Loading into the Lies of P demo for the first time, it was a relief to have a vague understanding of the world I was entering. In broad strokes, it's a Soulslike reimagining of a popular children's story. But shrouded in darkness as you traverse the rain-soaked streets of this gothic Belle Époque nightmare, splattered in the blood of slain enemies that move with a decidedly unnerving, doll-like gait, this is definitely not a game for kids.
Lies of P is a familiar yet unique experience, and developer Neowiz Games reaps those benefits. Its combat is dynamic and intuitive even if, like me, you're not too skilled at the punishing likes of Elden Ring or Bloodborne, while presenting a worthy enough challenge for the hardiest among us. The result is a beautifully atmospheric Soulslike that stands out from the masses – especially as a fan of all things horror.
Master of puppets
The first thing you need to know about P is that he's not made of wood. A humanoid robot with a baby face and billowing white shirt, you might mistake him for Timothy Chalamet rather than a sword-wielding action hero if not for his rather telling Arm of Steel.
The Lies of P demo opens with his awakening to the disembodied voice of an entity named Sophia. You're soon introduced to a caged cricket puppet called Gemini to carry around on your belt, and yes, it's clearly a play on wise-cracking Jiminy Cricket as seen in the 1940 movie. This wearable creature acts as your guide and source of lamplight, a welcome companion as you roam the dark and gloomy streets of 19th century France. Your first task is to make it to Hotel Krat and rendezvous with Sophia, but this isn't Disney Dreamlight Valley; it's time to choose your weapon.
Here is where we get our first taster of the combat we could hope to expect from the full game. There are three weapons to select in the Lies of P demo, each corresponding to a different preferred combat style. Path of the Cricket is the balanced choice, giving you equal measures power and speed, while Path of the Bastard will suit those who favor a faster attack pattern for slightly less base damage per stab.
Finally, Path of the Sweeper is the go-to for anyone who likes to make each motion count, opting for immense strength over speed. I tried Path of the Cricket at first and quickly realized that my chaotic hack n' slash playstyle didn't transfer too well, dying repeatedly over and over to one of the first tough enemies I came across at the end of the first chapter. Once I swapped to Path of the Bastard, I was suddenly having a lot more fun carving up hordes of creepy puppets. Testing out each of the pathways is a must if you're unsure, but all I can say is prepare to die a lot. Like, a lot.
As is true for any Soulslike, the combat mechanics took awhile to feel familiar. The number of times I hit the X button on my controller to attack and instead downed a health-replenishing Pulse cell, despite having a full HP bar, is frustratingly high, and you'll want to make sure to equip any newly-found projectiles to your belt slots as you go.
Starting out with three Pulse cells, blocking and parrying enemy attacks is vital to make sure you don't glug each one too soon. They will be replenished once completing an area and reaching a Stargazer, which serve as Lies of P's answer to Elden Ring's Sites of Grace. Here is where you can use the Ergo you've collected from slain enemies to upgrade your stats, whether it be Vitality, Vigor, Technique, or any of the other three. I'm prone to bulking my attack strength first in any Soulslike, and since Path of the Bastard gives you more speed over power to begin with, I stuck to my guns.
I won't lie: as a huge horror fan who was drawn to this game for its creepy aesthetics more than the all-out masochistic combat, I struggled a lot at first. However, one way that developer Neowiz takes some of the sting out of those more gruelling Soulslike mechanics is that your Pulse cells, once depleted, will recharge each time you attack an enemy.
Attacks will also build up Fable energy, allowing you to use supercharged attacks to land powerful blows even while blocking. But carving your way through enemies and upping your stats isn't all there is to Lies of P, especially when the town you're painting red is so unbelievably stunning.
A whole new world
Dedicated to Pinocchio author Carlo Collodi, Lies of P's setting in Belle Époque France has an irrefutable gothic poetry. The weight of the night sky bears down on the cobbled streets, barren of life save for the lumbering shadows cast by enemies as they move silently beneath the lamplight.
When they collapse, dead, into piles of unnaturally-angled elbows and knees, I take a moment to wonder how they can actually bleed before turning my attention back to the eerily quiet and empty Krat Central Station. It feels both long-abandoned and recently-vacated, with a voice over the loudspeaker cheerily greeting me upon entering the deserted main hall. I pick up a scrap of paper from behind a desk, written in a hurried hand: "if you find this, please leave immediately."
There is clearly a story underpinning Lies of P, one that feels far more detail-oriented and narrative-driven than in any of the best FromSoftware games. This shouldn't have been as big of a surprise as it felt, what with the game being based on a piece of literature, but Neowiz deserves praise for its light hand in combining the story, the horror, and the challenging gameplay we expect from a Soulslike in a way that feels integrous to each element rather than ham-fisted.
In the demo, at least, we are led through a specific pathway instead of dropped out in a field with a number of enemies to stumble upon by accident. There's still plenty of exploring, from the labyrinthine station to the Plaza once you clear it, but it makes the task of memorizing locations and attack patterns of various enemies just that much more straightforward to grasp. It has the added benefit of allowing the narrative elements to bleed through at appropriate moments, never giving you information overload or distracting you from battle.
With these small yet significant changes to what we might expect from a Soulslike, Lies of P is shaping up to be a delightfully unexpected entrant amid the litany of new games of 2023. It has all the makings of a tough and perilous action-adventure, complete with respawned enemies and having to return to the place of your death to retrieve lost Ergo, but Lies of P also invests you in a sinister storyline as it unfolds. At gameplay level, it's still all about laying waste to bad guys and crafting unique stat builds. Still, Neowiz here proves that a Soulslike can be more than a pretty face – even if that face belongs to a not-so-real boy.
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