I had an on and off love affair during my time with Axiom Verge. I’d pick it up, and then I put it down. I’d pick it up again, and put it down again. Then one day I picked it up again and could not put it down again. Axiom Verge is an action packed sci-fi indie title that is often looked at as a cross between Contra and Metroid. However, it is more of an ode to those side scrolling, pixelized games of the past but offers its own unique twist. The thing that impresses me the most about this title is that it is was developed in its entirety by one man – Sir Tom Happ.
At first glance Axiom Verge can easily be seen as just a Metroid clone but its uniqueness quickly shines through after the first 10 minutes of play. You play as Trace, a scientist who finds himself on an alien world called Sudra after a freak lab accident. As you begin to traverse the world around you it is apparent that this alien world is not only deadly but it is dying. You quickly notice what appears to be a bubble like substance everywhere you go, the game calls it a Pathogen but I call it a fungus – As in there is a fungus among us (Get it? Never mind). You soon meet an intelligent alien species called the Rusalki, giant half mechanical, half organic creatures who claim to be on your side but honestly it seems as though they have a sinister agenda up their sleeves. The Rusalki need your help to defeat the entity behind the terrible Pathogen that is killing this world and once you complete this mission they promise to send you home. Sounds simple enough right? Wrong! It never is quite that simple. The Rusalki will give you missions as you travel throughout the world to find out how you got here and what is really going on. The story narrative and a lot of explanation comes by way of reading notes you will find hidden in the world or through interaction with the Rusalki and other NPCs throughout the game. The story pacing is on point and even though it is mysterious and can get confusing the game does a good job of placing notes all around the world that explain the history of the events that have transpired as well as clues to what is really going on here. Find those notes and pay attention to the dialog and you will get it.
The world of Axiom Verge is mysterious and at times can be very overwhelming. Remember this was made by just one man. Each level carries its own identity and it’s easy to be drawn in by the environment. The soundtrack compliments the environment very well and is one of the best elements of the game. The music pulsates electronic tunes that are as aggressive as the world you are fighting to stay alive in. The gameplay is top notch. You begin the game with a blaster type weapon but soon begin to find new and more powerful weapons that greatly expand your arsenal. You start off by encountering small bug like creatures that are fairly easy to kill but soon face giant spider like creatures, centipede like creatures, and an array of horrible alien life forms that offer quite the challenge. There are many different levels and each level has its own boss that once defeated can possibly open the level to your next path or allow you to pick up a nice new weapon or upgrade. But don’t sleep on any boss encounter, each boss can be quite challenging and for most gamers it will take some time to figure out their patterns but once you defeat a boss it shatters into glorious, pixelated guts which is a reward in and of itself! Remember this is made by one man! As cool as pixelized guts are the exploration is where the game both shines the most and at the same time somewhat disappoints. You will need to do a lot of back tracking to find the weapon or upgrade that you need to access the next area. One such weapon that helps open new paths is a glitch gun. Yes, the game actually plays on glitches in games by providing you with a weapon that can actually glitch the game! It is used to open up blocked paths by glitching out the blockage thus eliminating it altogether. You can also use it to glitch out enemies which cause them to transform into something that can possibly help you or into something worse than before. This is a very interesting gameplay mechanic that gives the game further diversity. Finding health nods, weapon upgrades, and new abilities for Trace are going to be essential to your survival in the next area you encounter so it is very important that you explore your heart out.
Exploring will also help you find hidden items such as those helpful notes I spoke of. Take your time and check every nook and cranny, which may seem tedious but once you start finding items it starts to feel really rewarding. I tried speeding through at first but either got stuck because I didn’t have the upgrade that allows you to faze through walls. PAUSE – Yes, there is an upgrade that allows you to faze through walls – find it and love it! Or I got to a new area prematurely and got slaughtered by the more powerful enemies. While I do like the fact that you need to upgrade your character and his abilities to progress there are some stumbling blocks with the overall exploration. You will have to come to terms with the fact that Axiom Verge does not tell you where to go a lot of the times and at times it is unclear as to what your next objective is. As you speak with the various alien races the dialog will give you hints of what your next objective is but even then there is not enough direction. This can be seen as a good thing as there are too many games that hold your hand but Axiom Verge is wrapped in such mystery that you will find yourself lost a lot of times and at a dead end. And trust me being lost in this world or at a dead end is just frustrating. My advice, take your time and find as many upgrades as you can until you figure out where to go next. However, if you don’t want to take your time Axiom Verge offers a speed run gameplay option that cuts out all cut scenes and puts a timer on the screen. This is good for anyone that wants to take on the challenge of getting the fastest completion time, not real gamers like us – just kidding!
All in all I have to say that Axiom Verge is an exceptional game that did what a game should do – kept me entertained! The story is intriguing and offers twists and turns along the way. The gameplay is extremely fun and a great homage to classic sci-fi games such as Metroid. It took me about 15 to 20 hours to complete the game and that is me collecting 73% of the items and covering 80% of the map. I would have finished it sooner but I kept getting lost! And that is my only real gripe with the game is that you can get lost in the world too easy and can find yourself spending way too much time trying to figure out where to go next. The game is designed to be that way but I personally wish it provided a little more direction. Axiom Verge is not a game you should sleep on. Indie game, developed by one man, simply amazing!