Aztech Forgotten Gods is the new title from indie Mexican developer Lienzo, which takes a big step away from their metroidvania platformer Hunter’s Legacy and also from their first 2018 title Mulaka, although it does retain more in common with the latter, specially when it comes to theme and art style. In Aztech you will be embarking on an epic journey to save the world while also defeating your own demons in a self-discovery sub-plot.
My personal predilection for colossus fighting games with good music to match may sway my perception of Aztech, but it will certainly not stop me from mentioning the bad parts, because there are some. They may vary in importance depending on the player, and luckily they didn’t make the game unplayable to me, but may very well make it for you.
Aztech Forgotten Gods is available in Steam for $29.99
Story – Questionable Decisions
You will take control of Achtli, a young girl of indeterminate age (probably in her early 20s) who stumbles on a ancient mechanic battle arm called Lightkeeper in your mother’s archeological dig. You will find that you’ve accidentally kickstarted the end of the world, and of course, you will use your newly found battle arm to prevent it. All of this happens in a futuristic, cyber-stone version of Tenochtitlán, the ancient Aztec city that used to stand where Mexico city currently is. Well, part of it, at least.
I like stories. I enjoy getting invested with narratives and characters. With that being said, I do not mind when I come across a game that doesn’t have a good story nor care to have it. Aztech, unfortunately, tries to incorporate a sense of narrative depth that just ends up falling flat. It attempts to make you care for characters and the protagonist’s backstory in a 3-4 hours game run and it does so in a very obvious way that just feels too try-hard.
The story also makes a move at trying to stablish character development for the protagonist, and while I’d say that part didn’t completely fail, because the closing of the story does offer a more evolved character, I will say that it was probably not necessary to do so. I really ended up caring more about feeling epic during the battles than the character development. The story suffers from just how damn good the gameplay and battles are, and ends up being overshadowed.
This is likely the part of the experience people will have the more grievances with. The story itself is not bad, is actually interesting, albeit not particularly original or groundbreaking, but the story is decent, as far as giving you an excuse for the real highlight of the game, which is the fighting. The problem lies in the storytelling, the direction, and, mainly, the dialogues.
Storytelling – Less Can be More
Telling a compelling and captivating story is not always a simple task. The storyteller will strive to retain the interest and attention of the listener, in this case the player. The way the elements of the story is presented is important, as far as characters, events, worldbuilding, justifications, and so on. And often times what remains unsaid can be just as or even more important to the story than what is said.
The Storytelling in Aztech is simplistic in a convoluted way. The characters constantly throw exposition in the form of obnoxious dialogues and while there are certainly interesting elements to the story that are shown this way, the way the developer chose to deliver the exposition becomes tiring and a drag at best.
Dialogues – A Thorn on My Side
The most questionable of the decisions surrounding Aztech have to do with dialogue. The game has 0 voice acting, unless you’re willing to consider the occasional grunt and vocal expression as voice acting. This is not a bad a thing, plenty of games do just fine without any voice acting and/or using grunts and sounds and having the words just be text. The problem lies in the sheer amount of dialogues you have to sit through every so often just for the sake of exposition.
Now, dialogues can mostly be skipped, sure. But if you care for the story, as you likely would in a first playthrough, you may not be too compelled to skip them. but when the game actively makes going through the dialogues feel like wading through a muddy river just to get to the other side, it stops being an enjoyable experience.
The game would have benefited from cutting the amount of dialogues and useless exposition and maybe turn them into actual cutscenes, at least that way you wouldn’t need to sit there constantly pressing A to move things along. But then you would have a ton of cutscenes, if all the dialogue was to remain intact.
The dialogues were the single thing that I disliked the most about the game. It’s not only the long, loooong sections of diatribe that the game subjects you to, but the lack of voice acting, combined with the very odd occasion where some character would actually open their mouth as if they were wording some words, but with nothing coming out of it, that makes the entire experience feel rather unpolished. Maybe the developer did intend to have voice acting and had the animations ready for it but then decided against it but didn’t bother to get rid of the animation? This is just one of a number of things that feel rushed and incomplete.
