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A solid retro style game with a sci-fi twist.



Developed by Thomas Happ, released on PS 4, PS Vita, Win, Mac, Linux.

The protagonist, Trace, was working in his lab when an explosion rendered him unconscious and barely alive. He awakens on an alien world with no memory of how he got there, but a weak voice beckons him to explore. Soon, Trace finds himself caught up in an ancient battle between forces he can barely comprehend and begins to realize his role in it all. Of course, there's more this than he realizes.

Developed entirely by one guy, Thomas Happ, Axiom Verge (AV) is a strong homage to 8 and 16 bit games that are considered classics, with bits of Blaster Master, Bionic Commando, Castlevania, Contra, and Metroid. (Especially that last one.) AV has all the best features of those titles: run-n-gun gameplay, huge worlds to explore, a hefty arsenal to acquire, moody MIDI tunes, and glitches galore. A friend of mine felt that it was "too slavish an homage", but I disagree due to the design choices that hindsight allows for better gameplay changes. For instance, you don't have to struggle with an obnoxious password saving system, changing weapons is swiftly accomplished without a cumbersome menu, and the world design offers reasonably quick back-tracking areas to speed up your exploration. I feel that it's a confident improvement in the genre, but that's not to say that there aren't flaws.

To say the story is convoluted would be an understatement. Much of the history of the world is gleaned through texts and passages discreetly tucked into far flung niches of the world, but without these the motivations of the factions involved aren't revealed. (Also, you don't need to play through the game repeatedly to learn everything.) Ages old entities naturally have motivations, genocides have been wrought, identity crises will be had, and Trace is at the center of it all. I recommend getting the notes and piecing together exactly what's going on.*

While the graphics are aping the 8 and 16 bit styles, the music keeps the same retro style as well. Some tunes are better than others, naturally, but the themes are good enough to avoid being obnoxious, and the sound effects are appropriately pew-pew like that I found myself a bit nostalgic for the classics. Controls are almost identical to the AV's predecessors (but thanks to the PS control pad, you're not limited to 2 or 6 buttons), so you might want to brush up on your Bionic Commando swinging skills before you tackle some of AV's hilly areas.

This gets a good 8.5 stars out of 10. It's worth your attention, it doesn't take that long to finish, and there's plenty of content to keep a player occupied.

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SPOILERS
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In fact, the only way that the ending makes sense is if you really work to piece together all of the clues, spoken and written. Toy with the concepts shown in the game (axiom, clones, patternminds, nanogates, etc.), and you should realize that what that ending meant.

Also, "Trace" is a dumb name for a character.
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February 2016

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