Free invisible hit counter

Communication: | Forum | Guestbook Share your files


Oni Review:


Graphics:4 Stars Oni is fortunate in possessing the most articulate animation ever seen in a 3D action game. Our nimble hero and her enemies can perform a sweeping range of prize fighting acrobatics -- and each beautifully executed move segues flawlessly into the next. Konoko might flatten an opponent with a series of hard-hitting jabs, then spin, roll under the thrust leg of a second adversary, spin again, grab her dazed rival and tumble backwards, hurling him to the concrete. All this is done without Konoko breaking a sweat or tearing a single polygon. Even more impressive is how the characters seamlessly interact with one another during a fight due to the amazing collision detection. Perform the self-explanatory Devil Spin Kick and watch as the enemies surrounding Konoko snap back and fall to the ground as her foot connects with their chins. Or watch, breathless, as Konoko leaps into a Crescent Moon Kick to knock an opponent out of the air, stopping him mid-leap as though he had slammed into a brick wall. Also cool is how each character realistically responds to the forces of combat. To see the effect, load this screenshot of our heroine being propelled forward, arms spread wide and torso bent, after being fired at from behind. Oni, without a doubt, features a perfect union of gameplay and animation.

If Oni did not dazzle us with its melee combat, it might be easier to notice some of its graphical shortcomings, such as the immobile, lockjawed characters in the cinematics and the sparsely textured walls. The different settings are another mild disappointment. Although Oni features impressive locations, such as an airport terminal complete with huge jetliners, the environments all have the same stripped down, high-tech feel, which gets boring. Still, when all hell is breaking loose, it's not hard to ignore these things and get drawn into the bone-snapping combat. Plus, Oni's overall visual presentation is far from disappointing. The artists did a good job at giving the characters an anime-esque appearance, with our hero's clumped coif being reminiscent of Cloud from Final Fantasy VII, for example. Further, the framerates remain smooth up to and including the resolution of 1024x768, whether using 16- or 32-bit color.

Interface:3.5 Stars Oni’s interface is functional but has some unfortunate shortcomings. The in-game HUD is inspired, though I had problems interpreting all the information Bungie crammed into it. The HUD consists of two modules located at either side of the bottom of the screen. Each one is round and offers a wealth of information at a glance: One indicates health and power-up status as well as the direction from which damage is coming; the other compiles weapon and ammunition data and incorporates a compass that points toward the next objective. Becoming good at scanning the various semi-circles, notches and status bars for information requires effort, in part because the weapon and ammunition icons, which are different for each gun, are obscure to a fault. Plus, the modules are too cluttered. Reducing the HUD's staggering load are the varying splashes of color that surround a character when he or she is hit, eliminating the need for more status bars. It seems that Bungie wanted to leave the game screen in ship-shape while presenting as much information as possible in the HUD, and in time, I learned to run with it.

Coming to the rescue is a help screen that deserves thunderous applause for the amount of information it places at users’ fingertips. Pressing F1 brings up: a description of the current mission and a hint for how to approach it; descriptions of the weapons and items; a control list; a map of the HUD; and notes describing how to perform different moves. These notes include a screenshot of the selected move and an explanation of how to perform it. I cannot stress how invaluable this help screen was throughout the 14 missions. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, here are two screenshots, one of the notes describing how to perform a particular move and one showing the HUD map.

So far, so good, but spend a little time with Oni and a few imperfections come to light. The main problem is that Bungie did not follow through with comprehensive control support. Given that this product is focused on melee combat, gamepad support is essential, but not included; users are going to have to be content with using the good ol' keyboard and mouse combo. Also surprising is the primitive process for reconfiguring the controls: A text file in the Oni folder can be used to re-bind the controls, but it is not possible to change them within the program. Although the control mapping uses the "w-a-s-d" format popular with PC shooter fans -- and I had no problems using the default configuration -- this could be a point of contention for some users. One final criticism is that the Options Menu cannot be accessed once a game has been launched, so adjusting the audio and graphics requires quitting to Windows and relaunching. This is unfortunate, since Oni offers a bang-up selection of options for adjusting the visuals, including sliding bars for detail and gamma settings.

