Axiom Verge 2
PC, PS4, PS5, Switch
Why do something yourself, when you can get a machine to do it for you? That seems to have been the founding principle of Axiom Verge 2, a sequel determined to find more distance from the Metroid-like design its predecessor held close. The very first tool it hands you is an ice pick, letting you give enemies the Trotsky treatment with a few swipes – but this direct approach quickly proves unsatisfying in comparison to what else the game has to offer.
First, there’s the hacking system, which takes the concept of Axiom Verge’s glitch-triggering Address Disruptor and expands it, both figuratively and literally. Instead of a gun in the hands (there are none of those to be found here), your entire form is encircled by a field of nanites, growing outwards as you hold the trigger. Hacking any foe caught in its radius, you’re generally given a few options: will you deactivate its weapons, turn it to your side, or convince it to drop its healthrestoring cargo so you can scoop it up and run onwards?
The drone arrives shortly afterwards, ensuring you need never get your hands dirty. Able to slip into tight gaps like Samus Aran’s Morph Ball, this steerable bot is another idea that has an analogue in the first game – this time built out to become effectively a second, external self that’s at least as capable as your human form. Early on, the drone provides a low-risk way of clearing rooms and exploring splits in the map, but as it develops its own distinct set of abilities, including a pleasingly springy grapple, you’ll find yourself spending more and more time in drone form – a growing reliance that is played upon brilliantly in a second-act twist.
Most important of all, it grants access to the subspace dimension known as the Breach. Just as the drone reveals itself as a worthy alternative to your human self, this turns out to be a full second map laid under the first, following its rough curves but diverging at several vital points. Occasionally, getting beyond a seemingly impassable wall is not simply a case of applying the correct ability but ducking into the Breach and navigating past it on the other side.
The game occasionally gets lost in the cleverness of its own layouts, sending you towards a marker when really you need to be heading in the opposite direction on that map’s mirror. But this is where it locates its challenge, testing your spatial reasoning rather than reflexes. Axiom Verge 2 all but sheds the vestigial combat elements of the latter-day Metroidvania to focus on the genre’s foundational pleasure: the sense of walking a familiar neighbourhood, taking an unexplored alleyway on a whim, and emerging somewhere that seems far from where you began.