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In a sea of AAA blockbusters put out by studios comprised of hundreds of people, sometimes it only takes a single human being and a computer to deliver something truly special. It sounded incredulous before I started up Axiom Verge for the first time. After playing the game it’s even more so that developer Tom Happ was the sole creator of Axiom Verge. The game is a breath of fresh air in an era of open world games measured in miles (quite literally) and endless quests, first person shooters with set pieces and gritty realism, and modern eye melting graphics. Axiom Verge is retro action-adventure inspired by games of days gone by. Grab your Axiom Disruptor and head to Sudra, because this game is absolutely worth the trip.

This is usually where I begin talking about the premise of the game and possibly some underlying events that set the game in motion. I’m not going to do that. Instead I’m going give you the bare minimum for the sake understanding the review: Trace, a scientist, finds himself in Sudra… a place that’s not Earth. There he is enlisted to help the Rusalki. Boom, there it is. That’s all you get. Axiom Verge is a game where jumping in and knowing little is the way to go. For older gamers, it’s reminiscent of being a kid in an era without an endless amount of information and gameplay trailers. For a retro game, I find this fitting.

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The classy retro style of Axiom Verge

The game itself works in the same way. It doesn’t hold your hand and give you answers to every question. It slowly reveals some over the course of the game, while leaving the player’s to interpret the rest. It is important to remember that you are a stranger in a strange place. You must explore and find information on your own to unravel the mystery of your surroundings. The only background information regarding Sudra comes in the form of notes hidden along the way. The game doesn’t punish you for not finding them, but they do add to the narrative and lore of the setting. I’ve seen too many games have collectables for the sake of collectables. Here, the notes add value and drove me to find more of them. Interpreting the notes (literally and figuratively) is up to you, as well as certain events including the ending itself. This works well with Axiom Verge’s context; the main character Trace knows nothing about where he is and what is going on. Similarly players should have as little information as he does. While I did enjoy not having everything spelled out for me, have a bit more clarification on plot points, or concepts would help in understand more of main narrative. What exactly is a “PatternMind” is one such example that would aid in narrative clarity.

One of my favorite aspects of the game is its non-linear map and the exploration that comes with it. However, Axiom Verge can be directionless at times in regards to what you should be working towards. For example, one of the first tasks of the game is to find the Power Filter. You don’t receive any other additional information. Now, I don’t mean we should have a waypoint indicating its exact location, or even how to find it given the context of the game (i.e. you have no clue where the hell you are in the first place). However, a little more information regarding what it is and what it looks like would be great. Without that information, my main tactic was to run around blindly and eventually run into it… which I did. Only, I didn’t even know I found the Power Filter… until after it hold me I found the Power Filter. There was an, “Oh, ok. So that was it” moment. As I stated earlier, the game doesn’t hold your hand, but due to instances like this it be a bit directionless.

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Axiom Verge has some truly sublime backdrops

How much you do and find in Axiom Verge is entirely up to you. Exploration is driven by the player wanting to explore the unknown. Players can go back to previous areas and find new things, such as items or hidden rooms. The enticing exploration is mostly due to its level design, one of Axiom Verge’s main strengths. Most of the items in the game are hidden within the environment, so exploration is key to Trace becoming stronger. With exploration up to the player choice and correctly determining the right places to go, playtimes can range from 8-12 hours to over 20. As someone who loves to collecting things, finding hidden areas, and so forth, I easily put in over 20 hours on the first playthrough. The map also helps in this regard. It tracks where you have been while making you question if you’ve managed to explore everything, due to its lack of a uniform and patterned area layouts (Pro Tip: take a really close hard look the details of the in-game map).

The game nails Trace’s jumping physics while aiming and shooting is smooth. Using the d-pad for nostalgia sake or stick with the more responsive analog sticks is up to you, either will do the job. Trace shoots in the direction he faces and players can lock him into place without moving to fire weapons. Don’t be deceived by the veil of simplicity. The game is filled with weapons and tools for you to use in defeating enemies and exploring areas previously inaccessible.

While the game technically has a single ‘gun,’ the Axiom Disruptor, players can come across different weapons that change what is shot out from the Axiom Disruptor. Players can change weapons on the fly while the game briefly pauses. The weapons range from short, medium, and long, come with different bullet spreads, and fire at different rates as well. Most of the weapons are fun to use, but from a practical stand point some will get passed over due to stronger guns, or those that are more applicable to a wider range of situations. For example, while I highly enjoyed using the something like the Voranj (fun, cool effect) I would use tend to use Kilver (probably my most used weapon) as it allowed me to take down a wide range of enemies relatively quickly. Take that with a grain of salt, as playstyles do differ. Also, what weapons you use depends on if you actually find them. You may be better accustomed to using the Voranj, while never using the Kilver. Well… if you can find the Voranj that is. However, the underlying fact will remain the same. While you are partial to some weapons others will likely go untouched except for their initial trial-period.

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The game has interesting and varied enemy designs.

