You know we’ve entered a new era in the increasingly crowded soulslike arms race when we’re now turning classic children’s stories into dark, twisted Bloodborne pseudo-sequels, but hey: here we are. Yes, Lies of P is yet another game inspired by the dark and unforgiving FromSoftware masterpieces that have captured the hearts of so many (myself included), but it’s also an undeniably impressive standout amid a sea of games chasing the soulslike trend. It suffers from some uneven difficulty and overly linear level design, but its impressive story, extremely well-tuned combat, and memorable areas and boss fights mean that this isn’t one you should miss out on. It’s fair to say that sometimes Lies of P emulates its inspiration so closely it feels like someone else is pulling its strings a little too forcefully, but that puppet show is still a whole lot of fun to watch.
It’s both praise and criticism to say that Lies of P follows the blueprint pioneered by FromSoftware down to the finest detail, with precious few deviations. The UI and menus are strikingly similar to every soulslike you’ve ever played, the aesthetic is almost identical to Bloodborne, and combat is a methodical dance of attacks and parries designed with difficulty in mind. It sticks so close to the script that it got to the point where I’d meet a seemingly friendly character and think “Ah, this is the one who’s going to betray me later,” with full confidence that I was spot on in that assessment. There’s even a major boss with the same name and rough appearance as a Dark Souls boss, which is honestly just kinda hilarious.
In fact, this isn’t even the first Eurocentric soulslike featuring murderous marionettes! Almost exactly one year ago I reviewed Steelrising, which has a bizarre number of things in common with Lies of P, from its mechanical enemies gone mad to its trendy and historical urban setting. Thankfully, Lies of P is a much better game and manages to stand out in other ways, but it doesn’t exactly earn a whole lot of points for originality.
One of the ways it does set itself apart though is with its story, which is a dark reimagining of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio – a story about a mischievous puppet known for telling falsehoods and longing to become a real boy. Lies of P’s version takes a lot of liberty in its much more gory and depressing version of the classic tale, but it’s got some nice nods to its inspiration, including an untrustworthy cat and fox and a neat mechanic where you have to choose to tell lies or the truth (which have an impact on the outcome of your adventure).
This style of game isn’t known for having the most comprehensible stories and Lies of P isn’t wholly an exception to that rule, but it does try more than most. There’s a whole bunch of dialogue and cutscenes that kept my interest throughout my first 30-hour run instead of just a loose collection of vagaries and hints in item descriptions. In fact, of all the distressing and enigmatic stories I’ve seen in this genre, this is definitely among one of my favorites – not quite as relatable and polished as something like Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, but certainly more approachable than your Bloodbornes or your Dark Souls. It’s got some interesting twists and turns, and a few memorable characters too, like the self-obsessed socialite Venigni, who constantly made me want to speak in an over-the-top Italian accent.
As you’d expect, you’ll split your time hacking your way through levels where practically everything in sight wants to kill you and taking on much more formidable bosses, and Lies of P largely nails both of those genre pillars. The city of Krat is memorable and dystopian, while also continuously reminding you that you’re playing out an iconic fairytale about puppets. It comes complete with your cricket sidekick Gemini and your puppet-making father Gepetto, who always reminds you to be a good boy right before he sends you on missions to butcher everyone in your path. You’ll visit a puppet graveyard that serves as a kind of poison swamp level that every soulslike legally is required to include, and an exhibition hall filled with hopeful depictions of a future that clearly didn’t work out quite as planned, among others. Each is thoroughly enjoyable to stab your way through.
It’s a little disappointing though, that Lies of P is far more linear than most similar games, with a very straightforward path from beginning to end and no significant optional areas or boss fights aside from the odd side quest that sends you back to someplace you’ve already visited to solve a small puzzle in exchange for a new outfit or upgrade material. Once you’ve played through the story, you’ll more or less have seen and done everything there is to see and do – except to do it again on New Game+, of course.
