Great expectations have a habit of leading to great disappointments, and while we weren't anticipating Onito be the greatest game of all time, the potential was there to fill a gap in the market with real style. It's hard to remember the last time we played a decent beat 'em up (or a poor one), barring the comedy kicks of Mortyrand the sub-game in The Nomad Soul (Err... Severance -Ed).
Unfortunately, there's something not quite right about Oni. It's not that the combat isn't up to scratch, it's just that the game around it is completely empty. The initial plot, although hardly original or intricate, at least shows some promise. It's the year 2032 and you play Konoko, an advanced special agent charged with exposing and fighting an organisation called the Syndicate. While there are attempts to give you more information on the world, revealing terrible secrets about the Syndicate and your own identity, it's done in such a simplistic and naive way that you couldn't really care less. Anyone who's played Deus Ex will at best be left completely unperturbed, and at worst fall asleep until the next fight.
But the biggest problem with On; is that it feels extremely shallow, with little else to do except run around between battles. Though the characters are extremely well animated and highly detailed, for most of the game it feels like you're fighting in a Star Trek holosuite that isn't running a program.
The lack of atmosphere is almost palpable. The rooms are big, bare and repetitive. The silence is only broken by the occasional grunt or the sudden sound of gunfire. The walls have a really stripped look (apparently, in the year 2032 all decorators have been exterminated). The actual buildings are quite impressive and well designed, but the emptiness inside is oppressive and almost unbearable.
Then, out of nowhere, a guard will come running at you and all your disappointments are forgotten. You get lost in the fights, suddenly pull off a new move and start smashing skulls with glee. But this abrupt adrenaline rush only makes coming down to the dullness of the game itself so much worse, as you realise that to open the door in front of you you're going to need to go into that other room and access yet another console.
Apart from those damned computer terminals, there's very little else to interact with - some doors, a couple of scientists offering health, ammo or bits of information, and that's about it.
Sometimes there are big, impressive gunfights going on, with agents fighting by your side and shooting across massively domed rooms. But you never feel personally involved and spend most of your time waiting to pick off the remaining guards. And the weapons themselves don't often work too well either. They are only really useful to get rid of people far away or when your health is too low to approach them. The real meat of the game is kicking, punching and biting your way past the enemy. You learn new moves as you go along, which makes looking for the next fight even more important, but also serves to demonstrate that it's the only reason you keep on playing. There's no real incentive to see what's in the next level, or find out what great puzzles are going to tax your brain. There's not even an element of exploration, because the "use console to open door" mechanics mean there's only ever one way to go.
Ghost In The Machine
Despite the fact that Oni means ghost (or demon) in Japanese, there is very little scope for stealth. Sure, you can crouch with the best of them, but enemies have a knack for spotting you even with their backs turned, from long distances and from around corners. A lot of guards are designed to appear out of thin air as soon as you reach a certain area, so the only way you know what to expect in later levels from a place that was completely empty just a few minutes ago is to have played the same level over and over again. Which, believe us, you will do, thanks to the lack of in-game save feature.
There's nothing more annoying than spending ages getting past a particularly nasty part, only to die a bit later and have to do it all over again. The game saves itself at certain points, which is all very well for the PS2 community (or it would be if it saved itself more often), but for the save-after-every-corner mentality of PC gamers it will prove to be a major problem. The forthcoming patch should correct this, but it's still annoying.
Oni Single Player
And talking about patches, beat 'em ups have always been about kicking your friends' teeth in, so it comes as some surprise that we'll have to wait for a patch for the multiplayer option. While it's true that the combat would have needed some tweaking to make it work in one-on-one fights, there should have at least been scope for teaming up to relive the glory days of Target Renegade and Double Dragon. We'll have to wait and see what the patch brings.
Oni is halfway to being a great game, but either Bungie decided to finish it off quickly to concentrate on Halo, or spent so much time implementing the combat that they didn't have time to make a game to go round it. It's like a film choreographed by Jackie Chan but directed by a poor Ingmar Bergman wannabe with a Manga fixation. Just stick to the combat, and close your eyes for the rest.
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Oni Screenshots and Media
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