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by Bungie

Seems we've been hearing about Oni, Bungie's anime-style action adventure, for years now; with the holidays being strangely slow with pc games release, we thought it’d be worth taking a close look at this recently-released demo.  The high quality of the Oni demo is impressive and does all it can to set it on course to be one of the only fist-fighting games ever released for the PC.  Despite a save system that lacked a quicksave feature, the amazing combat, gameplay, style, and graphics are simply stunning.

The intro movie is outsourced work done by a japanese animation house and it sets the tone of the game by delivering your basic post-apocalyptic good girl vs. bad guy scenario.  The heroine of the game is the slim, animated character Konoko, apparently an unholy mix of technology and nature. The plot throws this young agent from the Tech Crimes Task Force into immediate combat as she tries to smash a mafia-style crime syndicate. The interplay between two of her associates, Shinatama and Griffin, back at her base suggests there's more to Konoko than meets the eye, however—expect plenty of bizarre plot twists as the story unfolds. 

The demo begins with a surprisingly elegant tutorial. The controls, view, and play of the game are explained, reviewed, and presented in a straightforward, yet attractive, manner. The folks at Bungie have spiced an oft-boring time in many games with a good mix of combat and acrobatics. The game is controlled smoothly through the use of about half a dozen keys and the mouse—right from the start, combat moves and combos are used, explained, and ultimately very easy to learn. Since Oni is first and foremost a fist-fighting action game, applying the controls and understanding the interface are paramount to it’s success.

Once you’re up and moving around, learning moves and controls is a simple training program designed to help get acquainted with your surroundings. Konoko's controls are very effective at executing various moves including grappling techniques and jump kicks. There’s also a little ranged weaponry available--gunplay is integrated nicely into the fighting model where either action does not affect the other on a gameplay level. If you have your gun out you can still kick or punch and fire at the same time, allowing for a random bullet to be fired in whatever direction the gun was pointed in the middle of said kick or punch. Finally, there’s navigation help with the implementation of a compass-like tool, which indicates where you need to go next, both vertically and horizontally.

The graphics in the game are very impressive, with movements that are fluid and precise. The game characters are drawn with care and have a life-like "breathing" motion that varies with recent actions.  Cut scenes are a simple letter boxing motion of the current screen, no graphical changes are made to upset the flow of the game.   Graphical extras include an innovative damage system displayed via flashes of varying colors on an enemy--the first hit on an enemy will produce a green or yellow blow depending on how the blow was; a red flash indicates the final blow to take out an enemy.  Overall, Oni is fast and produced no slowdowns, even in the largest, most populated areas. Combined with a rather short loading time, it's a thumbs up on the speed department.  There is one camera oddity displayed when the camera gets close to a wall and Konoko is very near it, the engine tries to erase walls that would otherwise block your view. This leads to some goofy effects, with you able to see through walls to sections that shouldn't be shown.  This clearly goes beyond the requisite element of stealth the developers intended. 

Sound effects are crisp, clean, and fulfilling as is the majority of the voice work. The music is event-oriented and helps player immersion into the game. Though the demo jumps from mission one to mission four, the story so far is cohesive and keeps the missions flowing nicely.  The save system is is something else altogether; Oni is autosaved at specified points, and reloaded in the event you’re unsuccessful, and means that all your characteristics (ammo, guns, health) are restored, too. Woe is you if they were low when the game was saved.  While modestly better than games with no in-mission save whatsoever, I do not (and will not) understand the lack of a quicksave in every single mission-based game from, say, 1995 on—there’s simply no reason to exclude it, period.

Still, Oni is most impressive in the way it blends long-range weapon-based combat with hand-to-hand fighting. Too often in the past, games attempting to do this have fallen heavily on one side or the other and weapons dominated hand-to-hand or simply seemed an ineffective afterthought. By cunningly putting such harsh ammo restrictions on the guns, Bungie has ensured players must keep swapping between fighting styles. Stealth also comes into play—Konoko can move silently if required, offering an important first-strike advantage.  In that moving with stealth sometimes equals’ being invisible in a clearly lit room directly in front of the enemy is problematic, so, too, is the exclusion of a multiplayer component.  I’m as willing as the next guy to admit that multiplayer alone doesn’t make a game, and that too often it’s tacked on to save a thin plot.  But, with the fine balance of combat styles achieved by Bungie, Oni screams for multiplayer, pure and simple.

While the elements in Oni have been done before, they may never have been done so well.  This is a title we’ve watched in the past and is sure to be one we’ll keep an eye on in the future.  Our advice?  Get the demo and enjoy a taste of gaming goodness that we continue to have high hopes for.

Al Wildey

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