Another item on the checklist is some memorable (and usually disgusting) boss fights, and Lies of P’s got those in spades. From an evil puppet law enforcement official to a hulked-out guy who’s basically just Bane from Batman, there’s lots of big things that need to be slapped in the face. Doing so is always enjoyable, even though they’re all pretty straightforward encounters where you whittle down the enemy’s health bar. It would have been nice to have one or two encounters where they mix things up with a puzzle or trick you’ve gotta figure out to best your opponent – those are always my favorite.
Also, almost all of the bosses have two phases, which I’m normally a fan of, but they’re used to the point where it became a little grating by the end. Usually the first phase is quite easy, but when the second phase is repeatedly killing me and I have to keep replaying that first phase until I’m completely bored by it, I kinda just wish I could skip it and get to the part that’s actually fun and challenging. Many fights felt like they put the first phase there just as a warmup round before getting to the actual meat of the encounter, but rest assured: by the 10th attempt I was thoroughly warmed up and plenty ready to take another shot at the real boss.
For better or worse, much of Lies of P’s combat draws clear inspiration from Bloodborne specifically, with a couple minor tweaks. You can’t restore health lost from direct attacks by striking back at your enemies like in Bloodborne, but you are given the ability to partially block some of that incoming damage then counter to restore the chip damage you absorbed. The result is a similar meta where aggressive gameplay is encouraged, and that keeps fights moving along at a quick pace – but it also discourages more defensive playstyles, which tend to be my go-to in soulslikes. That feisty combat is extremely fun, balanced, and well-tuned, but you’re definitely boxed into playing in a specific way instead of allowing you the freedom to craft diverse builds, like a ranged magic user in Dark Souls, for example.
Another idea borrowed from Bloodborne is that your melee weapon is assigned to your right hand while your left is reserved for a utility weapon that often include ranged capabilities by turning your robotic left arm into a Winter Soldier-esque tool of destruction, and that ends up being a pretty darn clever take on that mechanic. You might decide to close gaps quickly with the quick and effective Puppet String, which lets you tether a grappling hook onto your enemies, or make use of the formidable Falcon Eyes to turn your arm into a cannon and blow up deranged puppets from afar, or my personal favorite: use the Aegis shield to block incoming attacks and dish out damage in kind with a fiery explosion that triggers when it’s hit. It’s especially cool that each of these tools can be upgraded with additional effects, like the Puppet String’s ability that lets you follow up your grappling hook maneuver with a devastating airborne attack.
But it’s the new stuff, namely the completely awesome weapon-crafting system that lets you disassemble any weapon in your arsenal and mix and match the various hilts and blades to create Frankenstein abominations, that really lets Lies of P distinguish itself within a very crowded genre. Have you ever wanted to attach a giant saw blade to a rapier’s handle so you could jab with it like you’re fencing? Well, it’s probably not advisable at all, but knock yourself out. How about attaching Mjolnir’s hammer to the end of a rusty pipe? Go for it, man! You do you. With dozens of possible combinations, you’re given quite a bit of freedom to make some silly or surprisingly effective stuff, as certain stats and abilities from your chosen hilt and blade combine for a unique combat experience. It’s a bit of a shame, though, that the best weapons available are legendary tools that can’t be disassembled and reforged into new items, and many of these are so much more powerful than anything you can build that you’re sorta disincentivized from actually engaging with the crafting system the longer you play.
With all that freedom to create silly weapon combinations, it’s a bit disappointing that there aren’t any of the multiplayer modes you find in many of Lies of P’s peers. Not having co-op is understandable since it might break any semblance of balance (plus, who wants to see two Pinocchios wailing on a boss anyway?), but PvP in particular seems like it would fit perfectly with the fast-paced contest of reflexes at which Lies of P excels. Maybe we’ll get something like that as DLC, but for now you’ll need to enjoy your neat builds and creative weapon combinations on your lonesome.
