PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Hacking Reality with 'Axiom Verge'

Axiom Verge is the best game you won't remember playing.

Axiom Verge

Publisher: Thomas Happ Games
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4
URL: www.axiomverge.com/
Price: $19.99
Players: 1 player
Developer: Thomas Happ Games
Release Date: 2015-05-14

Axiom Verge is a tough game to talk about. It's a good game, but it's also easily forgettable. It's fun to play, it has an interesting story, and it successfully combines the design of old-school "Metroidvania" games with more modern design sensibilities. Yet, for all of its successes, it can't escape the fact that it's still a modern twist on an old formula, an old formula that has already been twisted by countless other games before. So, no matter how good it might be, it's still destined to fall into the vast ocean of "Metroidvania" clones.

Like all games in this genre, Axiom Verge is designed around exploration. You play as Trace, who has been transported to an alien world after an accident at a science lab. You'll quickly find a gun, and just as quickly, you'll find a path that's blocked. You'll take a mental note of this blockade because you know that you'll eventually get some item or ability that will allow you to get through it. That's just how these games work.

Thankfully, even though the game plays into the predictable patterns of its genre, it's still quite a fun entry in the genre.

At first combat feels a little awkward because you can only shoot in eight directions (up, down, left, right, and diagonally), making it difficult to line up shots on moving enemies. However, you'll soon find new guns that mitigate this issue, allowing you to shoot around corners, through walls, through enemies, and more. Each new gun is a joy to experiment with.

Every time that I thought that I found a gun that was too unique to be really useful (that green shotgun thing is powerful, but I have to get too close to enemies), I eventually found a use that made it indispensable (it's perfect when backtracking through early levels because it kills everything in one hit).

The upgrades that you get to movement are the highlight of the game. Those blocked paths that you see in the early game aren't blocked by rubble or locked doors but by what look like corrupted pixels, as if the game bugged out and cut off access to part of itself. Your upgrades feel similar. Your teleport ability distorts the sound and screen, so that it feels like you're hacking the game. It's a neat style that acts as a narrative justification for your newfound abilities without needing to say a word. You’re hacking reality, using science as a superpower. The explanation is all in the aesthetics. This is art and gameplay working to express story.

The story is also very good. I found myself looking forward to boss fights because I knew I'd get more plot once I beat the baddie. What begins as a generic game morphs into an intriguing mystery about alternate dimensions and possible time travel. It’s a shame we get so little of the history of this world because the bits we do get are interesting.

For all that it does right, it still falls into the predictable traps of the genre. Backtracking is common and annoying, even after you discover the long hall that only exists to literally shuttle you from one end of the world to the other. The game falls into a rut when you get a new upgrade and don't immediately know where to use it. The map is only moderately helpful. You'll know in general where you should go since the map hints at unexplored areas, but that just means that you'll be revisiting the same dozen dead-ends over and over again, hoping that this time you can pass through.

The endgame is also quite frustrating, filled with enemies that speed around the room, using your limited movement and aiming against you. Axiom Verge thus ends on a low note, with memories of backtracking and frustrating enemies that do a disservice to the fun game that came before.

Axiom Verge is quite entertaining, but it doesn't do enough to stand out from its peers. Even if it were perfect, it would only be a perfect clone. It’s a technically proficient, fun, and well made game that lacks a distinct personality of its own. You'll enjoy it, but you won't remember it.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Matt Berninger Takes the Mic Solo on 'Serpentine Prison'

Serpentine Prison gives the National's baritone crooner Matt Berninger a chance to shine in the spotlight, even if it doesn't push him into totally new territory.


MetalMatters: The Best New Heavy Metal Albums of September 2020

Oceans of Slumber thrive with their progressive doom, grind legends Napalm Death make an explosive return, and Anna von Hausswolff's ambient record are just some of September's highlights.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.