Level DesignThere isnít much I can discuss about the level design without giving away too many details; suffice it to say that if you enjoyed the demo levels, the final game levels are more of the same. Gargantuan in size and often broken into perfectly rectangular spaces, the levels are well-paced but often require covering the same ground several times. They are also full of vertigo-inducing heights that are well simulated and all too realistic, for those who are bothered by such things.
There is a disappointing amount of repetition present in the overall design. This includes a level boss you have to fight twice, and a particular time-based puzzle that you have to do four times in a row. There are also several very elaborate puzzles that look quite intimidating, yet can be easily skipped or disabled.
Having the levels designed by ďreal-world architectsĒ seems to have had both positive and negative effects. While each building has a solid, real-world feel, the symmetrical structure and monotonous regularity of design gets tedious. Most of the buildings are actually symmetrical in design, mirror-images through the center. Thus, when you have explored one half of the building, you already know the layout of the other half before you've even been there. Many levels, including a huge air pollution processing facility, actually look like large parts of the level geometry were just copied and pasted or duplicated and rotated to make more area for the designers to place enemies.
Konoko's total inability to interact with her surroundings doesn't help matters. While this is no Tomb Raider, the fact that all crates and other objects are totally immovable/indestructable, that few windows are breakable and that nothing can be lifted or thrown, makes the backdrop seem like just a backdrop -- static, and lacking any sort of 'presence' in the game.
Overall the pacing is good, with multiple-opponent fights spread out between smaller, stealth-oriented encounters. Weapon placement is also excellent, allowing you just enough ammo and the right weapon to overcome a certain area, but not so much that you have the run of the entire level with impunity.
Artificial IntelligencePerhaps one of the most puzzling disappointments of Oni was the AI behavior of the opponents. While they are excellent fighters, who use a variety of attacks and work well in a multiple-attack situation, they are also missing many behaviors and abilities that I actually had demonstrated to me by Quinn Dunki on my visit to Bungie West. She demonstrated AI characters that knew how to dodge gunfire and duck out of your line of sight, that recognized a dead body and ran for help, and that worked in concert to wear you down before finishing you off.
In this final version, the AI canít do any of that. If they have a weapon, they just fire it and charge until they are out of ammo. If they donít have a weapon, they just charge you regardless of whether you have one drawn or not. If you take out one of a group of opponents quietly, the remaining ones will stand around and walk right through the body without incident. Although they are very good at detecting you visually from a long distance or 'by ear,' their strictly linear line of attack makes this an easy tool for luring them into an ambush. They have no real strategy besides yell and charge.
The AI of Oni's characters is still quite superior when compared to many other solo-play games I have played recently, including Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force and Heavy Metal FAKK2. But it isnít what Bungie demonstrated to me in mid-1999 or promised in their initial hype of the game.
'Allied' characters are few and far between, and also very stupid; at no point do you really feel as part of a 'team' in a coordinated attack. This is a shame, as it could have been a real boost to gameplay at some points.
Speed and RequirementsAnother very disappointing aspect of this game is the lack of speed and high system reqirements. I found the game choppy on some levels at 640x480 with medium detail levels; this is with a G4/500/Radeon which has no trouble playing Quake 2 at 50+ FPS at 1280x1024. Furthermore, some PC reviews of this game indicated that it ran flawlessly on Celeron machines with TNT2 cards, the PC equivalent of a 233 MHz G3 with a Rage Pro card.
In terms of speed and smoothness of frame rate, I feel the Mac players got the short end of the development stick. There is no reason why a game based on an early-1999 engine shouldnít run 60fps+ in all situations on my system, and Oniís lack of speed in critical situations was a grave disappointment. The frame rate varied wildly from 60+ in some situations to below 20 in complex rooms or large areas. If the airport levels in the demo were slow for you, then several other areas of the game will be just as choppy on your system. One level in particular was so choppy and slow I had to play it at 640x480/16-bit with the detail slider all the way to the left -- again, on a G4/500 with a Radeon and 384 MB of RAM.
AudioThe audio elements of Oni are one of the game's high points, and are up to the same standard as previous Bungie titles in this respect. The ambient and environmental sounds are quite good, from throbbing machinery to distant sirens. However the voice acting was less than stellar, and surprisingly poor in audio quality. Combat sounds are meaty and brutal, and the weapon sounds are excellent as well. I found the Power of Seven soundtrack to be monotonous at points and rather tame overall, but a good effort that sets the scene well.