Matthew Steele's Azimuth is a Metroidvania cave flyer with a scifi plot and gunplay that both fosters and rewards creativity. While it's no secret the game is scaling some lofty shoulders (some the developer lists include the Metroid series, a Mac-only title called SketchFighter 4000 Alpha, and Star Control II), the exact admixture of ingredients allows it to clear accusations of redundancy without a hassle. The three-and-a-half years of its concoction are evident in the rarefied aromas and consistence and there is no basic reason a fan of gradually widening access to a large gameworld would want to skip it over.
The story kicks off with you the shall-we-say-lucky recipient of a distress signal as a lone ranger patrolling the borderlands of human-inhabitated space. This signal, a faint whimper, suggests something's badly out of order on a planetoid known as Zenith. Having swooshed across to its home system, upon arrival, you're handed the controls as you begin exploring the deserted decks of the shook research station, which, to no-one's surprise, has nothing on offer but a quarrelsome defense system, territorial critters, and another more mysterious and sinister presence, no less quarrelsome or territorial at that.
Well, there's the guns. You do get guns. The first one is an upgrade to your forlorn peashooter called the Charge Gun. In Metroid style, this helps with clearing some of the junk out the way, or at least finding out what it would take to do so. As you make more headway, you'll come across the Freeze Gun next, and your weapons will never feel lonely again. This is because from there on out, you will always have two weapons selected at once, and the shots that spill out of the barrel are their chimeric offspring. As such, the first of these "matches made in heaven" will be a gun that freezes enemies while also being possible to charge up for junk duty. As you'll know at a glance at the inventory screen (or, indeed, the forthcoming manual), eight primary weapons exist in total, meaning (as you'll know at a glance at Pascal's triangle) 28 combined weapon pairs to avail yourself of by the time you get your itchy blood-soaked hands on the final one. Are... you... not... entertained? This cornucopia is completed by secondary munitions – rockets and bombs – with each their powered-up version to be discovered somewhere in the depths of the doomed facility.
Aaaaaand there's the gear upgrades! These are mostly exactly what you'd expect and increase your shields and energy capacity, make your energy refill faster, or protect you from damage. Some bestow you with new abilities instead. One of the cooler ones is the equivalent to Samus' Grapple Beam. Talking about power-ups, this brings me to the one major gripe I had with the game, or one I can imagine people having, which is to say how dreadfully leisurely it is. I had one death that was caused randomly by inattention and the only other time I died I was a cat a tad too curious, confirming to myself I had no business in a place I clearly had no business in. Not even, say, a barbershop or a small family-run bakery. The bosses are cool in their designs but far from always a serious threat due to an overabundance of shield refills. Airing this gripe in a brief conversation with the developer, who kindly pointed me to the next objective after I'd gotten rather woesomely stuck, I received the suggestion to attempt a low% playthrough, which, as he explained, "means skipping all shield/energy upgrades and non-essential weapon/armor upgrades". In the end, this will make your completion percentage land at 15%. My first time through I finished just shy of 11 hours in, but I reckon the greatly increased drag of such a scantly clad "Zero Suit" playthrough might bloat it like a swollen nose, and indeed test your chops in an entirely more jaw-clenching way. It's difficult to even perfectly imagine how limiting yourself to 5 rockets and 5 bombs might impact your experience!
Far from resting only on the laurels of this one game mechanic, the developer has ensured the player will hardly find fault in other areas either. The gameworld is full of spicy secrets, par for the course for the genre. The soundtrack, which is chiptuney but not in a grating way, you may well find yourself whistling along to in some areas. The graphics go beyond the call of duty for an indie freeware title, with special effects abound that could so easily have ended up on the cutting room floor. There's also not a lot of anything that looks visually confusing in a way that would have made me struggle to understand what I'm being visually communicated about the gameworld.
So yes, you DO owe it to yourself to play this thing and to spend time browsing your new options every time you've augmented your arsenal. There is bound to be a type of weapon generatable this way that you will not be likely to have seen in any other game you've played... like if you combine the Phase Gun with the Freeze Gun... you get a wave attack that passes through obstacles AND freezes enemies on the other side. If you're an optimizer kind of player (or indeed accept the low% gauntlet), you will surely find a pleasant pastime in descrying the subtleties of each combination. And not just that, the game displays an immense level of expertise from the indie solo dev in every facet, regardless of the salience of past greats in its DNA. Two thumbs up, way up for this obvious Top Dog delight!
TIWIKs: Things I Wish I'd Known
Reviewed by: LotBlind
- The one part of the game I (and apparently others too) got stuck in like a Venus flytrap with superglue inside is right after assimilating the Milliwave Radar upgrade. Make sure to actually use that thing, and doubly so in the rooms immediately surrounding the site of its discovery.
- The hints system, which is a separate toggle in the menu, felt essential to me to keep making progress, as the game holds hands no more presumingly than a maths major on a first date with Catwalk Katie.
- Remember that you can always pause the game with ESC to give yourself more time to think about your situation.