Pinocchio can be a neutered Disney fable, a stunning animated adventure with a fascist Italian backdrop, or, surprisingly, a Bloodborne-like action game that makes the titular puppet more akin to someone who bears the Hunter’s Mark. The beauty of public domain works is that they are afforded a level of flexibility that franchises owned by a singular entity do not have. Lies of P lies comfortably in that third category, and while derivative in some aspects, its beautiful environments and challenging boss fights make it more than a mere puppet of FromSoftware’s finest.
The comparisons are undeniable, though. The Gothic European environments, HUD colors, bewildering lack of a pause option, stamina management, status effect icons, inventory menus, home base with an upgrade station that’s inconveniently out of the way, and high difficulty are not even just friendly homages to Bloodborne; they’re unmistakably ripped almost straight from it. Even the admonishing message that pops up after improperly closing the game is eerily similar. In a genre full of developers desperately cloying to snatch one iota of From’s relevance and success, Lies of P is arguably one of the boldest one of them all.
But it’s also one of the most well-built games in that long list, which earns it more than enough leeway. Lies of P’s combat is a pivotal component of its overall ability to shake pejorative comparisons. Swordplay rides the line between methodical and fast action, as players need to time their swings and can’t cancel out of most attacks, but they can still move quickly. It’s a tricky balance that Lies of P nails since bouts require an equal mix of strategy and reflexes, a thoroughly engaging blend that doesn’t lose its luster.
Lies of P also hands players a ton of tools that make combat even more entertaining. It’s already got a healthy array of unique weapons, but most of them can also be broken down and reconfigured. Being able to slap an agile dagger on a big handle or put a giant Buster Sword-like blade on a rapier’s grip yields a liberating amount of flexibility that somewhat gets around the game’s stingy weight requirement. Carrying two weapons is a great way to fat roll around and die prematurely, so being able to quickly switch parts around and have the swinging arc of one weapon and the stats of another helps get around that limitation.
Legion Arms add one more variable and give players a way to throw mines, blast cannonballs, spray fire or electricity, grapple enemies in, or have a supercharged parry. The grinder on the protagonist’s elbow can, in addition to restoring weapon durability on the fly, also imbue armaments with elemental effects. Having more versatility like this is empowering, especially when properly applying these tools can literally turn the tide.
Enemy variety is also impressive not only in their visual designs but also in how Lies of P expertly changes up the pacing with its numerous classes. One level may be full of mechanical puppets, and the next will be overrun with goopy teal zombies. It’s a visual and gameplay changeup that’s also contextualized — and cleverly iterated on — within the narrative.
Despite this complexity, fights against grunts can be a little simplistic. Mashing with a fast weapon stunlocks almost every low-level grunt and nullifies the need to play intelligently in some cases. They don’t parry or push back, only repeatedly crumble with every quick slash. Tough mini-bosses, slower weapons, and mobs of disposable thugs all ensure that it doesn’t completely lose its edge, but it’s an easily exploitable oversight that robs Lies of P of some of its well-earned tension.
Boss fights more than make up for this misstep and are brutally difficult duels that push the game’s systems to their absolute limits. Every fight demands a level of expertise that can only be gained after a few dozen deaths. Parry timing is tight; copious amounts of chip damage means blocking doesn’t cut it. Eating one combo is often devastating. Losing focus for two seconds can end an otherwise perfect run. A hard boss may die only to immediately rear back with a second form that has a fresh health bar and an enhanced thirst for revenge.
It can be demoralizing to get turned from a real boy to a real dead boy over and over. But, except for the times when the camera unfairly tips the balance, it’s all fair and made within the boundaries of the game’s mechanics. Getting better is the only way to progress and the tightness of the controls ensures that that is possible. Climbing that mountain is a thrill that makes the genre what it is. Inventive visual designs and excellent animations for these bosses wouldn’t mean much if they weren’t satisfying to kill.
Stages match the elegance of the bosses in both form and function. Each area plays a role in the world that fills out its backstory so it doesn’t feel like a string of unrelated zones. The Vegnini factory is a twisted industrial area that shows where the puppets were made, while the dump demonstrates the overwhelming scope of waste they produce. The Grand Exhibition provides a look at the advanced puppets that didn’t seem to make it to mass production; an abandoned display with some of the deadliest enemies.
All of these areas are intricately detailed and often twist and turn around only a few save points, too, showing how efficiently Neowiz and Round 8 Studios designed its levels. Opening up shortcuts is inherent to the genre, but Lies of P makes that process more natural by having them make sense within the world.
It’s easier to understand the context of these areas because Lies of P doesn’t overly rely on the oblique storytelling of the genre. The wise cricket Gemini often just directly states what’s happening and the history of each important place without falling back on obtuse riddles and item descriptions. It’s a straightforward tale that’s easy to grasp, even if it is an inconsequential part of makes Lies of P a great soulslike. The inconsistency of the accents is a bit jarring, though, as some sound like modern Americans, others have British accents, and only one person sounds Italian.
Lies of P Review: Final Verdict
Lies of P is wearing Bloodborne’s cloak, but it has its own heart, one encased in metal and powered by ingenuity. It sometimes transfixes on tropes of the genre to its detriment, yet still overcomes by the sheer quality of its boss fights, combat mechanics, and world design. Lies of P’s steel heart may not be born of blood and flesh, but it still pumps heartily enough to be a worthy substitute for the real deal.
Disclaimer: This Lies of P review is based on a PS5 copy provided by the publisher. Played on version 1.001.000.