Gameplay – A Saving Grace
If the storytelling and direction of Aztech is what’s bringing it down, then the gameplay is what carries the weight and makes the experience worthwhile. Mostly. The main mechanics and events of the game are centered around having fights with giants from the Aztec pantheon and, for most of the fights, the experience is excellent.
All battles are aerial, and, luckily, the developer did nail the flying aspect of the game. not only for the battles, but flying around the city is also fun, at least for a while. The fights are demanding, although the difficulty does not increase progressively as you move through the giants. For instance, I found the second colossus to be more difficult than most of the rest, with the exception of the last one. And while that was a bit disappointing, I still enjoyed all of the fights.
The number of abilities that were implemented for Achtli also add an interesting layer of complexity to the battles, although the only abilities you get to upgrade for Lightkeeper are all passive. The active abilities are locked in the progression of the story, although it may not be entirely clear that you’ve unlocked them.
I get the feeling that Lienzo developed all of the colossus fights first, and then built the rest of the game around them, but the rest of the game does suffer in quality compared to the fights. Like I said, you end up feeling you have to suffer through the dialogues and story to reach the next fight, which is what you really want to do once you realize they are the single best part of the game.
The unpolished feel of the game is not unwarranted. In at least a handful of times I encountered issues with the world, such as clipping through walls, getting out of bounds, looking at assets that seemed incomplete and such. As you can imagine, they can break immersion, but luckily there were no major issues during the boss fights.
When the game gives you the basics of movement, you may get the feeling that the camera control while flying (and flying in general) can feel a little janky, but you’ll get used to the controls fairly quickly and chances are you will enjoy flying around just like I did.
Graphics and Audio – Almost Wasted Potential
This is a game where I can say that the art style is good, and the music amazing, but they were both unfortunately poorly implemented, to a certain extent. Sound effects are solid, even the grunting during the infamous dialogues do manage to convey a certain emotion an tone, which I can’t imagine is easy to accomplish, so kudos to however was in charge of the sound design in general. These are two areas I’d like to talk about independently.
Art Style and Graphics
I enjoyed the art style, and the implementation of it is somewhat decent. At a distance. It is when you start getting closer to the assets that you can appreciate that some zones were worked on significantly more than others, to the point where some of the areas on the edge of the city seemed to have been hastily added right before the deadline.
The graphics were a bit iffy here and there, and you might get the feeling that you are playing something created for an early access build or a beta test. Some parts of the environment, specially in the first sequence of the game, are hard to look at and you can merge you character to the textures of the walls, or sometimes float in the air and such. Luckily these issues are either non-existent or not noticeable during the colossus fights, although that makes the defects outside of the fights be even more of a sore thumb.
Music and Implementation
I already mentioned that the single most positive aspect of the game is the colossus fights. And a big part of this is the music. The music during the battles is frenetic and well defined, which is not an easy combination to achieve. The music itself is enough to get you pumped through most of the fights, and it’s simply enjoyable to listen to. If you are into the likes of Doom Eternal, and are looking to pick up new fights with a similar feel, this might just scratch your itch. A bit. It is a short game.
The music then manages to convey a sense of dread, hope, surprise, shock, and whatever else the story calls for, and it does it masterfully. The musical journey in Aztech is sufficiently varied that for a moment there it had me thinking that it had to have been created by at least a handful of different composers. When I reached the credits of the game (which I also stuck around to see just so that I could continue listening to the music), I confirmed that it was a duo. Diego Borja and Carlos Egas really did a magnificent job with the soundtrack. But don’t take my word for it, here’s what was probably my favorite theme in the OST:
It was a shame that the direction of the game made it that at some points there is no music at all. This tends to happen during dialogues, which adds to the dread of having to go through them. It ‘s hard to say if they were going for some sort of dramatic effect or there was another reason for the decision, but it would have been an improvement to use the music as much as possible.
The sound effects, often overlooked, were also done more than adequately. The sounds the gauntlet makes when launching you and making you stay in the air adds to the flight experience and it’s partly what makes it enjoyable. I really can’t express enough praises to the composers and sound designer, they and the colossus battle feels alone is what saved the game for me.
If you liked that video, do check out the game’s soundtrack. I know I’ll be playing it for a while.
Aztech Forgotten Gods was reviewed on PC with a key provided by StridePR.