I can’t think of many good things to say about this game. While the bones of a good action flight-sim are present, they all seem to be broken and there’s no meat or skin to provide an actual working organism. AX:EL – Air XenoDawn is a flight simulator with an emphasis on dog-fighting, developed by Axe Eel Games.
You aren’t alone If you haven’t heard of Axe Eel Games because they’re very new and this is their first game; I say ‘they’ but it’s actually just one guy, Alex, who got into software development from working in robotics and electronics. As much as I didn’t enjoy the game I will still give Alex applause because it’s definitely commendable for a one person production.
AX:EL comes with a single player and multiplayer component but the multiplayer component shouldn’t even really get a mention considering it can be summed up with the words ‘No Servers Found’, I won’t touch too much on the story either because I didn’t actually finish the game, which is my bad, but I just couldn’t.
The game starts with an intro explaining that it’s the future and World War 3 has broken out over the discovery of a new type of metal that can adapt to a changing environment. New types of ships have been created with this metal that have the ability to fly in the air and the water. I quite like this premise and it’s not implemented badly, when you fly into the water your ship does a little shape shifting animation and it’s seamless and automatic. You have a hub where you can purchase ships and upgrades with currency you get from Mercenary Missions, of which there is ten to complete: I only finished three.
The first three missions were extremely easy missions that just got you used to the buttons and then the fourth mission is completely unbeatable. The first missions had little risk, provided you can keep yourself from crashing into mountains or the seabed, then the fourth mission has you fighting a group of ships that I found impossible. Now it’s possible that I did something wrong, perhaps I bought the wrong ship or something, but I died up to about thirty times and not once did I know what I did wrong. One of their bullets kills you and all you have to protect yourself is countermeasures, that never seemed to work, and a shield that uses up over half of your energy which is depleted by the use of your attacks, your countermeasures, your jets and your shield so you have the choice of attacking them or shielding a couple attacks before dying or hiding under the water until your energy replenishes. You die way too easily in this game. I only ever saw my health bar at 100% or dead and every time you die you have to start the mission from the beginning. This would easily be fixed with something like the inclusion of lives and maybe a skip command for the intro sequence because I know I would’ve had a few more go’s in me if I didn’t have to sit through a boring mission briefing every time I died. There was some fun to be had in the first three missions as they had you manoeuvring through obstacles and shooting at things, so it was annoying to see how horrible the game got as soon as it got to actual dog-fighting because it’s not the controls that are bad, the game just has a major problem with conveying what is happening.
The controls are quite basic compared to other types of flight simulators, which I liked because I can sometimes find overly complicated controls off-putting. The problems came when the game introduced things you have to concentrate on because nothing seems to declare itself prominently. There’s no effective targeting system so it’s hard to follow your opponents, the enemies bullets are too small to see, the indicator telling you when the enemy was locked onto you is completely ineffectual and speed of the battle makes everything a mess. You just can’t see anything that’s happening so you have no control over what is happening then suddenly you’re dead and the text ‘You Have Crashed’ appears. This would all be worth playing through and getting better at if the game wasn’t already boring as hell. I said earlier that there was some fun to be had in the first few missions but that was only in contrast to the crappy dogfighting. The game is boring and mostly due to its presentation.
AX:EL feels like more like you’re playing with a toy airplane than piloting an actual jet. You fly it around your couch a few times pretending it’s a mountain then you get bored and go do something else. I was attracted to the game with a trailer showing all this vibrant imagery, then when you get into the game everything is just dull and boring. The game seems to put the multiplayer ahead of the single player campaign and I’m basing that completely on the fact that the single player option comes after the multiplayer option in the list of game options so you’re drawn to it first. The story is told through text-based mission briefing that only ever pertained to the mission at hand and there didn’t seem to be an overarching story. All of the mission briefings are immediately forgettable and the missions themselves were simple and didn’t have much in them. I can’t comment too much on this because, for all I know they get amazing after mission four; I highly doubt it though. I found myself asking the question “am I having fun?” way too much, which is a question no one asks if, indeed they’re having fun.
The game feels budget and unfinished which would be the defeating point if it weren’t completely developed by one person. Of course the game is going to feel budget, it is budget, but just because a game is budget doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and have some kind of style to make it interesting.
I’m disappointed because the game started off strong with an intro that brought me into it, with an interesting premise, then it just didn’t go anywhere with it. It proceeded to bore me then throw an insane difficulty at me out of nowhere. I couldn’t even bring myself to get angry at this game because it didn’t do anything to capture my emotions from the start. This is the first game in a long while where I felt it wasn’t worth getting better at it to pass it. I felt a wave of relief wash over me as the game stopped responding and I couldn’t bring myself to click back into it.
I feel bad for giving the game a bad review because I don’t want to discourage Alex, as I think he’s very dedicated and skilled (hell, I couldn’t make this game). If he had concentrated more on how he can immerse the player and make them want to keep playing then it could have been great. I hope Alex keeps making games because based on the mechanics of this game he could become a true asset to the industry. In my head this game is unfinished.
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