Bethesda veteran and indie developer Nate Purkeypile recently released an updated 2022 trailer for his experimental fantasy hunting sim, The Axis Unseen. The latest trailer, as well as Purkeypile’s dev logs on YouTube, paint an exciting picture of a sort of stealth-shooter that embraces some classic immersive sim inspirations.
Purkeypile is developing The Axis Unseen on Unreal Engine 5, and while the tech’s gotten plenty of attention for the high-fidelity graphics it can support, this is the first time I’ve been really wowed by the art direction on a UE5 project. Purkeypile’s stark metal album environments really benefit from the “UE5 look” of the lighting, that kind of dreamy effect like a too-bright early afternoon.
The striking, as-of-yet unexplained ruins of his scenes really grab my attention as well. In particular, the shot of a triangular sculpture with reptilian hands grasping at a humanoid figure at the top of a staircase to nowhere reminds me of the work of French comic artist Moebius. These environments are just weird, and I want to explore them.
That enticing fantasy world promises to support some unique gameplay as well. I almost read Axis Unseen’s bowhunting gameplay as a riff on the fan-favorite stealth archer build from Skyrim, a game Purkeypile worked on as a world artist. Your character moves slowly and can’t take too many hits from the game’s otherworldly fauna (think the Ancestor Spirit from Elden Ring). Arrows seem to be in short supply as well, so sneaking about is the order of the day.
The game’s quarry can detect you via sight, sound, and even smell, with the range of that last one dependent on wind direction. Similar to Looking Glass Studios’ seminal stealth series, Thief, different surfaces transmit sound to greater or lesser degrees, affecting how fast you can traverse them without alerting foes. Dirt is quieter than stone, but you leave tracks for enemies to follow there while stone poses no such risk (unless you’re tracking mud!)
Turnabout’s fair play though, and players will be tasked with keeping abreast of this world’s creatures visually and via audio cues, and enemies leave tracks that you can follow in turn. No detective vision or MGSV marking of enemies here, The Axis Unseen fully embraces its low-tech ranger fantasy. Unfortunately, VR technology is still a long way off from the sort of olfactory simulation you’d need to smell your opponents, so that’s an unfair advantage this game’s magical harts, ent/leshen-type guys, and other horrors will have over you.
There’s a lot of other little touches I enjoy as well. The menu seems to take the form of an in-game book whose pages you flip through, and you have to pull your quiver off your back to see how many arrows you have, similar to the magazine checking of Wolfire Games’ Receiver series. I usually prefer a chunky, overdesigned, retro UI over a modern, minimalist, abstracted one, but I really appreciate Axis Unseen’s commitment to über-minimalism.
The Axis Unseen has me stoked for its unique take on stealth and fantasy exploration, but we’re still a ways off from release. Purkeypile is a little over a year into the game’s development, and recently showed off a development roadmap for the project on Twitter. For now, you can follow Purkeypile’s progress on his YouTube, and Twitter accounts, as well as wishlist the game on Steam or the Epic Store.
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