Axiom Verge (PlayStation 4) review
"It especially nails a specific feeling; that of being in an alien world you can't understand."
Axiom Verge is a 2d metroidvania style game that was developed entirely by one man, Tom Happ. It has a very strong setting and theming. You play as a scientist named Trace who awakens in an alien world after a lab accident. He slowly learns about where he is and what is going on there as he is led by what appears to be a robotic head named Elsenova, who is trying to get herself back online after some kind of... problems.
To say the world Trace explores is weird is an understatement. Everything about the backgrounds and levels is bizarre and unrecognizable. The constructs, machinery, fauna, and strange things that don't seem to fall into any of those categories give the game an almost horror feel, and the music is designed to play up that feeling. The music ranges from pulsing beats to more chill, ambient flowing tunes, but almost all of it is also a little unsettling, meaning you aren't going to be too comfortable with what you are seeing and hearing.
Some of the enemies are pulled straight out of Metroid in obvious homage while others are unique creations. There are many different creatures and most of them have unique AI patterns. Some charge you full speed on sight, others move about randomly. You'll be fighting them with a truly large arsenal of weapons and equipment. There are huge number of guns in the game (like, 20+), and they all have interesting functions. Some fire continuously, some are semi-automatic. Some fire straight, some fire in spread patterns, and others cause splash damage. There are quite a few pretty unique ones that I won't spoil, but they are really cool.
A lot of the level design is really Metroid-ish as well, with lots of verticality and platform sequences that seem very reminiscent some of the vertical chambers from the original game.
The equipment you get is often the key to traveling to the next area of the map. The way your traversal abilities change is pretty drastic in this game. I don't want to spoil too much of how you start to be able to get around, but I will say it involves very interesting and fun teleportation mechanics. There is also a really cool way of reaching out very far from where you are physically standing to interact with the environment. I'm trying not to give too much away here...
There were a few times when I was stumped and had to wander around for about an hour. During that hour, I would head to parts of the map that weren't fully explored (which are clearly labeled on your in-game map if you look hard enough) and see if I could get anywhere. Often, because I would have a new ability or item, I could get through and explore these spots and find a new weapon or power-up. I would usually stumble upon a few items this way before finally getting through to the next area, so I never really felt like I was wasting my time as I was always at least finding new guns and equipment even if I wasn't heading in the right direction.
There are a ton of secrets in Axiom Verge, ranging from the discoverable to the cryptic to the things you will only here about if you troll the wiki and reddit pages. There are so many secrets that you probably will find a few as you go through, which makes you feel like a genius. Some of them involve a glitch gun you get early in the game, which can alter enemy behavior and the environment, and even the nature of objects. The effects used for glitching things highly resembles the glitched out state many NES games were capable of attaining; sprites drawing incorrectly and bizarre movement patterns and the like. These effects not only give the game a cool retro-Metroid feel, they also have a bit of a bearing on the story and theme of the game.
The game's story is cryptic, told in just a handful of cutscenes and through notes you can find scattered about. You can also get a feel for what is going on just be observing what you see around you, as it seems like everything holds little clues as to what went on before you arrived in this world and what is going on now. You probably won't figure out exactly what is going on, and that is by design, but you will probably leave with a firm theory that makes sense, and that is a cool accomplishment for a game.
Axiom Verge is a pretty long game; it took me about 20 hours to feel that I was done with exploring it postgame. It's mind-boggling to think that this much content was all designed by one guy, especially since the game is very solid in all respects. It especially nails a specific feeling; that of being in an alien world you can't understand. The fact that the gameplay is so solid on top of that is quite remarkable. It's a 4 out of 5.
Community review by Robotic_Attack (February 20, 2016)
Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.
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