Delightfully dynamic, yet unrefined.
By Joel DeWitte
Aztech: Forgotten Gods is a story of a young Aztechian woman named Achtli, a part-time delivery person who has a plucky attitude and a snarky sense of humor. After the tragic loss of her father, she carries a pang of guilt from blaming herself for his death, acquiring a severe case of claustrophobia. Left with her mother, a tech guru who works with a government agency to research a form of limitless energy, and an overenthusiastic friend who wants to play undercover agent, she is thrust into a battle of Aztechian gods to save her mother from being trapped in an ancient confined room, using a relic weapon to punch and fly her way to save her mom, home, and the world.
Aztech is an open world, 3rd person action game in a city which is a vision of an alternate reality where an Aztechian society continues to thrive in the Americas, leveraging legacy technology from their ancestors to develop a thriving, futuristic architecture. Achtli, in the midst of helping her mother sneak into her work’s laboratory to continue her efforts after their limitless energy project is shut down, gets stuck with a giant arm attachment. In doing so, she is also fused with the spirit of an ancient serpent deity, who then tasks her with fulfilling his prophecy of defeating a slew of other gods attacking the city and absorbing their power to help open the doors keeping her mother trapped.
That arm has rocket thrusters, which let you zip and zoom in the air as long as the power meter doesn’t deplete. Controlling it can start a little unwieldy – hitting the boost without direction will shoot Achtli straight into the air, and pushing the stick forward will blast her straight ahead at rocket-like speeds. There’s a very small window of angled flight that can be made by just slightly tipping the control stick, but you’re likely to just stick with pushing forward. Achtli can also charge-up a big boost jump from the ground, like Neo bracing himself to take flight in the Matrix. Her primary attacks are big hulking swings of the arm and eventually a projectile attack emanating from it. A lock-on feature during combat helps regain some control in combat mid-flight, but even that is tough to manage with how quickly Achtli moves in air. Throughout the game, a skill tree unlocks that features boost speeds, health increases, and stamina that can be purchased via in-game currency that drops from enemies.
There’s something inherently fun about the core flying around the city. The blistering speed coupled with an imprecise sense of control makes for some fumbling, but learning how to wrangle that tiger ends in a great sense of accomplishment when rocketing through the world. The thought in my mind was that this is what an Iron Man game could feel like, with a punch that keeps you floating in air and punching away at monsters mid-flight. One problem though is a lack of diversity in the typical mobs of enemies. Most are ghost-like, bulky knights that float around in circles, slowly engaging in combat. They are painfully easy, almost to the point of boredom. Where combat succeeds is in fighting the gods. These bosses are as tall as skyscrapers, with a need to master air combat, leveraging boost pads that litter the arena to dodge sweeping attacks and hone-in on weak points to bring them down. The gods have a nice variety of boss types and attack patterns, which keeps them fresh throughout.
These highs make the things Aztech: Forgotten Gods fumbles all the more disappointing. Firstly, the game has a severe issue of chugging framerate on Playstation 4. Not just during boss battles, not just during areas of high traffic, but almost everywhere. It’s frustrating because even if I got used to it eventually, I really want smooth movement for a game like this that has so much focus on flight, dynamic boss battles, and movement across an open world. Coupled with this issue are buildings and structures you can straight-up just fly through or clip into. Several times, there have been pyramid structures and areas which required hopping between rocks or pillars that when I flew into, would send me straight to the inside of the building, both being able to walk around in spaces that you’re not meant to, but also clipping and getting stuck in corners when trying to exit. It’s really disappointing to have this problem, and it’s something I didn’t anticipate being an issue.
There are some other issues that aren’t as glaring to me, but detract from the experience overall. For one, the choice to have no voice acting and instead have characters emote via noises and gasps just doesn’t work. Using this as a work-around for voice acting can work fine, but it’s an incessant call and response that borders on comical in its current state. Secondly, the graphics are subpar. Not middling, not average, subpar. People roaming around the city look like mannequins floating about, facial features painted onto an oval (or missing entirely in the case of some). There are several spots I noticed outright pixelation on structures, directional arrows, and even some of the bosses, a marquee figure that you’d think would have special attention to detail to avoid. And strangely enough, Achtli is even a victim to this problem. The default costume she wears is flat, no material definition, barely any shading to indicate that it’s clothing instead of a piece of plastic like an action figure. For a world this interesting and unique, i’d really like to see a bit more polish.
Aztech: Forgotten Gods has a lot of great ideas in its world building and epic nature of the scale of the gods. Achtli is a likable character whose story was an enjoyable adventure of epic battles, interesting relationships, and surprises. Traveling from place to place and fighting mythical creatures with the rocket arm is fun. Awkward, but fun. But the graphical flaws, the outright glitches and stuttering, and some poor choices in communication really does a disservice to the entire experience. I enjoyed my time with the game, but it was in spite of these flagrant problems. I hope developer Lienzo takes another crack at this world with some of these issues at the top of what to fix, because I would love to revisit the world, and Achtli deserves better.