Despite some very messy disputes behind the scenes, Aeon Must Die is here. And here is not the place to focus on the backroom disagreements, you can ask Google about those if you wish. This is a review based purely on my time with the game, as I’m sure you would expect it to be.
Knowing who to trust can be very important in certain lines of work. Especially, say, if you’re the egotistical, sadistic emperor of the devastatingly destructive void armada. This was Aeon, before his generals betrayed him and left him for dead, or so they thought.
The price of survival for Aeon was finding a host body to merge with in true symbiote fashion. That’s right, there’s a Venom and Eddie Brock style relationship which drives the narrative in Aeon Must Die.
In truth, Aeon does all the talking as he tries to pursue his agenda of revenge, which conflicts with his host’s who is referred to as Starspawn. You set out across the city of Pantheon on your trusty bike, regularly stumbling across unsavoury groups looking to take down the once mighty Aeon (not that this has affected his confidence at all). The real battles are with your former generals, and it’s safe to say their loyalties vary somewhat.
The story in Aeon Must Die is told in chapters, with a story that can branch out in different directions depending on the result of certain decisive encounters. The game is essentially an old school beat ‘em-up but with a key difference. Instead of a health bar, Aeon can become too hot or drained of energy. You can control his state by using certain types of moves and pulling off parries and roll dodges to stop Aeon hitting either extreme.
If you do, you’re vulnerable to be killed by just one hit until you cool off, and return to your normal state. Being a beat ‘em-up, there are numerous moves that you can pull off, however you need to unlock them first. This is done by spending respect points on your skills tree, which are earned in battles. However, if you are defeated your purpose count will decrease by one. You may instantly get back up to fight off your enemy’s lackies, and later have to square up to your foe in the form of a revenge match, and win back your purpose point.
If your purpose count hits zero, Aeon will completely take over Starspawn’s body, and the story will significantly shift. The good news is you’ll get access to all of Aeon’s moves and will have unlimited lives, making the game much more straightforward if you simply wish to fight your way through the battles without any concern for consequences. Or, you can choose to “die with honour” in order to take back control and erase all progress since your last echo moment (which usually occurs after pivotal battles).
This said, Aeon Must Die is hard. You can’t tweak the difficulty in the traditional sense either, meaning you’ll die an awful lot. Pulling off parries is crucial, as is learning how to manage Aeon’s state of being to prevent leaving himself vulnerable. There are various enemies who have different movesets, ranging from the ten-a-penny grunts to the much more threatening generals.
It takes a while to get used to the game mechanics, and, even with practise, pulling off blocks requires precise timing. Despite Aeon’s fluctuating temperature and fairly impressive move set, there is only a basic level of strategy to the fighting. You’ll inevitably resort to button bashing in a desperate attempt to avoid death which often yields mixed results.
After an hour or so, things start to get very repetitive. Despite a fairly entertaining narrative driven by the character dialogue, it doesn’t do enough to distract from the lack of variation between every fight. There are some slight differences such as battling against a timer or the slightly more inventive general battles, but it doesn’t stop the fighting feeling like a grind.
However, Aeon Must Die’s most obvious strength is how it looks. The brilliantly stylised visuals could easily have been lifted from an anime or comic book. There is plenty to admire, whether it’s the character designs, different areas of Pantheon or how Aeon interacts with the other characters in and out of battle. The soundtrack does a good job also, but it’s the visuals that do most of the heavy lifting here. The only noticeable weakness (even when playing on the Xbox Series X) is the fact there are far too many loading screens, which interrupt the flow of events almost constantly.
Dazzling visuals, multiple storylines and one pretty cool protagonist are sadly not enough to compensate for the entertaining, but ultimately underwhelming, gameplay in Aeon Must Die.
You can pick up Aeon Must Die from the Xbox Store