We never doubted it for a second. It looked like December might pass by without a single EpiXR Games game – a Life of Fly, Murder Diaries or Paper Flight perhaps. But we needn’t have worried, as they’ve snuck in with a last-minute Aery.
For the uninitiated, EpiXR Games are a small independent studio that specialise in – effectively – a single game, released every month. That game is a flight sim that is so laid back that you could fall asleep and wake up with 1000G in your back pocket, wondering who put it there. In some of these games, you are flying around landscapes as a fly, in others a spirit, and in Aery games you play a macaw. These games have different names and varying stories, but they share environments between them (occasionally shockingly so) and they largely play the same way.
There’s a hint of cynicism and sarcasm in every sentence we wrote there, but Aery – Path of Corruption demands more respect than most. For one, it is, without doubt, the best-looking of any EpiXR title. We don’t know who they’ve hired, or which intern is making the rest of the team look bad, but Aery – Path of Corruption looks rather splendid. And they’ve not just taken an airbrush to the already existing library of levels they keep wheeling out: these are modelled anew, and they look fab.
The quality comes from the detail and the composition. In the very first level, you can fly into a shopping mall and investigate each individual shop. In previous Aerys, EpiXR would have shrugged and scattered some polygons about like bird-seed. In Aery – Path of Corruption you can glide into a music shop and see every last harp and harmonica, lovingly recreated. Our favourite moment was when we flew into the photocopying room of an office and found some scattered sheets with someone’s bum printed on them. We don’t often comment on the care and attention in one of these games, but there’s plenty.
In terms of composition, there’s the odd level that feels cleverly put together. A spooky manor with a maze in its grounds feels artfully constructed, with forethought on how the player might explore and swoop around it. Canvassing the grounds and then moving up through the mansion, with the spooky goings-on getting more intense as you climb is impressive. We wish more of the EpiXR games sculpted the experience like this.
The story though? Fuhgeddaboutit. While there’s been a sudden zhuzhing of the graphics, the story has somehow gotten worse. The ‘Path of Corruption’ refers to a character called Jack, who wants to build a house (don’t buy any magic beans, Jack!). Jack needs money to build the house, so starts to fantasise about selling drugs and robbing banks to make ends meet.
And, of course, when he fantasises about these things, his imagination becomes a parrot that flies around those fantasies. So, Jack gets to fly around a Breaking Bad-style meth lab and the vaults of a bank.
Most people decide to live with their parents or get stuck in the renting loop, rather than deciding that – hey – they’re going to build their own house and commit heinous crimes to pay it off. But Jack’s different, so we’ll run with it. But we couldn’t escape a feeling that’s even stronger than in other Aerys: the level themes came first, and the story is tying itself in knots to excuse them. We go to an apocalypse level because Jack worries about what the world would look like if everyone took what they wanted. We go to a Fifth Element-style future level because, um, he’s worried about his future? And the less said about the judgmental final line of the story, the better.
It’s utterly rubbish. But we suspect that people don’t buy an Aery game for the storyline. The joy of these games is in the blissful floating about, and in this regard Aery – Path of Corruption doesn’t disappoint. We’d vote for Aery’s approach over, say Paper Planes, because it leans into the no-friction serenity of the gameplay, rather than adding other mechanics on top. You simply point to the next feather on the horizon and then float towards it.
There’s some amendments though, as Aery – Path of Corruption has a cycle of two different level objectives. On the odd levels, you have a huge number of feathers to find in an open world environment, more than we’ve seen in any other Aery game (up to fifty-five); on the even levels, the feathers appear in a sequence. Find the first feather and the second feather materialises, and so on.
We’d have appreciated some tutorial text that actually said something like that. We assumed that every level would be a mahoosive collectathon, having played the first level, but the second only shows one feather at a time. We duly floated around the whole level, wondering where the feathers had gone, wasting fifteen minutes on a fruitless treasure hunt. We assumed it was a bug.
There’s frustration to be had in the bigger, open world levels too. With up to fifty-five feathers to be found, and the objective demanding you find every last one (no feather gets left behind!), there’s ample opportunity to be left with just one. There’s no hint system or Crackdown-style audio pulse to point to where they are, so you can bet that – at least once in the game – you will be painfully canvassing the area for one last feather. They’re well highlighted, with big sparkly flourishes, but that doesn’t necessarily help when the last feather is tucked round the back of a warehouse. We’d argue that it’s about time that EpiXR produced a mechanic that helped in these situations.
Flying high up into the air and surveying Aery – Path of Corruption, particularly against the other EpiXR Games, we can say with confidence that it’s one of their best. It doesn’t knock Aery – Vikings off its perch (there’s more potential for frustration here), but it’s the most lavish and graphically detailed of all the Aerys, and it even takes a couple of risks that work. Just be prepared for one of the worst stories that we’ve been exposed to on Xbox.
You can buy Aery – Path of Corruption from the Xbox Store