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Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Rockstar
Developer: Rockstar
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action

Graphics & Sound:
Oni is guilty of looking good but offering nothing to look at. The first feeling is one of excitement when you watch Konoko, the heroine, show off her tough moves. The other shoe drops somewhere into the second or third level, when you realize that you're basically exploring constant empty space with crates inside. Nobody could complain about the character models. Konoko looks good, and both she and her enemies demonstrate some really cool action animations. Almost every motion has a nice, natural look and fighting manages to overcome the chop-kick-block repetition so prevalent in games like Final Fight. Level design shows some neat effects like views out of windows to as-yet-unplayed areas or marks on walls and doors from gunfire. But, lack of variety and detail really drove my interest way down after the first few stages. Music is barely present, and is usually triggered by certain events in gameplay. And, although you may hate me for it, I have to point out that Oni is full of the same old 3D problems (seeing through walls, getting stuck on corners or objects, seams, etc.) we all find frustrating.

For all the hype, Oni feels every bit like a Final Fight expansion pack with some of the sneaking and mood elements from games like Syphon Filter or Metal Gear Solid. However, it's 1 part adventure and 2 parts action, so don't expect Konoko to get under a box or anything... She's about kicking tail, and probably could whip Gabe Logan and Snake together. Basically, without giving away too much of the story, Oni puts you in the tight, well trained, cybergenetically-enhanced body of a girl in our bleak apocalyptic future, where mob rule and the police-state are in constant conflict. Konoko is on the 'good' side, or at least the side approved by most of the world's government. There's more to her than meets the eye, but that would be telling... :) Set up for a mission-by-mission type of gameplay, Oni mostly follows convention, but offers a few unique elements.

The single most interesting and fun part of Oni is the AI, for my money. Unlike the dummies from most fighting or action games, these opponents really seem smart. Some carry guns, and although Konoko has a 'disarm' move, any baddie who loses a weapon will make an effort to grab it again and start blasting if you give him a chance. Also, making noise can attract other enemies who are more than happy to grab any dropped guns and fill you full of holes. Enemies see you coming as soon as you see them, so none of that 'radar' business. They tend to be very good shots, and team up whenever they can against you. The flip side of all this good AI is that it isn't balanced at all, but more on that later. After a bit of training, Konoko is thrown into the mix and forced to clear level after level of bad guys. Boss fights are in there, too. Progressing through Oni is largely about learning to maximize your inventory while sussing out the weakness of each different enemy. Enemies come in many style and flavors, and what works on some may not work on others. When not fighting or gathering ammo and health, Konoko solves puzzles by flipping switches and unlocking doors. If you love fighting, this game is heaven sent, but don't imagine for a second that the cautious espionage action of Metal Gear or the brain-bending puzzles of Tomb Raider are anywhere to be found.

Where Oni lost me is the extreme difficulty. It's not fair to say the game is flawed or 'cheap,' because every bit of death and dying inflicted on Konoko comes at the hands of some very capable enemies. They bomb, shoot, shock, punch, kick and laser you to death with abandon. How hard is it? Well, playing on Easy feels about like the difficulty level you have to unlock on most games... You know, the one after Hard that's usually called Nightmare, Hell, Insane, Torture, etc. If I didn't have more faith in Rockstar's integrity, I'd almost think the game was made intentionally more tough to seem longer or take your mind off bland level design. I suspect it's due more to being rushed into the market than any evil plot, but even with an incremental save system that offers chances to replay at different points in a level, Oni barely gives you a fighting chance.

Game Mechanics:
Part of what makes Oni hard is how different the control scheme is. Anyone who played Gungriffon Blaze (or who has driven a bulldozer) can relate to the difficulty of controlling propulsion and direction in two different places. Instead of the 'Push Forward-Run Forward, Push Right-Run Right' scheme that most action games employ, Oni gives the left analog stick Konoko's movement and lets the right stick face her in different directions. So, unless you like running N-S-E-W, learning the right stick is essential. Moving Konoko is tough enough, but when jumping, kicking, punching and shooting are thrown into the mix... Well, you get the idea. With punch-kick on the shoulder buttons, Oni makes fighting less about button combinations and more about which way you're moving when you attack. The coolest visual is the elbow Konoko throws to knock down the guy behind her when she's facing away from you! Unlike Final Fight, Oni is about fighting in all directions at the same time, and fights tend to come down to staying on the move until enemies surround you and then beating them to a pulp - up, down and sideways. Control is excellent, with almost no slowdown except in heavy firefights. Using weapons is easy, but with ammo in such short supply, it's hard to depend on your gun. I like the way each motion has its own variation in fighting, but quick moves and hard-hitting skills can't stand up against bombs and bullets. Rockstar made some puzzling choices by filling levels with enemies carrying rocket launchers and grenades but not letting Konoko carry more than one gun or ever find more than 2 or 3 ammo- or health-packs. And that's on Easy...

Too much hype is definitely a bad thing in this business, and nobody understands disappointment better than gamers looking for the 'next best thing.' Oni is very definitely not the killer-app for PS2, but hardcore folks with nothing but time and reflexes like the edge of a razor will probably end up having fun. If you're more like me and impaled Lara Croft on spikes many times before mastering her controls, save yourself the tears and broken controllers. As a demonstration of where third person gaming could be going, Oni is fun for a while, but tedium and frustration are terrible bedfellows.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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