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A transgender-exclusive radical feminist dystopia arises out of the ashes of the apocalypse in the form of the Bulgarian cyberpunk city-state Plovdiv. (How’s that for a setting?) The government is keen on maintaining an image of stability, so much so that assassins are hired to take out any dissidents. The protagonist, Ceyda Farhi, is one such assassin. A transgender woman—that is a woman whose biological sex does not correspond to her gender identity, a big no-no in the second wave feminism-influenced Plovdiv (See “Gender Slumming” by Annalee Newitz)—who lives on the fringes of this society, Ceyda works from job to job to pay the bills, performing assignments ranging from political assassination to destroying infrastructure. Whatever pays.

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Soon, however, Ceyda begins to see through the government’s facade and realize their interests are far from those held by the citizens of Plovdiv. And she begins to understand that, like so many conniving, conspiring governments before it, Plovdiv too will fall.

ektomarch’s Aerannis is a Metroidvania-style, fast-paced stealth action-adventure. The most recent demo showcases the varied gameplay—incorporating platformer elements, use of human shields, distracting and tricking enemies, destroying security, and taking on huge bosses. And, of course, loads and loads of shooting. Thus far it is a compelling experience, bringing out the best in the genre while subduing the worst. The demo did not include much by way of side missions, but one can expect to see more of this in the complete version.

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The pixel art is lush and vibrant, calling to mind sci-fi classics such as William Gibson’s Neuromancer and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. ektomarch’s previous game, the Gameboy-inspired horror-ish title Subbania, was the first to demonstrate the developer’s hyper stylish 2D graphical prowess. One may expect to see an even more full-fleshed out experience in Aerannis. Animations are exceptionally fluid, and the fast-paced action has yet to suffer from slowdowns. The world, as far as the demo has revealed, is at risk of being too samey—with metallic purple and blue corridors abounding—but one may hope to see some more variety as the game progresses.

The soundtrack, by efforharkay, is a heart-pounding mixture of Vangelis and Mirror’s Edge. The ambient electronica helps to solidify the overall gritty-but-groovy atmosphere, quite similar to the Hotline Miami soundtracks. Yet there is a more “epic” vibe going on here—the music, both intense and eye-widening, melding together the energy of Aerannis‘ action with the enormous scope of its setting.

Thus far, the writing has been serviceable, though not exemplary. Of course as a demo its key ambition was to show how Aerannis plays. The writing is as yet merely a means of exposition, only meant to further player progress. Ceyda, for example, does not receive much by way of character development.

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Aerannis‘ greatest moments of narrative come in this demo not from its writing but its graphics. The world is rife with Illuminati symbolism, suggestions of conspiracy, and signs of totalitarian control—the security bots who crowd the streets, the creepy lady on the subway speaking of reptilian creatures sneaking their way into the government, the Eye of the Pyramid that can be found rampant throughout the parallax backgrounds.

Nothing in the writing has suggested players should lower their expectations as regards writing, no, rather this demo has excellently displayed Aerannis‘ ability to paint the picture through indirect means.

Aerannis has the tentative release date of September 15. Metroidvania and cyberpunk fans should be sure to take notice, as this game promises to be a wild ride.

Check out Aerannis on Steam here.

A copy of the demo was provided by the developer for preview on PC.

Bryan Cebulski

Cultural historian, critic, author. I like cultural history, adventure games, RPGs, scary things, coffee, audiobooks, and insupportable pop punk music. Up to snizzuff on all popular trends.