Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Anoxemia (PS4)

Anoxemia, at it's core is a story driven sci-fi horror adventure which takes place in the oxygen deprived depths of the ocean blue. Much like it's title word's meaning the protagonist you play as finds himself without a constant oxygen supply, and a seemingly resulting foggy memory that only has him remembering his end goal as he goes forward into the unknown. The game itself is an unusual experience that follows, in a light 2D Metroidvania fashion, the confusing journey of a man named Dr. Bailey as he dives ever more deeply into the haunting abyss of the acidic ocean on a supposedly straightforward mission to collect plant life specimens for Naval research. Little background on the doctor is given initially through the accompanying comic book style art panels, the repetitive voice acting, and the textual dialogue other than the fact that he thinks he was aboard a Naval carrier that sank, and that his intended mission was to gather contaminated plants for research as mentioned before. With a limited oxygen supply, an assisting underwater drone named ATMA, and the obtainable tools and resources made oddly and abundantly available among the darkened terrain you must guide Dr.Bailey deeper downward in order to find out the truth of why it is he is doing what he is despite not really knowing why.

In total there are 38 levels within 'Anoxemia' that grow increasingly more difficult to navigate as you progress further down into the ocean. These main areas of interest including basic underwater terrain, the interior of a wrecked submarine, and an underwater facility with a secret. The stage by stage progression which is hindered mostly by the presence of puzzle triggers, lurking mechanical threats, and pathway blockages is what keeps you and the doctor from that secret. As far as threats go the more active ones you'll face range from abandoned war mines to robotic tracking devices that are in place to keep you away, or that are trying themselves to keep you from your goal. While Dr. Bailey is the supposed protagonist in the adventure at hand it is more so the ATMA drone that you'll be controlling as you do what needs to be done. A drone which doubles as an oxygen, and energy gauge/source as well as a means to work around certain obstacles Dr. Bailey is unable to navigate through by himself. You'll literally be dragging the doctor along by the guiding ATMA drone, and having him collect the tools needed to advance further into the alien world of the ocean. These tools or abilities include a sonar for locating hidden things of interest, a grappling hook device for moving environmental objects, an electronic nullifying spark to render mechanical enemies useless, a speed boost for speeding past threats, a stationary float that allows ATMA to assist in progress efforts, and dynamite which must be utilized at specific spots to destroy blockages that are preventing you from moving ahead.

At first the goals in the game are simple, short, and fairly much to the point. To advance in these earlier areas you'll need to learn the gifted mechanics, and how to use the set of tools and capabilities given to you. This is explained away in an onscreen controller map that basically lets you know what buttons must be pressed to do this, or that. Once you figure these things out you'll have to remain on the move as you collect oxygen for Dr. Bailey, and batteries for ATMA to keep you both functioning long enough to collect the set amount of plant samples that need to be collected in each stage. Once you collect the collectible items in each stage you will be advanced to another stage in numerical order with it's own unique layout, and search goals meant to help you unlock the truth behind the doctor's situation. The further you go the larger in scope the ruinous stages will become, and the more complex of a predicament you'll have to work your way through.

As you continue onward you'll find that the deeper Dr.Bailey dives, and the more items he collects the more his recollection of events prior to his current situation are made clear. If slightly so. This recollection spoken through voice-overs, and briefly shown through sonar revealed text ultimately leads to a conclusion that is surprising to say the least. It is a climactic point in the prolonged journey that will leave you wishing that you knew more. I have heard rumors that there's actually multiple endings including a true ending, but could not confirm. The ending I saw definitely tied in with the sci-fi horror theme, regardless.

The Presentation ...

At first 'Anoxemia' will seem absurdly simple in comparison to a lot of indies out there. Simple, but somewhat visually interesting. The game has a sort of LIMBO-like atmosphere about it with darkness blocking a lot of the stage's terrestrial elements. When you can see what's going on the background will sometimes reveal an eerie three-dimensional depth with alien-like plant life, and familiar industrial structures in place. The light as you go deeper changes from a somewhat natural lighting to a more ominous green, and red glow signaling that you are getting closer to the end goal. Though there are a lot of stages in a single playthrough some are only different by layout. The main three layout inclusive themes being the ocean terrain, a wrecked submarine, and an underground base that acts as the end area. Exploring, and completing these mostly blackened locations is done through the game's brilliant sonar mechanic, which once beeped, will reveal red highlighted objects of interest. It keeps the atmosphere dark, and foreboding while still allowing you to see enough in the way of visual path markers to continue your descent.

The soundtrack, as one might expect, borrows a lot of natural sounding moans and groans of the actual ocean while mixing in ambient sounds, and low tone music to invoke a sort of paranoia, and uncertainty. It helps improve upon the mood that the visuals set in motion. Of course the closer you get to the end the more intense the in-game atmosphere becomes. Everything from the threats themselves to the soundtrack, and accompanying visuals escalate with each passing stage. It's a slow burner to begin with, but definitely picks up pace as you go along.

The Verdict ...

In all honesty 'Anoxemia' is not a game I'd personally buy after realizing what it is. I'm not saying it's a bad game, mind you, but instead that this is not a game that really impresses me as an indie enthusiast. In fact I don't think it's a game that will impress a lot of people. I think the biggest issue for me, among all the issues, is the awkward plot setup. The story, while understandable (at the end), is so unnecessarily drawn out and filled with the filler material that is gameplay that most of the experience seems shallow once it's completed. I feel the developer could have given the story more weight with deeper background elements, and that they should have relied less on the end shock factor for storytelling purposes. I get that, that's the point of the game, to reveal it all at the end, but even then it feels unrewarding. Had the suspense been built up by a more concrete premise, and less on the repetitive banter of a doctor who doesn't know what the heck is up then things could have been truly noteworthy. I definitely felt the narrative, and accompanying comic style art panels were lazy as well, and that they did not suit the feeling of the actual game. The art was a bit too lighthearted for something this dark, and sinister. Those are my complaints.

In closing I cannot really recommend this game as a buy. I feel it could have been better. The story was lacking in depth and the gameplay, though intelligently crafted, felt shallow when packaged with the plot the developer was trying to sell.

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