I’m going to avoid talking about the tools in depth, as they do some with some puzzle/exploration spoilers. How the tools are used and implemented within in the game combines the obvious with a dash of cleverness. Getting a new tool often came with a ‘eureka’ moment, where you realized you can now do something you couldn’t before. The tools and level design should be taken as a whole rather than two separate parts within the game itself, due to their influence on how you traverse the environment.

The game also has various powerups to find as well. Players will get stronger as the game progresses fighting stronger enemies and bosses along the way. Although, it is important to remember that exploration will lead to many of these rewards; you’ll naturally run into some powerups over the course of the game, but many are tucked away out of site for the player to find. There is a true sense of progression here and its felt facing enemies earlier in the game. There’s nothing really out of the ordinary with powerups; longer range, more damage, etc. Trace can also find health increases throughout the game as well.

The Address Disruptor is what really puts the gameplay over the top separating it from other retro action-adventure games. This isn’t a traditional weapon with the intent to kill enemies. It allows for Trace to effectively manipulate the environment around him. This does include enemies as well. The address disruptor used in the right places can help with environmental puzzles to find secret areas, or nullify enemies before engaging them. I did find that not every enemy was made easier to defeat using the disruptor, there were a few that are harder to kill after using it.

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One of the many hidden weapons located throughout the game.

Axiom Verge features quite a few boss fights. They’re difficulty is scaled relatively evenly, however I did find it more difficult to kill earlier bosses rather than later bosses due to the boss’ mechanics. The later few bosses were more straight forward; with less of an emphasis on finding the correct positions within the environment, determining which weapons to use, and where to inflict damage on the boss. Regardless of the exact mechanics all the bosses where fun to fight. The boss designs are definitely top tier within the game, despite some cool looking monsters. They gave off a threatening vibe, while others also had a great sense of scale.

Axiom Verge has fantastic art design. The environments are split up into sections with each having their own color and design scheme. The backgrounds are simply great to look at, with great depth that provokes a sublime feeling fitting for this mysterious land. The environments are constructed mostly through blocks. As the, dare I say it, building blocks (pun intended, yet again) they are diverse in both their range of colors and designs supplying each area with their own identity. Although the game is not just square blocks, there are also other objects and accents in the world, from bubbles to vegetation, and pipes that shoot steam to name a few. With the sublime feeling and the way the backgrounds and foregrounds game together to truly deliver a strange unknown world, it built anticipation towards what I would see and find next.

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Trace attempting a far jump.

The music is somewhat the unsung hero (second pun?) of Axiom Verge. It melds with the aesthetics perfectly. It is not soundtrack comprised solely of old retro ear (i.e. 16-bit) sounds, although you can hear retro influences. It’s mostly an electronic OST with solid beats, with unique blend of sounds, and at times incoherent chants. I can’t state how well the soundtrack works within the context of the game, and it’s a pleasure to listen to outside of it as well. As much as I can try to sufficiently deliver descriptions through a review, this soundtrack is an example where words are simply inadequate.

Coming into Axiom Verge knowing it was created from the mind of a single person, Tom Happ, I realized the review would be one of the more difficult ones. I didn’t want to overlook things due to the context of the game’s development. As I played through the game, I realized I didn’t have to worry about that. Everything just fell in line together. Chalk it up to lack of creative disputes between the team… because there wasn’t one. Tom didn’t have to argue, or convince other people these ideas were good and these were bad. Its’ the creative freedom and it shows in the game. The environment’s design, music, setting, and narrative work so well together. As well as game’s unique weapons and functions. Axiom Verge is fun to play, explore, and experience.

 

9.5 out of 10

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Sea Of Solitude Review

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Sea Of Solitude Review

Sea Of Solitude is a game which was developed by Jo-Mei Games and was published by Electronic Arts. It is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC via Origin. It is a single player third person adventure game. The game has the player control a character named Kay who explores an abandoned and flooded city.

This was a game which caught my eye only very recently when I first heard about its release. After watching the trailer, I thought the art style, strong colours and animations looked very interesting. Also as a person who went mad one day and subscribed to EA’s Origin Premiere late last year so that I could play some games I had missed out on over the years, I was pleased to see something new added to the store that wasn’t a typical Electronic Arts style major franchise game. Knowing I could get this one for free was enough to give it a go. But if you’re not part of that program to get it for free, I’d say that the $26.95 asking price for this digital title is certainly worth it.

The game isn’t too long, most hardened gamers will probably be able to finish this one in a single session, which I actually managed to do yesterday morning. I didn’t time myself, but I’d say to expect about 3 or so hours out of it, a bit more if you look around for collectables.

Sea Of Solitude Review

Sea Of Solitude Review

On the surface, Sea Of Solitude is about a young girl named Kay, who is searching through a city, which is for some reason flooded. You start the game all alone on a tiny boat, way out at sea on the water. You make your way to the city, where you find a monster clad in darkness is blocking your path. Through exploration and activating certain things, Kay brings light to an otherwise dark city.

Underneath the main plot though, is a game with strong messages and themes related to loneliness and relationships. Kay as a character is someone who has become lonely, isolated and quite depressed after issues with her family and her boyfriend. The game sends the player on a journey to free Kay and other characters from suffering from the effects of loneliness and related themes. What I didn’t expect this weekend, was to play a game which seemed to have the objective of tackling these mental health issues in this way and I never expected to play something this weekend from the gaming genre with such deep meaning to it.

