The original Axiom Verge is a fascinating game that I simply think is cool. Definitely rough around its edges, but with a creative selection of weapons, a bizarre world to venture through, and alluring lore, this is one of the most unique exploration titles I have ever played. Since it was inspired by the original Metroid rather than one of its more polished sequels as well, I had no idea of what Axiom Verge 2 would be like. The trailers for it never did much for me, but I know that playing a game is much different than watching one, so I kept my hopes up. This is an interactive media, after all.
In the year 2007, Dr. Elizabeth Hammond made a revolutionary invention of a superluminal communicator, making her company into a household name. However, one day she and her research team in Antarctica completely vanished, leaving no trace behind them. With no CEO, the Hammond corp fell and a majority of it was bought up by Indra Chaudhari, a competitor to this company and this tale’s protagonist. Unfortunately, when all seems to go her way, Indra receives a message that only says “come to Antarctica if you wish to see your daughter again”.
Similarly to the first entry, the biggest strength in Axiom Verge 2‘s story lies in its mysteries about the supernaturals. You will visually be able to witness surreal creatures, scale ancient constructions, come across what seems to be spirits, and more that provide intriguing questions and theories about this world you are uncovering. Because of this, there is always a sense that you are in a dangerous environment that contains a familiar touch, yet is still alien to you, creating a wonderful atmosphere.
Unfortunately, a lot of the lore has to be discovered through reading materials you can acquire and it is here this title stumbles harshly. While it can be as minor as Indra just wishing to find her daughter, the overall plot becomes convoluted with more lore that either give insights into these strange beings and their universe or to the humans and Hammond’s budget. The first part can at least be captivating by adding world-building that is subtly hinted at throughout the adventure, but the latter is uninteresting due to the lack of memorable characters and the budgets being bland documents.
In fact, Indra is the only one with a strong personality here. She showcases clear emotions in her dialogues, has relatable reactions to her discoveries, and offers enough characteristics to make her three-dimensional. It is then a shame that it is really hard to care about certain aspects of the journey itself, as the lore is not fleshed out enough to be inviting. Anyone admiring world-building through flavour text might find something worthwhile here, but I believe in the term “show, do not tell”, which this project struggles with.
Story Score: 5/10
This is an intriguing sequel, as Axiom Verge 2 does follow some elements of its predecessor to create a connection to it, yet completely revamps other parts to make itself into something that could stand on its own. The structure of this entry is more linear than the first title, with the game marking areas of interest on your handy map that even autofills as you uncover this vast world. You still have to figure out how to get to new places and will need to find upgrades for getting further though, making this still a solid metroid title where you have to explore.
Speaking of, while you will have save points to respawn at whenever you bite the dust, the game also automatically saves in order for you to keep the items you found on your adventure. This is a neat detail and I love how fast travel is much more convenient once you get it, making traversing around easy to do. You will at first start with a pickaxe and a boomerang for some simple combat moves, but later get abilities like grabbing ledges, explosive attacks, and even be able to tinker with machines, providing a lot of possibilities to your protagonist.
Indra is not exactly a fighter. Despite that she can swing her weapon in eight directions and quickly call back her thrown boomerang, she has to rely on utilizing all of her creative skills in order to get through. To give some examples, she can manipulate her opponent into becoming slow, use explosions for causing harsh damage around her or simply escape thanks to her acrobatics. This adds a lot of strategies on how to deal with the enemies, especially since Indra only gains health or data points back from defeated ones. Because of this and how only the bosses are forced upon you, there is a neat aspect of making you consider who to take on and who to sneak around. As a nice addition as well, you can store health points in your inventory using specific energy packs you can find throughout this land, adding light resource management to this project!
Furthermore, I adore how many of these abilities have multiple uses, with the mentioned explosion being also for destroying certain structures in order to progress for example! Since these abilities cost data points to use and every enemy is deadly with different attacks, you always feel vulnerable as well. Turrets shooting at you, underwater creatures charging faster than you can swim, hidden bombs taking you off guard, spider machines crawling around, and much more, will test your reaction time and quick thinking. This diversity of opponents with clear patterns makes Axiom Verge 2 quite the imaginative beast when it comes to its combat, as your tools will be important to utilise cleverly. These fiends are rather aggressive than smart, but still forces to be reckoned with.
Of course, you will have to explore for upgrades and besides the ones used for getting further into the game, you can also come across new weapons with interesting additions to them, skill points in capsules, and health orbs. The arsenal to discover is quite exciting to find, with them having clear differences like better reach or elemental effects to them than just upgrades to your stats! As for the health orbs, you need five in total in order to upgrade your health, which is a familiar trope. However, the skill points might be the most significant one, as you will be able to upgrade different aspects of your four stats, should you have enough to spend on these improvements.
These enhancements are divided into either physiology, combat, infection, or drone. Physiology is basically aspects of your body like health, combat revolves around your damage and speed in melee and ranged attacks, infection covers different stats in manipulating machines, and drone increases your little spider’s capabilities. Without spoiling too much, this tiny creature is a huge part of this adventure, as not only will you be using it to traverse through places that Indra cannot, but also to another dimension. Certain areas will have portals to this universe that overlaps your own, giving you a completely new map to uncover that adds to the enjoyment of this adventure.
