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Review: Axiom Verge

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(Reposted from John Daniel's Video Game Reviews)

Axiom Verge is a Metroidvania for the PlayStation 4, Windows, Mac, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, and Xbox One.

Trace, some type of scientist, is buried under equipment after an explosive accident in his lab. When he wakes up Trace finds himself in a strange alien world filled with monsters and what appears to be broken down technology, and the only ones he can talk to are these giant computers with lady faces. They ask him to fix up their computers bodies, and eventually repair their broken world.

The gameplay is standard for a Metroidvania. Trace runs around the world of Sudra, collecting weapons and tools that help him get deeper into Sudra and fight off all the monsters. Trace regularly runs into bosses which usually guard a piece of equipment, usually something that helps Trace destroy walls.

Axiom Verge is big on exploration. Sudra is divided up into many areas, which, while somewhat linear, feel big and complicated, full of up and downs, climbing, and going off into side areas to find more upgrades for your health and weapons.

Combat is simple run-and-gun with lots of enemies that follow limited strategies. The variety of enemies and their attacks and how hard they hit make up for their stupidity. Some enemies are a little too fast, but it is easy enough to power through them if they are too much to handle and come back later with stronger weapons. Bosses are more complicated and provide a more varied challenge, usually there is a trick to beat them or a weak point to exploit. There was only one boss that was a slog to chip away the health of.

Shame almost all the weapons are worthless. You find different guns throughout the game that shoot different kinds of bullets, like a bullet that crawls along the ground, or a giant yoyo. I found over ten guns over the course of the game and most of them were not as helpful as the basic gun you start with, they were either weaker, or slower, or their range was terrible. One could argue that they allow for a variety of ways to play the game, but I do not see that advantage of a slower gun that shoots a bullet horizontally and vertically, or an extremely short range shotgun. I only used three of the gun overall.

Axiom Verge does not do anything special as a Metroidvania, not really. The only unique new gameplay element is a gun that causes enemy to glitch and act differently if shot and gets rid of some type of barriers. Sometimes it was useful to make a few later enemies slower or get rid of their shielding, but most of the time it took too long to work and I ignored it.

Aesthetically Axiom Verge is not that original either. There’s a difference between being a Metroidvania and ripping off Metroid. Sudra is a mishmash of caves and vaguely-identifiable machinery that gels into a bunch of generic level designs. The only thing visually that is striking in this game are the giant machines with beautiful lady faces, which is probably why they are all the promotional material.

The story is nothing to write home about. It is a story about alternate universes with complicated sounding science-fiction technology and the horrors of war that is gradually revealed by vague notes Trace finds and obtuse conversations Trace has with the machines. It is possible to make a story too piecemeal, and this story is too piecemeal. It is unsatisfying to never get the backstory adequately explained, I was interested in parts but was not happy to receive only parts of an answer for no reason except to create a fake air of mystery.

But that does not mean the game is not fun. Like any good Metroidvania Axiom Verge offers a nice balance of combination of combat and exploration. The levels are big enough without being a chore to walk around, combat is challenging enough, and collecting health upgrades and weapons is addictive that they provide a balance that draws you in and wants to see what comes next.

I played the Wii U version of Axiom Verge, and I do not know if this happens in all versions, but I experienced massive slow down when several enemies were on screen at the same time, and lots of sprite flickering.

Axiom Verge is average. There are better Metroidvanias you could play, but there are worse ones too. Play it if you need your Metroidvania itch scratched, but do not expect to be wowed.

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About mullonone of us since 9:49 AM on 01.21.2011