This post was authored by Stan Guderski. You can contact him at [email protected]
For a game developed by one person, Axiom Verge is an impressive showing. Everything from art, music, and game design all comes from the brain of Tom Happ, who had been working on Axiom Verge as side project since 2010. The game can be seen as a love letter to Metroid and other games of its ilk, as it puts you in the shoes of scientist Trace, and drops you in the center of a hostile alien world where it tasks you with figuring out things for yourself. Completely alone, the player must navigate this alien world, acquire lots of guns along the way, and ultimately survive. While this sounds great on paper, just how well does it actually work in practice?
The graphics in Axiom Verge are terrifically retro with a modern flair. Axiom Verge uses the 8-Bit era as its base and expands on it exponentially with a modern touch. Enemies that explode into a million pixels when killed, huge immobile androids take up entire rooms, and bosses the size of skyscrapers all serve to give Axiom Verge an extra layer of ‘oomph’ by subverting the visual expectations of the player. When it isn’t blowing your mind with its dynamic visuals, Axiom Verge has a consistently impressive art style that is beautifully grotesque and alien. From tight corridors filled with bubbling acid, to expansive open spaces with strange structures in the distance, Axiom Verge artistically mixes the sci-fi aesthetics of high technology amid ancient ruins in a way that is both striking and fascinating to look at.
Axiom Verge is a joy to listen to as well. Thumping atmospheric beats accompany you as you traverse the world and sound delightfully sci-fi, evoking the ominous feeling of Alien and the exploratory vibe of Star Trek at once. I often found myself looking forward to the next section of the map just to hear what new piece of music would be injected into my ears. However, spend too long in one area and the same track will loop endlessly. Expect to become extremely familiar with certain songs when exploring or backtracking.
Firmly rooting itself in the ‘Metroidvania’ genre conventions, Axiom Verge sets it sights on exploration, as you are alone on an unfriendly world with little to no indication on where to go. The point is to find your own way around, as out of reach areas and blocked off exits tease you at every turn. Unfortunately, despite being based around discovery Axiom Verge detracts from the experience by spelling out through its level design what your future power ups are. Eventually it became less about wondering what the next upgrade may be and more about impatiently waiting to acquire the super jump ability in order to finally return to locations missed the first time through.