Axiom Verge (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 18.07.2015

Review for Axiom Verge on PlayStation 4

It's hard to believe that it's been almost 30 years since Samus Aran first made an appearance in the enduringly popular Metroid series. The heavy emphasis on non-linear exploration, coupled with a compelling sci-fi setting has ensured that it's one of those franchises that Nintendo fans and critics alike have rightly lauded. Given that 'Metroid-vania' has become a genre in its own right (with the 'vania' of that title being derived from the comparable Castlevania series), it's fair to say that it's the yardstick by which similarly designed games are judged by. While the definitive Metroid experience will always be on a Nintendo console, the opportunity to enjoy that timeless gameplay has finally arrived on the PlayStation 4. Enter 'Axiom Verge,' a game that proudly wears its influences on its sleeves with a 16-bit presentation style that harks back to the classic era of Metroid history while simultaneously stamping its own identity on proceedings.

What's particularly impressive about Axiom Verge is the fact that it's all the work of one man - Thomas Happ, who did ... well ... pretty much everything from programming the code to writing the musical score. In an age where videogames are designed by committee, created by huge teams with budgets often running into the millions, it's actually refreshing to see that the likes of Axiom Verge can be achieved without such requirements. How does Happ's magnum opus stack up against its inspiration, though?

There aren't many games where the main character dies right at the start of the campaign, however, that's exactly what happens in Axiom Verge. Trace, a scientist by trade, is the unfortunate victim of an accident while performing routine maintenance work in his lab, although in a move straight out of The Matrix, he awakens to find himself in a mysterious alien world. Unsure of where the boundaries of reality and nightmare collide, Trace begrudgingly agrees to help what appears to be a number of dying machines and, in doing so, gets dragged further into the ensuing chaos.

Screenshot for Axiom Verge on PlayStation 4

It's fair to say that occasionally the story can be hard to follow thanks in no small part to an over reliance on language / terminology invented solely for this game, yet persistence is rewarded with a plot twist that would be more at home in a Hollywood movie than a 2D side-scroller. However, the ambitious storytelling plays second fiddle to the exploration aspect and serves only to steer Trace towards collecting the power-ups / equipment required to negotiate the harsh terrain before dropping him into the lap of one of the numerous challenging boss battles.

Axiom Verge doesn't stray too far from the 2D side-scrolling / platforming / combat blueprint that Metroid has laid out and modified over the years, so there's an instant air of familiarity that successfully hits all the right nostalgia triggers. Each distinct sector has its own look, theme tune and enemy type(s) with numerous 'Egg chambers' scattered around the world that serve as both save points and health replenishment stations. Doorways exiting the player's current chamber can face any one of four directions, with a lot of them frequently being beyond reach until the required upgrade or equipment item has been made / found. These can range from an item of clothing that allows Trace to pass through solid walls, to a laser drill for breaking through the weaker obstructions, upgraded jumping abilities to bridge those lengthy gaps, and a grapple to swing across chasms. While Samas Aran had the ability to negotiate tight spaces by morphing into a ball, Trace has a Remote Drone, complete with a little gun that does pretty much the same thing and can be sent out on mini missions to access out of reach door locks in faraway places. Further on down the line, an upgrade allows Trace to teleport to wherever the Remote Drone's location is - a clever way of providing the same functionality as the Morph Ball, but without blatantly copying it.

Screenshot for Axiom Verge on PlayStation 4

There are a great many secrets waiting to be uncovered in Axiom Verge and the Address Disrupter, a device handed to Trace early on in proceedings, is instrumental in a lot of the discoveries that take place. While it has multiple applications, the best way to describe it would be as a hack tool and using it to zap pretty much anything within range soon becomes second nature. Experimentation often yields interesting results, for example, hacking certain stronger enemies can weaken them, while others may blast or start to eat through impenetrable walls, giving access to areas previously blocked off. Hidden warp worlds and secret codes can occasionally be revealed by subjecting certain parts of the wall to a scan, although the Disrupter's effectiveness at opening doors and bypassing areas that have been obscured by a NES-style graphical glitch remains dependent on how many upgrades it's received. It pays to be observant as subtle changes to the HUD will hint at a secret in Trace's immediate vicinity, which if found, results in the award of a collectible that could be anything from a power-up to a journal page (some of which require translating) or even a shiny new weapon. It doesn't take long to amass an impressive collection of firearms and while some weapons may fail to initially impress, they occasionally prove to be the most effective in certain boss battles, so it's worth switching the load out when it feels like the proverbial brick wall has been hit.

Screenshot for Axiom Verge on PlayStation 4

It's a shame that Axiom Verge has also adopted one of the more irritating aspects of the older Metroid games, though, by remaining wilfully vague at times with regard to the direction required to progress the story. Of course, many would argue that this adds a further layer of authenticity to proceedings and that avoiding all the 'handholding' elements that are so prevalent in modern gaming is actually quite refreshing, yet spending over six hours wandering back and forth after one of the later boss battles with no obvious pointers on how to proceed is not exactly what most would deem as 'ideal.' This does result in a number of previously missed secrets and collectibles being recovered, so all is not lost, but repeatedly combing over the same areas can get a bit tiresome when it feels like little progress is being made.

The map is fairly barebones and devoid of all but the most basic of information and, given the amount of backtracking involved, it also seems a missed opportunity to not have a fast travel system between a few of the more distant Egg chambers. Minor gripes aside, the option of a Speed Run mode is the likely culprit for the lack of a fast travel system, which in itself adds replay value to the game by slapping a large stopwatch on-screen and streamlining the experience by removing all extraneous animation from proceedings.

Screenshot for Axiom Verge on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

8/10
Rated 8 out of 10

Great - Silver Award

Rated 8 out of 10

While there's a slight stumble with regards to story progression, for the most part, it's a great success, and the fact that it's all the result of one man's labour of love makes it all the more impressive. Occasionally, modern day tributes miss the mark and lack some of the heart that made the inspiration so great, but it's safe to say that Thomas Happ has totally nailed the Metroid vibe with Axiom Verge.

Developer

Thomas Happ Games

Publisher

Thomas Happ Games

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  8/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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