Developer – Thomas Happ Games LLC
Publisher – Thomas Happ Games LLC
Release Date – May 14, 2015
Genre – Action Adventure Shoot’em’up
Platform – PC, PS4, PS Vita
Price – £14.99
As a fan of the retro games of the 80s and 90s, getting to review the old school style of game is, on the whole, and absolute joy. However, that doesn’t mean I’m going to enjoy playing through every single one of them. However, with Thomas Happ’s Axiom Verge, I had a good feeling. The screen shots that immediately reminded me of a certain Super Metroid also helped. So here’s the story. It begins with a nerdy scientist type called Trace. He and his colleagues are carrying out an experiment which inevitably goes wrong and leaves the lab in ruins. In the midst of this accident, Trace finds himself transported to another dimension, where he must figure out what’s going on, how to get back home and what the deal is with these giant sentient machines who want your help to defeat Athetos. The problem is that it can take a while before you get this part of the story explained to you. Until then, you get to do a fair amount of wandering until you stumble upon the room where it gets revealed. However, once you do get to this point, it’s a ride that has more twists and turns than you can shake a stick at. The story is one of those where, just as you think you’ve got it figured out and have a good idea of what’s going to happen next, it heads off in a completely different direction and you need to re-evaluate what’s actually going on. It’ll mess with your head in a way that only a sci-fi thriller can…or a Metal Gear Solid story. For example; why do the boss characters refer to Trace as a demon?
Okay, the plot is all well and good, but without some decent gameplay, all you have is a visual novel. Luckily, Happ has put together some shoot-em-up action that will challenge you and keep you fully engaged. The key word is “challenge”. There are two difficulty levels to choose from. One is Normal, the other is Hard. The former will consist of your character dying a lot. The latter will have him dying a whole lot more. The enemies you’ll encounter are varied in every way possible. Some have regular routes that will be quite easy to pick up and take care of, but others are far more erratic in their movement and will have you running and jumping about like a crazy person. The early bad guy meetings are a little more forgiving, but you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed with several different types on screen at the same time. Add to that that as you progress they’ll take far more shots to kill, and you’ll find yourself frantically mashing buttons in your bid to escape them. To counter this, you’ll be collecting some very interesting weapons that you can fight back with as well as a few gizmos to directly influence the environment. Some of them are your standard fare like a three way blaster or a single shot that you can detonate with a second push of the fire button. Then there are your less traditional forms of gun powerups like the one that fires a single blast, but then periodically lets out extra blasts vertically as it moves. Some of the weapons are also environment specific, so they may assist you in opening up a new area and you could potentially only use it once, usually on the next boss you face. Personally I found myself reverting to the the initial weapon for the majority of the game and it served me well enough to take on about 80% of the baddies. A particular powerup/weapon that really stood out during my play through was the “Address Disruptor”. It’s a fantastic piece of kit for when you encounter barriers that look like pixellated/glitched areas which stop you from progressing. You simply fire the disruptor at the necessary area and it will revert it to a normal piece of scenery. The real killer feature of it though is when you unleash this tool on the enemies. You can glitch them out which creates some very interesting behaviour, but I don’t want to give too much away. It’s just good fun to try it on everything. Something that Axiom Verge does particularly well in the nostalgia stakes is boss creatures. They’re very big and they look very, very nasty. One of them was in fact so large, that the camera zoomed out to fit the entire thing on screen. Also in keeping with the traditional bosses is that they have specific patterns that you have to learn in order to defeat them, which means you have to observe and learn. It’s not just blind luck.
The controls are very easy to pick up with a gamepad and are very responsive. Running, jumping, and shooting etc, all behave the way they’re supposed to, so any mistimed jumps will be your own fault. Luckily though, there’s no fall damage to worry about, but watch out for the ground hazards which consist pretty much of pools of pink acid. Plus there are the enemies that will jump out of these pools to shoot at you. Weapon switching also provides another retro reference with a ‘ring system’ style of selection for your choice of monster death dealing, although if you find you’ve got more gun variations than you know how to deal with, you can pop into the inventory screen and take a little more time to make your selection. Sticking with the technical aspects of Axiom Verge, there were no issues to be found. Nothing crashed, no bugs, slow downs or glitches (apart from the intentional ones that you can remove with the disruptor or the bombs). To be honest, I wouldn’t expect to find many, if any, graphical issues, since it’s an old school side on shooter. Still it’s a testament to Happ’s attention to detail that this game has come out pretty much bug free. Graphically, if you grew up around the 90s consoles, then what we have here is nothing short of a masterpiece. It stands up very well on higher screen resolutions despite pixellated nature of the game. Each area of the huge world you journey through has very specific colour themes to let you know that you’re going to encounter a very different set of enemies and challenges. You might even encounter some areas that are even more old school in appearance that introduce the horizontal scanlines you would have seen on the older TVs.
The music is good fun to listen to and really complements the action. Along with the aforementioned colour scheme changes, you would also be treated to a different midi track upon entering a different area. The sounds also make a quality contribution to the experience with that slight white noise style distortion that you’d associate with the older lower quality sound effects.
Thomas Happ has created a wonderful game in Axiom Verge that should appeal to a wide variety of gamers. The obvious attraction would be to the retro fans like myself that want to relive the 80s and 90s console eras. At the same time, I feel it will also catch the eye of those that love a challenge, as this game certainly provides that in bucket loads. Another thing that really stands out is that you won’t complete it quickly despite having an option for a Speed Run. Of course a game taking a long time to complete isn’t okay on its own, so it’s good that you’re provided with elements such as a great (if sometimes confusing) story, fantastic all action shoot-em-up game play, and responsive controls to back up the large area of play. Although it’s priced at $19.99 which would be the higher end of the scale for an indie title, please believe me when I say it will be worth every penny.
-Bright colourful retro sprites
-Excellent variety of weapons and upgrades
-Huge game could take 15+ hours to play through
-Story can sometimes get confusing
Started playing video games back in the 80s. Still loving it now. RPGs and retro style games are my favourites.