In general, this is a beautiful sequel that does not hold your hand, but is lenient enough to make its journey comfortable. Even the protagonist’s jump fits with this statement, as it is realistic with clear arcs, but you have some control over its aerial movement. I also wish to praise the great amount of options for difficulty settings, to the point that you can make the contrast stronger to see the platforms you can interact with better. The lack of fall damage and being able to clearly see what places you have not reached yet on the map, makes it easy to plan and consider what you should do next as well.
Sadly, there are some setbacks to this project that keeps it from reaching its full potentials. A minor nitpick is the compass that is there to show in what direction items of importance are located, as it is useless with the solid map you already have. Another is the only two boss fights in the entire game, as they are both mindless encounters by letting you respawn at the save point nearby, meaning that you can throw yourself at the enemy with no consequences or the need to learn their patterns.
However, the biggest issue this title has, is how it starts. It is very slow early on with minimal abilities being acquired and the focus being on the immersion rather than the gameplay. Supposedly, this could be augmented as a way to ease you into this world, but with how simple your setup of weaponry starts out, I believe a better challenge or more moves to learn would have helped. This aside, the subtle clues in the environments, fantastic enemy variety, great structure, and an arsenal that is unique and fascinating for both exploration and combat, makes Axiom Verge 2 a wonderful metroidvania that both newcomers and veterans will enjoy.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
I was caught off guard after the first entry having a style that was reminiscent of H.R. Giger’s strange and alien setup, with this sequel going for a different kind of isolation. Instead of a constant threat in unfamiliar environments, Axiom Verge 2 goes for naturalistic locations that are set far away from human civilization. Sure, there are small research camps around, but even they are either destroyed or barely present, making you feel lost in this vast landscape.
Despite the areas being traditional, this world still conveys imaginative diversity! A lost city is hidden underwater, the snowy mountains contain harsh wind and forgotten labs, ancient ruins can be found in the desert, and much more, really provide this land with varied and distinct atmospheres. There are clearly set pieces being reused, but the areas are lush and colourful with lovely textures to them, making this only a minor problem. Furthermore, the creatures you will be up against are something of a mix between machines and animals, such as robotic owls or monstrous tanks that have misshapen heads, adding to the bizarreness of these familiar locations.
I also admire the small details, like how you will start the game with an ice pickaxe or how you are subtly eased into this odd world from your own. You will meet up with spirits, talking statues, and your drone will enter a world with bigger pixels than the normal one utilises, creating a surrealistic art that is hard to describe as anything but a psychedelic dream. This form of inviting you in through visual means and interactivity, provides a magnificent form of immersion that only games can give. The special effects deserve a highlight as well, such as the manipulated pixels that provide an otherworldly effect by almost being in 3D.
On a more technical level, this is still an impressive project visually. The pixel art is gorgeous, the multilayered backgrounds give this side-scroller a sense of scope, and you can even turn on flicker if you want to! It is marvellous how far this title goes to mimick a hardware’s limitations, while still looking mesmerising through its capabilities. Lastly, the still images in the opening are a nice way to get introduced to this game’s plot, with beautiful pictures that make me wish such cutscenes were more utilized throughout the adventure. The rest of the story is told through the in-game presentation, and while functional to make you invested, the small character models do not give enough expressions in their movements or faces to be effective on their own.
The audio excels in this fascinating world with ambient sounds of naturalistic environments, digitized effects from your abilities and strange technologies, and crushed ones for explosions. All of these are amazing, with clear echoes to make you truly feel isolated in this huge world. However, the music is probably the most interesting part of the whole presentation. Utilising acoustic guitars, electronic sounds, distant chantings, and varied forms of flutes, all of the tracks have an ethnic origin that is mixed with electronic elements. Every melody fits the environments they are in, be they calm and mysterious or hectic and fierce, making them convey a tone that connects them to one common culture but in diverse manners. Combine this with their fantastic buildups and varied use of notes, and you have one of the most stunning soundtracks ever.
Presentation Score: 8/10
Upgrades and letters
While I have a hard time caring about what is written in the scriptures hidden throughout the game, looking for them and more upgrades is always exciting due to the exploration alone. Every area has some subtle details that carefully hints that there is something more about them, easily enchanting your curiosity. If that was not enough, there is a speedrun option that removes all text in-game and focuses on you getting through this journey as fast as possible, which is an exhilarating feat to tackle! I just wish you had more ways to run than a comfortable jog.
Extra Score: 8/10
This is a surreal sequel that I find to be a fresh change from its predecessor and just as engaging to play. It is really the world-building that drags the experience down, as the mystery is more intriguing than the extra lore scattered around. Despite some oddities elsewhere, Axiom Verge 2 offers a wonderful time with creative tools to play around with, a mesmerising world to explore, a strong variety in enemy types, and a presentation that lures you into its own madness. A good product overall, and an impressive achievement when mainly one person was behind it all. Great work, Tom Happ!