Gameplay:4.5 Stars Despite containing separate fragments pulled from adventure, 3D action and fighting games, Oni does not come across as being assembled from spare parts. Each mission requires that users locate the means of access to the next area, grab a weapon and shoot an opponent, and battle it out to the finish with fists raised. Although melee combat is emphasized, at no time does the shooting action or the exploration feel slapped on or ungraceful. One sequence during the fifth mission requires Konoko to jump through motion lasers and run into a room where two enemies are located. Since I was low on health, I used the Plasma Rifle to shoot down one of the foes as I hopscotched over the last laser beam. I then ran into the room and beat his friend down -- with the weapon in hand -- before accessing a computer terminal and opening the next area. This sequence demonstrates how Oni's diverse elements stand together.

The control mapping is brilliant, not just for its use of a small subset of commands, but how it incorporates an all-embracing number of moves into the standard "w-a-s-d" configuration. Basic movement, offensive and defensive maneuvers, grabbing and dropping items, and executing combos are all performed with a few simple taps, depending on the context. For instance, pressing Forward+Punch while standing in front of an opponent performs a throw; running and hitting Punch near an opponent performs a Running Lariat, demonstrated in this screenshot. This setup encourages a lot of experimentation with different combinations, and prize-fighting alchemists will not be disappointed with the results. I remember being stunned as I was chasing a guard who was heading for an alarm and somehow lunged at him from behind, dropping him to the ground. But this was nothing compared to my surprise the time I crouched, jumped up, and hit Punch at the same time as an antagonist was bearing down on me. The payoff was a fierce blow that sent my opponent reeling back.

This powerfully comprehensive set of attacks and parries would be meaningless if the different moves were too difficult to pull off, so the good news is that executing each isolated action is quite simple. However, becoming skilled at performing them during the fast-paced fistfights is another matter altogether. For instance, one of the technical challenges to becoming successful at Oni is overcoming old 3D shooter habits, such as pressing and holding down different movement keys during combat. Even the basic moves in Oni require gamers to reposition their fingers, letting off of certain keys before hitting others. I spent more time executing the wrong action rather than the right one during the first few missions, with the crucial escape moves being the hardest to perform. But with time and practice, I got better. To the designers' credit, our heroine's response time is instant. Getting one's fingers in the right places at the right time during the heat of battle is a constant challenge; learn to do that and Konoko will tend to the rest.

One of the more interesting aspects of Oni's design is the over-the-shoulder third-person camera, which remains the same distance from Konoko at all times. This involves slipping the camera behind walls that become transparent. Although I found this distracting at first, I appreciated not having to contend with a camera that dipped in and out of the action and got cramped up in corners. The one drawback to this approach is that it enables users to see if there are enemies behind closed doors, as this screenshot demonstrates. Once, I was able to position the camera so I could see an opponent coming down a staircase. This allowed me to time Konoko's punch as he turned the corner.

So what's stopping me from slapping a perfect five stars up there? Three words: There's no save game option. All right, that's five words, but I also lost count of the number of times I wanted to give up on Oni because I was forced to endure a sizable portion of a mission a second, third or fourth time. I realize I am climbing onto a soapbox here, but I found it frustrating to lose up to 15 minutes of progress because an unseen guard started firing his Uzi at me while I was beating up his friend; or because I misjudged one last leap across a pool of acid before reaching the next save point. However, this missing feature failed to ruin one of the most thrilling action games I'd encountered in ages. In a word, the melee combat is sensational, and I am glad I pressed on through the tougher moments.

Multiplayer: There is no multiplayer option in Oni.

Sound FX:4 Stars In comparison to other 3D action releases, Oni's soundscape is somewhat reserved, though Bungie pulls off a beguiling stunt: turning the biffs, baffs and booms of the old Batman TV show's fight sequences into the audio subtext for a PC game. Perhaps that's an odd comparison, but it's the first thing that came to mind when I heard the enemies' hard-hitting slaps and guttural cries of pain. This is fun stuff to turn up loud when no one's home, though doing so reveals that there's not much ambience other than the occasional whirring of a machine or hissing of steam. Sure, battle cries can be heard far off in the distance, but in general, an ironic silence prevails in-between fights -- save for our hero's ever-clapping footsteps. This is not disappointing, though, because Bungie pumps up the volume when the fisticuffs start. As with the animation, the audio effects and whirlwind action are intimate friends. Punches and parries all sound unique, informing us about what is happening onscreen, and the impeccable timing of the effects offers one more blessed assurance of having landed that perfect triple-blow combo. Enemies will even shout out special moves before performing then, allowing our heroine time to prepare her defense, or express surprise when turning a corner and seeing Konoko poised for battle. I am also glad to report that the cinematics were not ruined with poor voice acting; rather, the actors all turned in solid performances.

