapons have been important to the point of frequent use. Even while deep into the game, I’ve been relying on bombs, sawblades, and sharpened bits of pipe to deal with bosses who moved with overwhelming speed and frankly bizarre movement patterns, often turning the lock-on targeting into a liability as the camera struggles to keep a bead on the action. Unlike most games of this nature, I came to resent the telltale signs of an upcoming boss fight, preparing for the deluge of feints and flurries that typify them - but coming with a pocketful of sawblades and electrified explosives definitely helped.
To (allegedly) balance things out, every boss after the first is preceded by an altar in which an easily obtainable item can be traded in exchange for an ally. In lieu of any co-op features, this spectral friend is controlled by the computer, and it may be tempting to think this offers a helpful crutch, especially if you try it on the first boss a Specter’s available and wipe the floor with its metallic ass.
This is a tease.
The Specter is borderline useless for the bosses that follow, its A.I. seeming to conspire with the enemies thanks to pathetically weak attacks, and it never even tries to defend so it doesn’t last long enough to make for a helpful distraction. Late into the game, and after a particular boss for which it would’ve been particularly useful, you can obtain items that imbue the Specter with temporary abilities or longevity, but it’s still not terrific, especially since said items take so long to use the suicidal dickhead might have died before the effect even fires off.
Not every boss is like a brick wall. While the Archbishop can go to Hell, the battle against the Black Rabbit Brotherhood is delightful, and things feel more doable until the next inevitable matchup against a twat who launches absurdly lengthy combos with bad faith timing.
Stuff between these spikes is terrific, at least for the most part.
The atmosphere of Krat’s demolished streets and creepy outskirts really nails that line between exhaustingly depressing and bleakly beautiful. Things get quite interesting when you find that puppets aren’t the only threat, with some mushroom-fueled monstrosities whose appearance alongside the frequent mention of Ergo (P’s catch-all currency) and visual themes of blue butterflies bring to mind drug use in real life, with possible references to - of all things - horrific experiments like MK Ultra.
That said, I might be reading a little too much into things, or at least my husband is, who noticed exactly how much stuff in this game is thematically tied to LSD.
Combat is slick, speedy, and responsive. The same audiovisual satisfaction gained from perfectly blocking can be achieved with every landed blow, as strikes connect with an entertainingly brutal clunk. Weapon variety is similar to Bloodborne, in that there’s not a massive amount to choose from at first, and what you do find struggles to compete with the starting gear. This is especially true of weaponry that use Dexterity (called Technique here) to scale damage. A decent Dex alternative to the initial rapier option doesn’t appear for hours, and even then its moveset is largely indistinguishable.
Strength (Motivity) and Magic (Advance) options fare better, and there are items that can be used to change the scaling of every available weapon, which at least helps any build get their hands on a tool of their choice. Then again, you probably didn’t roll Dex to use slow, lumbering slabs of steel.
Many weapons are made up of two pieces, the handle and the head, which can be mixed and matched to create new hybrids. The head governs damage type and attack strength, while the handle decides scaling and moveset. This is a very cool idea, but it becomes rather apparent with minimal experimentation that weapons work best in their original forms. Plonking an axehead onto the rapier handle might be quirky, but you’ve made a thrusting weapon built around creating distance with a range that barely extends beyond your fist.
Some of the coolest weapons can’t be split up anyway, so the moment I got my hands on a neat trident, weapon crafting was thrown in the bin.
Our dishonest puppet lad also has a metal arm, which provides the aesthetic reminder that he’s meant to be a puppet lad despite otherwise not resembling one. Mechanically, it can be outfitted with one of several gadgets to give him an edge in combat and, with the right investment, it can genuinely level the playing field. Such tricks that P’s Legion arm can utilize include a wire that pulls enemies closer, a nozzle that sprays corrosive muck on the floor, and the game’s one true shield that absorbs a hit and explodes on contact.
Personally, I went with a fancy flamethrower that, with some upgrades and levels in Advance, has proven indispensable.
My hated weapon durability makes an appearance. P has a grindstone that can be infinitely used to reharpen his weapon, though if durability runs out entirely, it breaks (death or a repair consumable will fix it). Fortunately, durability is generous enough that I can count the times it was an issue on one hand, and it never broke. This doesn’t stop durability remaining a rubbish concept in general. The only nice thing I’ll say is that the grinding animation is really swanky.
When it comes to Soulsborne games, Lies of P has done its homework. Its leveling system, its menu layout, its approach to loot, secrets, combat systems, everything has been done with a level of faithfulness that you could almost mistake for the genuine article. At least until one gets a bit tired of the overreliance on Dark Souls’ tricks - this is most evident with the enemies’ constant tendency to ambush players from corners, which happens so frequently it comes off as hackneyed before long.
Where Lies of P shines most is in its audiovisual elements. Its aesthetic blends the moody gothic and the opulent baroque, which shines through in its bestiary of killer puppets as well as the lavish environments. The further into things you get, the more imaginative these extravagant mechanical killers become, and while their movements can make fighting them a pain, the jerky animations definitely enhance their creep factor. This delectable art style is packaged in a graphical quality that looks great and refuses to dip below 60 frames.
Special note must be made of the soundtrack, too. Much of the music is embedded into the world itself - a dissonantly serene organ echoes through its halls while the entertainment district’s jaunty themes are presented as playing from some speaker or other in the background. The best tracks are hidden on collectible LP records that can be played at the Krat Hotel safehouse - there are some thoroughly gorgeous songs that you have to go out of your way to find and play, but they’re so very worth it. I just wish you could have them automatically play rather than need to keep putting them on yourself.
Oh, and you can dress P up in fancy coats and animal masks. This is only a good thing.
I love Lies of P until I don’t, but those less adoring moments are always followed by something that ropes me right back in. A slickly directed, beautifully presented game that takes the absurd concept of marrying Bloodborne to Pinocchio and commits so earnestly that it transcends the silly and just plain works. Difficulty spikes and dodgy pacing undermine it at key points, and some systems aren’t as useful as they should be, but none of that takes away from the high quality and the amount of imagination poured into what could’ve been just another Soulslike.
Even at its most exasperating, I wouldn’t let it lie.