In many ways, Sea Of Solitude reminded me of my experience with Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice which was also a game that focused on mental health issues and is still a game I hold in very high regard. Both of these games were experiences that I could not put down once I started playing as I just had to find out what was going to happen with my character. Games tackling these mental health themes and the issues involved are quite rare in this medium, so when an experience like this does come along, it’s very unique and interesting. The difference between Sea Of Solitude and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is that Sea of Solitude is a little lighter in tone and not the intense gruelling experience that Senua’s was. This makes a player’s time with Sea Of Solitude one that is peaceful to experience.

Sea Of Solitude Review

Sea Of Solitude Review

The art style in Sea Of Solitude is something I enjoyed looking at. The animations are very rounded, colours stand out on the screen and the use of blacks in contrast with visibly bright blues, whites and orange was what I loved the most. The music and also the voice acting, was soft and did fit in well with the tone of the game’s themes and art style. All together, visuals and audios seemed to be just right.

The gameplay in Sea Of Solitude is something I’d say is probably a little simple. It’s essentially a platforming game where you will jump, swim, drive a boat and shoot flares onto enemies. There aren’t any button combinations to learn or any level up systems. The game is accessible to people of most ages and even to people new to gaming could easily pick this one up and get through it.

Overall coming out of playing Sea Of Solitude, I was filled with positivity and happiness. The story is quite heavy when playing through it, but very warm in the end. The art style and animations are nice to see and the sound and voice acting was just right. I do like to see that the games industry can use the medium to tackle such heavy topics and release games like this which show how well this medium can tell a story and provide its audience with something of great meaning. I’m happy to recommend Sea Of Solitude for your gaming collection.

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Stuber Review

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Stuber Review

Stuber is a film which comes directed by Michael Dowse and stars Dave Bautista, Kumail Nanjiani and Betty Gilpin. The film is an action comedy adventure about an Uber driver and a policeman who go on a wild ride together.

Going in to see Stuber I didn’t really know where to set my expectations. Knowing only that the film was a comedy, meant I went in for the lols and didn’t expect all that much from the story. But coming out of the film, I’m sorry to say, but it’s not really that great.

The film starts off okay and the opening scene features both Vic (Dave Bautista) and Sara (Karen Gillan) engaged in a dangerous shootout with some bad guys. Both are seriously injured and Vic loses his eyesight, which means he gets some urgent surgery. His eyes need time go recover, but as soon he’s able to walk he calls for an Uber and continues on with his police business, which is catching the bad guys who got away in the opening scene. This is where Stu (Kumail Nanjiani) comes in and the journey between this awkward duo begins.

I wish I could say that it was all good once the Uber ride began but it wasn’t. The film is only really mildly funny. Dave Bautista who I do really like in action films really isn’t great at comedy. Kumail Nanjiani basically was just screaming and yelling the whole time and talking about his Uber rating and reviews. I admit I did find some of the bad reviews he got from his previous customers in the film funny when they were shown, but that’s about it. Some of the jokes were also drawn out way too long. Dave Bautista’s character being blind was kind of funny in the first minute when you saw him trying to walk around without being able to see. But it’s only funny once and they did this joke over and over again almost all the way until the end!

In addition to this, for quite a bit of the film, I wondered if this was some sort of product placement or advertisement for Uber. There were so many mentions of Uber, Uber reviews and the difference between Uber products and services. What are we paying to watch here? Who cares about Uber!?

In the end I would suggest avoiding Stuber at the cinema this week and choosing literally any other film currently showing. After leaving this I instantly thought that Stuber needs to be on my list of worst movies of 2019 which I created just after seeing this and that says a lot because I was not compelled to make one after seeing X:Men Dark Phoenix.

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The Biggest Album Debuts of 2019: Updated Chart

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Biggest Album Debuts of 2019

The Biggest Album Debuts of 2019 – Billboard has been publishing a list of the most popular albums in America every week since March 1956. They include the “equivalent album units” for the albums in the top ten. What’s not included is a way to view the biggest debuts for each year.

For anyone else who is curious, here is a chart that ranks the biggest album debuts of 2019.

NOTE:

  • This only covers first-week album sales in America that debuted in the top ten on the Billboard 200 chart
  • EPs are included in this list
  • “Equivalent album units” factor in traditional album sales, concert ticket/merch bundles and streaming numbers

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL AND UPDATED LIST

ArtistAlbumFirst Week “Units”
Jonas BrothersHappiness Begins414,000
Ariana GrandeThank U, Next360,000
Billie EilishWhen We All Fall Asleep313,000
Backstreet BoysDNA234,000
BTSMap of the Soul: Persona230,000
KhalidFree Spirit202,000
Juice WRLD

Tyler, the Creator

Death Race for Love

Igor

165,000 (1) (2)
Vampire WeekendFather of the Bride138,000
DJ KhaledFather of Asahd137,000

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL AND UPDATED LIST

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