Musical Score:3 Stars Oni has a great opening theme, and Bungie was wise not to force tunes on top of each fight or the exploration sequences. Instead, a brief musical outburst or extended atmospheric loop will occur at dramatic moments to increase the tension. Other than the opening theme, which pulses with electric tension, there's nothing memorable, but that's all right. Something more constant would have been distracting.

Intelligence & Difficulty:4.5 Stars Oni does not so much move from fight to fight as it progresses from one challenge to the next. Because of how the automatic save feature works, each section between saves is an isolated challenge that requires careful planning and execution. In this sense, the mission designs are some of the toughest opponents gamers face in Oni. For instance, the second part of the third mission requires Konoko to scale three stories, hitting three computer terminals to access a new area in the process. An open central court allows enemies to rain constant death from above as our champion battles other opponents, so stealing a projectile weapon to counter their assault is of utmost importance. Bungie cheats here, scripting enemies that were nowhere in sight moments before to pop into enclosed rooms, adding to the challenge but also diminishing the sense of realism. Following numerous attempts to hit all three terminals, I succeeded, and then entered a huge, multi-tiered room full of pistol-packing enemies. The goal was to get to the other side and hit the exit switch, but I could never seem get through the first part of the mission with enough health. Time, determination and a few expletives later, I accomplished this goal and faced one final challenge: jumping across biohazardous waste. Mistiming the final jump and dipping into the goo before reaching sweet sanctum, I shouted out new combinations of the aforementioned four-letter words. It was frustrating to have to start the mission over again, but intensely gratifying when I succeeded.

There are three difficulty levels that can be chosen from the Options Menu before starting a new game, and each one is tailored to different levels of expertise. On the easiest mode, enemies require very little damage before being knocked out, and are much less aggressive in terms of performing combinations and throws. It is also easier to pull off your own combinations and throws because the opponents' response time is slower. At the other end of the spectrum -- the hardest mode -- sits a growling, hissing creature in an unlit room. Curious, I stepped in, but I soon made a hasty exit before seeing the full, gaping maw of the beast. The normal mode is the best setting for players wanting a balanced experience. It's challenging, but not impossible, and demands that players improve their skills and approach each self-contained area with a solid war plan.

In terms of artificial intelligence, enemies in the distance tend to be nearsighted and suffer from attention deficit disorder. For instance, a far-off opponent might stand idle as Konoko fights in plain view. Should he see her and run toward her, he will stop and return to his patrol if she strafes behind a corner -- even if she's hit him with a projectile. I understand that good help is hard to find, but c'mon. However, their outstanding situational awareness during close quarters combat is devastating. Sure, the enemies will grab guns that others have dropped and use them, but the timing of their defensive maneuvers and their proper use of combos startled me time and again. Oni's acute battle code enables opponents to roll to one side when Konoko lashes out with a sudden punch, and gives them the awareness to perform a throw or combo when Konoko misses a kick and is momentarily vulnerable. During combat, there is a strong sense that we are fighting opponents who are are conscious and alive, not just the result of some A.I. programmer's overachieving algorithms. There are a couple foibles: For example, enemies are defenseless when turning corners, allowing our purple-haired heroine to get in a few freebies, and if gamers can position Konoko behind an opponent as he gets up, it's too easy to pull off a throw. Still, even though the A.I. is balanced in favor of players, the enemies are great fun to watch and, on the proper settings, provide a superb challenge.

Overall:4 Stars Oni stuns the third-person action scene with a powerful uppercut to the jaw. Bungie has never put its hand to a bad product, and its latest offering is a passionate protest against dull games. Some of the previews I read leading up to Oni's release equated it to Tomb Raider, and although this was inevitable due to the use of a third-person perspective and a female lead, the comparison is a poor one. Oni's action seeps with voltage, demands hard things, and at times causes smoldering frustration. That it is also irresistibly fun is a testament to its outstanding design and spectacular, cutting-edge animation. A couple of things could use polishing in a sequel or expansion, such as the unfinished interface and the A.I., and it would be nice to see the next title better leverage its 3D environment -- imagine grabbing a pipe and swinging around it to hit enemies or access a new area. But for now, Bungie has hit all the right notes. There are different ideas out there about what people want in an action hero, whether it's lithe, acrobatic Lara clones or muscle-bound marines. For me, a woman who has to depend on herself and her fists, and does, is sufficient.


Copyright 2005-2007 - All rights reserved.