What is it about?
While Bungie is more famously known for being the studio behind the Halo franchise, it’s easy to forget that they had a string of releases before creating the Xbox’s killer app. One such game was Oni. It takes place in a high-tech dystopian future (is there any other variety?), where the governments of the world have converged into one monolithic entity and pollution has ravaged the environment, rendering most of the world uninhabitable (much like now). Amidst all this, you’re Konoko, a supercop who bears a little more than a striking resemblance to Motoko Kusanagi, the lead character from the anime masterpiece, Ghost in the Shell. There’s a shadowy organisation to thwart and a world to save, all draped in a manga-inspired cel shaded aesthetic.
Why should I play it now?
While most of you anime-maniacs are probably salivating at the mere mention of Ghost in the Shell, the real reason to play Oni is the seamless blend of third-person action and hand-to-hand combat. We’re not referring to the QTE-laden drivel we’re fed in the name of cutting edge game design, no. The melee moves actually require the use of a combination of buttons that aren’t prompted on-screen, much like beat ’em ups. You can pull off wrestling moves like backbreakers as well as an array of kicks and punches. And there are acrobatically evasive moves such as rolls and somersaults. The animations are fluid and complement the use of conventional weapons well.
How does it hold up today?
The graphics appear a tad primitive by today’s standards and I did have to roll my video card drivers back a bit to get the best out of the PC version. If you’re a fan of custom controls, you’ll have to edit the config file as well. On the PS2, however, it was pretty smooth and looked decent despite not supporting 480p via component cable. The animations still look good. In a lot of ways, it was ahead of its time with checkpoint functionality and a limited number of weapons that you can haul around; features that are now common to almost every third-person game.
Is it similar to anything else out there?
An action game with female protagonists? Look no further than the Tomb Raider series. A game with deep combat and a woman for a lead? Bayonetta should tick those boxes off. But if you’re looking for a cel shaded sci-fi adventure with melee, gunplay and a lady calling the shots, there isn’t anything quite like Oni.
What do I need to play this?
Not too much. 266 MHz processor, 64 MB of RAM, 800 MB hard drive space. In an age where your blender probably has more computing power, you can run this on almost anything. Just be prepared to downgrade your drivers because it doesn’t play too well with tech that’s 12 years newer. Not interested in scrounging the internet for archaic code? The PS2 version will hold you in good stead.
‘When I played through…’
It’s obvious where the current crop of third-person games have obtained their inspiration from. Be it the combat in Batman or Assassin’s Creed, the fluidity and animations that have us gasping for air have come from this extremely underrated title from Bungie. This is what struck me when I played it a few days ago. The sheer ability to somersault across a room, dodging bullets with an ease that would give Neo an inferiority complex and greeting foes close up with a rocket to the face was gratifying enough back in the day, and still is now.
Is there anything else I should be aware of (ie mods, crazy glitches, contribution to pop culture, Internet meme, etc)?
There are murmurs that the game is some sort of predecessor to Halo, what with the exploits of Master Chief having references to ONI, which stood for the Office of Naval Intelligence, but there isn’t anything else to even remotely suggest that these two games are linked aside from the fact that they were made by the same company.
Where do I get it?
While the rights belong to Take2, it’s not made an appearance on any digital delivery network. Your best bet is to import a copy or if you’re lucky find one lying in a decrepit corner of your favourite game store.