The main protagonist punching towards the camera at speed.

It’s wonderful to see more diverse cultures, histories and mythologies begin to flourish in the world of gaming. But one that has rarely been explored in virtual form is Mesoamerican culture. Indie developer Lienzo saw an opportunity to rectify this. Aztech: Forgotten Gods is an action-adventure outing set in an alternate version of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán. Young package courier Achtli is trying to make her way in the world, aiding her historian/scientist mother Nantsin in her research and haunted by a tragic past. But through coming into possession of Lightkeeper—an ancient stone gauntlet—and primordial god-like giants arising across the city, Achtli comes face to face with destiny.

Achtli herself is a solid protagonist. Her writing and character development are well-executed, particularly when exploring the relationship with her mother and best friend Tepo. She is spunky and likable but also displays moments of emotional complexity when faced with difficult choices. None of the characters are voiced beyond simple sounds and exclamations with subtitles, but the emotion still comes through with expressive animation and dialogue. Occasionally the repeating animation can be a little too expressive and seem rather exaggerated, but for the most part, it works well. The underlying story of Achtli struggling to come to terms with her past and the death of her father is also touched on nicely in small moments of conversations and quite lovely hand-drawn flashback segments. 

Gameplay-wise, Lightkeeper has two primary uses: combat, naturally, and travel. Achtli can use the gauntlet’s energy to zoom across the landscape Iron Man-style and scale to the top of buildings. There are also workshops where she can upgrade her and Lightkeeper’s abilities. The longer you can stay alive and the faster you can zoom, the better. For the most part, travel is rather fun. Seeing the city laid out before you as you soar over it is quite exhilarating. And incidentally, Tenochtitlan is very intricate and varied in its Mesoamerican design; an interesting locale to explore, initially. But sadly this does not last. 

The protagonist on top of a building looking out at a brightly lit futuristic Aztec city. Glowing spotlights can be seen in the background.

While the architecture is impressive, the glowing effects on many of the buildings are uncomfortably bright. If only occasionally, this would not be much of an issue. But sadly the whole city is designed this way and there is no option to adjust the brightness in-game. This is also coupled with slight blurring and traces of double vision at the edges of the screen, even when Achtli is stationary. I consider myself to have fairly decent and strong eyesight, but after around half an hour I could feel the strain – even after adjusting my desktop brightness manually. As such, only around an hour or so of playtime could be managed at a time before it would become extremely uncomfortable. A novel way of limiting time spent gaming, I suppose, but very counterintuitive in this context. 

Also, despite its striking design, the city feels very empty with very little to warrant thorough exploration. Races, challenges and memories can be found in select areas, but these are rarely worth battling through the visual issues. Very few inhabitants can be found around the city streets and have very little detail to them. With the chosen graphical style, NPCs very much come across as just stock models; an extreme contrast to the overly expressive leads.

Returning to the gauntlet, combat is one of the focal points of Aztech. Achtli is capable of delivering both devastating melee and slicing ranged attacks with Lightkeeper, naturally leaning more towards the latter. This is mainly done through initiating an attack when in range and performing a precisely timed trigger press. It can be rather hit and miss at times (no pun intended) and it’s difficult to judge when you are in range to initiate an attack. There are small combat opportunities to be found, but the main bulk revolves around taking down the towering giants that appear at certain points. Each colossus is unique and detailed in its design, possessing different abilities and puzzling ways to bring them down. It’s not simply a straight-up brawl, which is refreshing and would be enjoyable to master. But one sizable problem prevents it from being so. And it’s not the giants.

The protagonist facing off against a giant boss resembling tree vines. A huge spike protrudes from the floor and green gas is seeping out of it.

During a boss battle, the camera seems to get caught in a volatile tailspin of locking on and returning to manual control. As such, it will often swing violently in different directions and make it incredibly difficult to move Achtli where you want her to go. Occasionally this causes her to get stuck in pieces of scenery and subsequently be hit with a barrage of attacks. Add the slightly unreliable combat mechanics to this mix and what should be momentous becomes a monumental chore. One small plus point however is the soundtrack during battles. Suitably punchy and adrenaline-fuelled with electric guitars and strong beats, you definitely feel pumped up for high-octane action and ready to throw down. It’s a shame the action feels more clumsy kerfuffle than high-octane.

Aztech: Forgotten Gods has a wealth of potential. All the foundation blocks of a stellar little game are there. It is certainly unique in its Mesoamerican exploration, visuals and world design. Indeed it did leave me with a desire to learn more about the culture, both in and out of the game. But the technical downsides make it very difficult for players to truly warm to it and the positives are greatly outnumbered. And with a premise like wide-open combat with colossal monsters, the technical have to be tight. If the aesthetics and inspiration intrigue you, it may be worth a try. Otherwise, it may be a journey you’ll want to pass on taking.

Aztech: Forgotten Gods is out today on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.

By Rowen Cameron

Rowen is a freelance writer, performer and content creator with a penchant for colourful attire and floral headwear. Bitten by the gaming bug at age five, she is a huge fan of indie games, pixel art, RPGs and point-and-click-adventures. A regular reporter on Steam Next Fest for Filmhounds, she can thrice-yearly be found consuming an ungodly amount of demos in between copious cups of tea.