Axiom Verge

A Metroidvania that’s further to the Metroid end of the scale than the Castlevania one; I haven’t played many of those, so this was interesting. This game had a really great plot and aesthetic: You play as a physicist who, after a lab accident, wakes up in a creepy machine on an alien planet. A voice in his head tells him he needs to grab a gun to defend himself, and then he’s off to explore a bizarre world that’s equal parts biological and mechanical. Compounding the weirdness is that you are quickly told the world’s present state is the result of a deadly pathogen that mutated all life into monsters; you are suffering from the pathogen as well, and this occasionally manifests in bizarre hallucinations that force you to doubt your senses. The gameplay mechanics are diegetic as well, with the main character explicitly remembering every time he dies and returns to a checkpoint, further blurring the lines of reality.

The story’s got some interesting plot twists, characters, and moral nuance. Most importantly, despite the mindscrewy setup, I found the reveals very logical and easy to follow while still being satisfying. I particularly like how nice the main character is, a rarity in video games — he repeatedly states how horrible he feels about killing the monsters, no matter how terrifying and repugnant they look, and tries to negotiate the moment he hears one speak, even though it’s just to babble nonsense about kill orders. He genuinely feels like an ordinary guy thrown in over his head rather than an unflappable action hero. I wasn’t particularly pleased by the use of the “the women helping you are secretly evil manipulators” cliche, but it’s tempered by the fact that everyone seems to be evil manipulators, so they’re not really singled out.

The game mechanics fit with the mindscrewiness of the plot by being glitch-themed, except not in any way that actually lets you break the game a la Anodyne or Lenna’s Inception. The most “glitchy” ability you get is the ability to clip through walls… provided they are of a certain length and in a particular configuration, so you can’t use it to actually break the game. You also gain the ability to “glitch” certain enemies and tiles, but mechanically this isn’t actually different from similar state-changing abilities in other games. Some might find it a little disappointing, but after how badly the aforementioned titles could break with their glitch powers, I’m honestly pretty grateful they’re so self-contained here. Glitching enemies is still pretty cool, and you often unlock interesting unusual behaviors by doing so, such as turning objects that spawn enemies into objects that spawn health pickups.

The soundtrack was also outstanding, not that that’s surprising for indie games these days. The ambient tracks all felt wonderfully alien and creepy, and I love how the boss music incorporates alarm sirens to make it feel like a real alarm sequence. One thing I particularly appreciated is that, while the game uses a “critical annoyance” beeping noise when you’re low on health, it syncs it to the background music, preventing it from becoming jarring. I’m frankly amazed at how effective yet simple that solution is — how did it take video games this long to figure that out?

My biggest criticism is one the game shares with Metroid: Invisible hidden passages everywhere, no indication they exist, have fun blasting and teleporting into every single tile in the entire world if you want to find them. This is compounded by the lack of a proper fast-travel feature — there is one central “hub” area that functions similarly, but it only connects to the edges of areas that can be quite large, and doesn’t even reach every area in the game. Backtracking to a specific location takes a frankly unnecessary amount of time.

But otherwise, the game is very good, and I highly recommend checking it out yourself, especially if you’re a fan of sci-fi and biological horror. It also has a sequel in development, which is cool.

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