Another cool tweak on the formula is Lies of P’s skill tree, which lets you upgrade your puppet’s mechanical innards to snap up some seriously useful upgrades, like adding amulet slots to your loadout, gaining additional Pulse Cells (that are used for healing), and increasing the number of consumable throwing objects you can carry on your person. I spent way too long agonizing over each upgrade decision and considering different ways to optimize my build to improve my chances of becoming a real boy, and that was a pretty nice change of pace in between all those unfortunate murders I had to commit.
Of course, the main thing that defines any good soulslike is how soul-crushingly difficult it is, and Lies of P has mixed success in this regard. On one hand, nearly all of the world exploration where I was fighting your run-of-the-mill evil puppets and gross monsters was disappointingly easy, to the point where death was a rare occurrence throughout my playthroughs. The same can be said of most boss fights, which Souls veterans can expect to beat without breaking too much of a sweat since they’re usually big, slow, and stupid creatures who are easily confused when you move behind or underneath them and telegraph all their attacks like they’re in the WWE.
But then I’d encounter the occasional showdown where the difficulty spiked up dramatically without warning and I’d die 20 or 30 agonizing deaths on a single boss, leaving me to wonder if I just wasn’t properly leveled or something (which was never the case – I just needed to git gud). Those specific bosses stand in such stark contrast to the much milder exploration sections that it can be quite jarring, and I often felt like the levels preceding a tough boss didn’t properly prepare me for that gauntlet; more likely, my skills probably worsened during the stretch of mostly undemanding travels between the dramatically more difficult boss fights.
That inconsistent difficulty is even more noticeable depending on your chosen character build. That’s because, so far as I can tell, playing with a Motivity (Lies of P’s equivalent to a strength stat) build is multitudes less difficult than speccing into Technique (its version of dexterity). As a Technique player, your weapons don’t do much to stagger enemies and your ability to block incoming damage is painfully limited, since you only fully negate a small percentage of the attack unless you’re able to pull off a perfect parry. In order to best the most formidable bosses, you’ll have to learn the enemy’s attack patterns and get down the precise timing required to perfectly parry most attacks before finally breaking the enemy’s guard and laying into them with your fast-moving weapons – a process that’s quite enjoyable, but also extremely unforgiving. Meanwhile, as a Motivity player, you can simply smack down bosses with your heavy weapons that do enormous stagger damage, leaving them wide open to deadly executions. That’s pretty hilarious to watch, but also feels pretty busted, especially compared to a significantly more demanding Technique-focused playthrough.
Lies of P also just has some nice little quality-of-life improvements I’d like to see carry over into other soulslikes, like how you don’t lose all your Ergo (its version of souls) by dying, but rather have a certain amount deducted every time you take damage on your way to recover your lost currency; or how you’re notified whenever you’re carrying enough Ergo to level up your character instead of resting at a checkpoint, only to discover you need to kill one more enemy and come back. Little touches like that go a long way.
Unfortunately, Lies of P doesn’t manage to rid itself of the clunky roots of the genre completely, and I did encounter some fairly obnoxious bugs during my time with it. Among other things there were a few times where I phased through the environment in a weird way, and enemies have a weird habit of just despawning right in front of me like they were fading away during the season finale of a long-running high school TV drama. Thankfully, none of these issues were particularly widespread, so they’re unlikely to drag down an otherwise perfectly enjoyable adventure, especially since performance is otherwise rocksolid. I maintained a perfectly stable framerate at every point in my adventure, which isn’t a given in this genre.
Also, many soulslikes are known for having memorable music, but Lies of P truly stands out in this regard. Not only are the tracks during boss fights great, but there are collectible vinyl records that you can play at a jukebox back at your base – and some of those songs are seriously just fantastic. So much, in fact, that it’s become a bit of an obsession to collect them all – and I’ve still got a lot of searching to do. Seriously, that jukebox made me find excuses to hang out at the social hub, crafting weapons and working on my build. It’s that good!
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Author: Tom Marks