Oni is a game of thrilling action, heart-pounding suspense and complex, satisfying combat. It is also a game of intense frustration, visual and structural repetition, and a general feeling of only being half complete.
This review is one I have been looking forward to doing since very late 1998, when I first saw this game in action. It is also one I have been dreading, for much the same reasons. If I had reviewed Oni right then and there, as I first played it, I would have been drowned in my own barrage of adjectives – “revolutionary!” “astounding!” “intense!” “earth-shattering!” – but the sad truth is, Oni took too long to come to market and made too many sacrifices along the way. Viewed through eyes that have experienced Rune, Heavy Metal F.A.K.K. 2, Deep Space Nine: The Fallen and even Tomb Raider IV, several which went from concept to final boxed product in the time that Oni made it to Beta, Oni suffers greatly from the comparison.
That’s not to say that Oni isn’t a thrilling game and a superior title in some respects; certainly there is no title on Mac or PC that has ever captured the thrill of true-3D melee combat so well, and very few on consoles have managed such a complete simulation. I did indeed spend many a heart-pounding, sweaty-palmed moment creeping along in the dark, wondering which direction the next attack would come from.
Oni has a lot to offer many gamers – but during my journey through this game I saw so much that seemed left undone, or hadn’t been carried through to a logical conclusion. The story of Oni’s development may be one of ideas left out or discarded, not included.
If you have played the demo through to completion several times, then you know how heart-stoppingly intense Oni’s combat can be, especially against multiple opponents (some of them armed!) in tight quarters. If you are totally in love with that combat and want lots more of it, then Oni is the game for you, and you will most likely love every minute of it – as long as you are prepared to put up with large stretches of empty space in between. If you like the adventure elements, such as stealth exploration, switch finding and jumping puzzles, you’re going to have to put up with a lot of combat to get to them.
Ultimately Oni feels like an estranged marriage between two gaming styles – an intense combat game and a plot-driven adventure game combined, both hampered by excessive repetition, illogical puzzles and a general emptiness of detail which would leave even a Bauhaus architect screaming for a potted plant or a water cooler to break up the monotony.