Nowadays, people are more concerned with whether or not a game looks good, or runs at a certain frame rate, than with sitting back and actually asking the question that we should truly care about: is the game fun? While graphics and performance have always been at the forefront of what gamers discussed, it seems that now the primary function of games (i.e. being entertaining) is lost on most of us. Axiom Verge is a title that hearkens back to the days when it didn’t necessarily matter how realistic a game looked, all that mattered was that it was a fun experience.
When I first received word of Axiom Verge, I have to admit that I had almost no clue what it was. Coming out for the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita (and eventually PC), I really didn’t know what to expect other than that it looked a lot like games I played when I was a child. Development seemingly started back in 2012, and last year it was on many publications’ lists of Indie games to watch out for. When I finally got a chance to get my hands on it, I realized why almost immediately.
At the beginning of Axiom Verge, we are introduced to Trace, a scientist who happens to be in a tragic explosion inside his laboratory. When he wakes up, he finds himself in a very strange world with a disembodied voice pleading with him to find out what is happening. As you venture forth, you will encounter a ton of enemies that are intent on making that feat pretty hard. Throughout the game, you will explore the world in which you have been placed and try to make sense of what is happening with not only yourself, but with the strange creatures that are after you.
The game is very easy to compare to classic action-adventure titles like Metroid, Castlevania, or Contra. In fact, it seems to be modeled after a very similar concept: drop the player into an unknown world, have them explore and gather weapons and tools, and pit them against enemies that are much harder to fight than one would assume. Many titles have tried this formula, but Axiom Verge does an amazing job of it. Exploration in the game never feels boring, and death, while annoying, never makes me want to stop playing.
Gameplay is a pretty similar experience to the games of yore, though a bit more advanced than you’d assume. As is standard, you find weapons as you progress through rooms and defeat bosses. You are still gifted with a map of your exploration, which lets you easily track where you’ve been and where you have yet to visit. It also does a great job of giving you some extra tools that typical “Metroid-esque” games don’t. Near the beginning, you will find a laser tool that lets you dig through certain walls. Instead of finding yourself at a dead end, you can often just cut your way through to a brand new area. Small changes such as this make the game even more enjoyable, and also help keep it from being just a clone.
Exploration is key, as you often find yourself progressing through tunnels only to have to backtrack all the way to the beginning of an area. Levels are designed to be different enough that the environment never looks the same, and the feeling of accomplishment is still there should you find a new room. Completionists will also find themselves playing this over and over, as (according to the developer) there are over 40 weapons and tools in the game, along with about 700 rooms. Needless to say, you’ll be exploring for a while.
Surprisingly, one of Axiom Verge‘s biggest strengths is its soundtrack. I often find myself muting the volume for some games when the soundtrack is either too boring or annoying, but Tom Happ (the developer/creator of the game) managed to find the perfect balance of classic, chiptune-ish music and fast, erratic beats that make the music worth listening to.
While the game is incredibly fun, I found myself wishing for a bit more of a challenge at times. It could be my prior experience with similar titles, but it was never hard enough that I felt really challenged. With that said, I still believe that it will be hard enough for most people. Enemies aren’t as tough as some might like, but they present enough challenge that there will be moments when you consider quitting before something terrible happens to your controller (I’m looking at you, Zombie creature thing).
Although some might do it, it would be unfair to compare this to Metroid, or any other of the games I listed above. Despite that, during my playthrough of Axiom Verge, I often found myself thinking back to when I first was introduced to games of that nature. I would think back to how much fun I was having, oblivious to how the game performed on certain machines, and missed that feeling. I’m not saying that pretty titles being played on high performance machines aren’t amazing to look at, but every now and again, it’s nice to be reminded of why we play games in the first place. Axiom Verge is that reminder, and is a terrific title for those who miss just having fun, and I urge you all to give it a shot.
This review was based on a digital review copy of Axiom Verge for the PlayStation 4 provided by the developer.