E3 2014: If You Haven't Heard of Axiom Verge, You're Missing Out
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The developer of Axiom Verge, Tom Happ, is sick of people comparing his game to Metroid. I can understand that need to differentiate yourself, to want people to go beyond an easy cultural touchstone. But even knowing his reticence to draw parallels between his PlayStation opus and one of Samus' space-faring adventures, I can't help myself. Metroid is the first thing that popped into my head as I ventured through these alien environments, searching for weapons that would allow me to explore further within its mysterious world. That Axiom Verge shares similarities to one of the most venerable franchises doesn't diminish its accomplishments in the slightest. This is an incredible game--even months before it's finished--that somehow surpasses the high expectations I had saddled it with. Axiom Verge is a game that demands your attention.
I had first heard of this game at an independent showcase a month or so ago. During a presentation that detailed many of the games headed to the PlayStation Network, Axiom Verge stood out like a shining star. Even with the likes of N++ and The Witness, games that come from impressive pedigrees and that seem to be adding on to the already amazing legacies of their creators, it was Axiom Verge that I most wanted to play. Of course, the one game I most desired wasn't present, which is for the best, because I got to experience promising ideas such as Source and Aztez, instead of spending all of my time with Axiom. Now that it's finally playable, I'm not at all disappointed.
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I apologize for gushing, but it's so rare to find a game as immediately captivating as Axiom Verge. Alongside The Legend of Zelda, Metroid was the game I played most during my formative years. It has defined who I have become as a player. Games of isolation, that encourage exploration, demand experimentation, and replace suffocating tutorials with empowering freedom are still what excite me most, and Axiom Verge carries the torch of that fantastic ideal.
Just by looking at a trailer, I could tell this was a world I wanted to inhabit. There were aliens swarming. Some were meager creatures you would have to brush off the soles of your shoes, others towering monstrosities that fill the screen with their girth and fill you with fear. Oh, the joys of killing that which I do not understand. Seeing glimpses of the oddball gadgetry excited me like nothing else can. Samus has never been able to glitch through walls, has she? That's a power you acquire in Axiom Verge, and though Happ told me that it's this element that really separates it strongly from Metroid, I did not possess it during my time with the game. That's something I can look forward to when Axiom Verge is finally released early next year.
What the trailer couldn't tell me is how well the game would play. Controls are everything (everything!), so it was with some hesitation that I picked up the Dual Shock 4. Would my dreams come crumbling down with one tap of the directional pad? Well, it shouldn't surprise you that the answer is no, considering I've done nothing but praise the game thus far. Unlike Samus, who moves with a solid heaviness, the main character in Axiom Verge is sharp and snappy. That's not to say that one method is inherently better than the other. As Happ pointed out, the Screw Attack only feels right because Samus has such an exaggerated jump, but the action-focused style feels great in Axiom Verge.
Writing about controls is the most difficult part of my job. How do I communicate how freeing it felt to bound from narrow platform to narrow platform? Or the joy in shooting a creepy-crawly with pinpoint precision? During an early boss fight, I scooted deftly around the two-dimensional arena, squeezing seamlessly between bullets as I pelted it with my relentless anger. Oh, how frustrated it must have felt as I danced and grooved just out of its reach. When a game can give me such pleasure in just its movement, in how it feels to fire a weapon, I know I'm going to love the end result. No single element matters more to me than how a game feels, and I could have jumped around in one of Axiom Verge's empty rooms for minutes on end without growing bored. That's saying something.
I did find weapons that showed me the prizes waiting for me in the future. There was a standard arm cannon that made short work of the simple-brained creatures who dared defy me. Later, I grabbed an explosive orb that was as useful in puzzle solving as it was in attacking. I would fire a lone orb from my chamber that would crash into enemies with destructive might. Or, by pulling the trigger once more, I could cause that orb to explode into eight pieces, raining death in all directions. This was particularly useful when I needed to hit a switch that was crammed in an out-of-the-way crevice. The final weapon I found was a short-range pulverizer. Remember those rocks I happened upon at the beginning? No? Well, there were rocks in the beginning that I couldn't pass. But a couple of blasts from this beauty and away they went.
Games like Axiom Verge often get lost amid the hoopla of E3. We're so enamored by the big-budget games causing havoc in our brains, that more modest fare is easily ignored. Don't make that mistake. Axiom Verge is the best game I've seen thus far, and one that stands toe-to-toe with any of its expensive peers. That one man could create something like this doesn't ultimately matter. I don't care who makes my games, how much money they spent to do so, or how long it was in development. All of that stuff is just trivia. What matters is the end result. And at least from what I've seen, Axiom Verge is something special.