Sunday, May 19, 2019

Axiom Verge

Axiom Verge Title.png

In today’s gaming world, top-notch graphics are perpetually the trend, although there occasionally releases a game attempting to recapture the spirit of classical titles, the case with Capcom’s ninth and tenth main entries of its Rockman/Mega Man franchise. In 2015 came the release of the throwback title Axiom Verge for the PlayStation 4, its chief inspiration the 2-D sidescrolling Metroid games developed by Nintendo. The game would see a port to computers and other platforms such as the Nintendo Switch, and I managed to snag a digital PC copy for free when it was advertised as such. It’s definitely a great homage to classic videogames, but is this a good thing?

Players control a scientist named Trace who awakens in an ancient yet technologically-advanced world after a traumatic injury, and navigate him through a large interconnected world akin to the titles from which it derives, namely the RPG Castlevanias and classic Metroids. Trace can collect different ammunition to fire at enemies, which may or may not yield red recovery shards upon defeat, or later on when the player acquires the capability, data bombs helpful in clearing “glitchy” unpassable areas of the world. Players can further collect items that permanently increase Trace’s maximum health, weapon power, and ammo range.

Trace can also collect powerups that aid exploration, such as a hook to grapple ceilings and trench coat upgrades letting him teleport forward a few spaces, useful for passing through narrow walls or laser barriers unpassable by standard means. He ultimately acquires the capability to summon a small drone that can explore on its own, able to navigate passageways Trace cannot, the protagonist later capable to teleport to its location. The general game mechanics work for the most part, but players, even on the Normal difficulty, can expect to die often, although I actually beat the final boss battle my first try.

Death wouldn’t be too big an issue if players didn’t have to endure an annoying unskippable ten-second-long sequence where Trace revives at the last save room, visits to them restoring his health as well. Thankfully, death doesn’t mean Game Over, as players still retain their progress, and outside save points, the player can record their advancement and quit anytime. Perhaps the biggest issue with the game is the ease at points of getting lost in the massive dungeon, compounded by the lack of teleportation capability throughout the world. Interaction overall could have been better, but is by no means a total writeoff.

Games of its kind tend to have minimalist storytelling, and Axiom Verge is no exception, although it does have decent backstory and mythos. The shoddy direction at points on how to advance is perhaps the biggest issue with the narrative, although it definitely has its merits.

The audio, however, has a lot more, given the superb retro-style music and sound effects that create an awesome atmosphere, although there is slight overreliance on ambience at times.

Further aiding the game’s retro feel are the graphics, whose quality hovers somewhere between those of 8 and 16-bit titles of yore, with colorful, well-designed environments that well reflect the techno feel of the setting, and fluid animation of the sprites. There are occasional palette-swapped elements, but this is only a minor blemish in an otherwise superb-looking title.

Finally, the game is fairly short, less than half a day long (I beat it in around ten hours) straight through, although there’s plenty to boost playtime such as uncovering every corner of the world map, finding every item, and so forth, the difficulty selection enhancing lasting appeal, as well. The ending can also vary depending upon how much of the world the player has uncovered.

Overall, Axiom Verge is for the most part a superb homage to videogames of old, given its relatively enjoyable gameplay enhanced by retro aurals and visuals, not to mention the abundance of extra content. However, that doesn’t necessarily equate to it being a masterpiece, since it does bear issues regarding things such as the potentially high player death count, the ease at points of getting stuck in the massive world, the minimalistic plotline, and the reliance on ambience regarding certain areas of the sound presentation. Regardless, developer Thomas Happ did a good job with this game, and I hope it’s not for him a one-hit wonder.

The Good:
+Combat and exploration can be fun.
+Aurals have great retro feel.
+Excellent throwback visuals.
+Plenty side content.

The Bad:
-Expect to die often.
-Easy to get stuck/lost.
-Not enough plot.
-Sound a little too ambient at points.

The Bottom Line:
A good Metroid-type game.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PC
Game Mechanics: 7/10
Controls: 5/10
Story: 6/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable, can be slightly hard on Normal mode.
Playing Time: < 12 Hours

Overall: 7.5/10

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