Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Thomas Happ
Review Date: 8/28/22
"Axiom Verge" is back! While the characters and places are completely different, the story, structure, and gameplay are nearly identical to the original. Following a mysterious lead regarding her estranged daughter, Indra Chaudhari travels to a research station in Antarctica and soon finds herself in an alternate dimension. She becomes a wielder of powerful "Arms," which grant her special abilities. As Indra explores every nook and cranny of her new world, she ultimately has to stop an enemy from using forbidden technology to destroy all of existence.
While it's nice having a female protagonist, Indra isn't particularly likable and comes across as overly abrasive. Although, being the CEO of one of the world's largest technology companies carries a lot of weight with it, which may explain her cold and bitter personality. She runs across other researchers from Antarctica who are trying to build a portal back to Earth, but their numbers are dwindling due to attacks from aggressive robots.
The game looks fantastic and improves upon the original in many ways. The color palette is more varied and the numerous biomes that make up the world are wonderfully colorful and diverse. Indra can control a small spider-like drone that can access small spaces, and can eventually turn into a cloud of nanites to fly around and reach previously impossible spots. Exploration is the name of the game, and while the world opens up at a steady pace, it's constantly frustrating not being able to access certain areas that are just barely out of reach. I guess I'm just really impatient that way. That said, the game also requires A LOT of backtracking, and you'll be revisiting the same areas dozens of times. Unfortunately, the enemies constantly respawn in these areas, but most of the time you're given a grace period before they show up again, which is really nice. Along those lines, the game offers a lot of quality of life features that are absent in many Metroidvania styled games. The detailed map and compass are indispensable, but I still found myself stuck on numerous occasions, not knowing where to go and what to do. Fast travel options make traversing the world a breeze and nearly all boss encounters are optional. While one can argue that these features reduce the challenge and make the game too easy, I happily embrace them. I have enough challenges in my life, and video games don't need to add to that.
There is a lot of lore in the story, which is doled out through conversations and documents found along the way. It can become pretty overwhelming, and the game is often too convoluted for its own good. The soundtrack is good, but not as good as the original game. The vocals also become increasingly grating the longer you listen to them, which is unfortunate. The controls can be finicky, especially when you're in drone mode. Similar to the original game, the drone uses a grappling hook that's difficult to control. I got stuck at one point in the game for well over an hour trying to make a particular jump, and the grappling hook refused to connect. I tried this jump literally dozens (if not hundreds) of times, before remembering that the grappling hook in the original game was also kind of wonky. Ultimately, it turned out that I had to keep the jump button depressed the entire time and just briefly tap the grapple button, which requires holding the controller in a very awkward and uncomfortable way. Apart from these quibbles and the fact that I got stuck and needed a walkthrough on several occasions, I enjoyed playing "Axiom Verge 2" immensely. It's a great blast of retro fun with modern conveniences, and it even has a few hooks into the world of the original game.