We were shown a couple of impressive new PS2 racers and then demonstrated Oni, a third person action title due out in March of next year on PC, PlayStation 2 and Mac. Our host Jen explained that it was about 50% done, but it looked pretty complete to be honest, and with that March 2001 deadline looming you could be forgiven for hoping that it was farther along than that. The game centres around an anime-style plot and graphical style, with central character Konoko, an elite Tech Crimes Task Force agent on a mission to infiltrate a ruthless crime syndicate and bring it to its knees in a day-after-tomorrow futuristic Japan. Unfortunately she is framed for the murder of a couple of security guards and has to prove her innocence and fight her way to the truth through 17 large levels, using her martial arts training and weaponry skills to overcome her oppressors. As far as plots go it doesn't look like anything particularly to shout about, but the idea of mixing martial arts and shooting action into one seamless environment is quite endearing.
Archetypal Or Architectural?
Visually Oni seemed quite bland in the areas we were shown. The real-world locations mentioned above include underground research facilities, police skyscrapers and the like, but they have all been modelled and created with very minimalist graphics. Some may argue that this is authentic, but we felt that it just made the game look malnourished. The screenshots dotted around this page relieve the feeling of being underwhelmed that we were experiencing marginally, but nonetheless it's another worry. The cunning pun above refers to the fact that an architect, not a level designer, has created each of the locations, and as such the designs have flow and a sense of reality to them. However the textures look very two-dimensional, and the illusion of a living breathing building is lost accordingly, as you run around the insides of geometrically accurate cuboids with sliding electric doors. Some of the details were quite well done, with the main hall of the first building you visit split into two curving staircases emanating out from the central entrance, but little touches like this aren't really enough. Konoko's movement through these locales is very smooth though, and animation of the characters is one area that Oni looks as though it could really win through in. The animations are interpolated, so that if you are in the middle of a kick you can seamlessly break free of it and run off down the corridor, or if you are performing a neck-snapping special move you can leap free at any time and throw a punch instead. It's one of those things that you would think appeared in most third person action titles but does not.
Bungie evidently have such faith in the animations that they are doing all of the various cutscenes within the game engine. Each of the character models will be made up of between 800 and 1200 polygons allowing, for some extremely life-like movements and actions. There will also be some 2D anime sequences, and the one which we were shown in the PC version of the game was certainly impressive, reminding us somewhat of "Ghost In The Shell". In all fairness the story is a simplistic tale of betrayal and revenge, but it's done in an authentic anime-style, with a cast of hundreds of unique characters. The depth of Konoko's shadowy and disturbing past should aid its popularity, and the game should be compelling, if not quite as enticing as the Final Fantasies and such. It was watching the animation as Konoko wrapped her heaving thighs around a poor security guard's neck and snapped it that alerted me indirectly to a rather confusing plot inconsistency though. Your lass is attempting to wriggle her way out of a double murder wrap by collecting proof of her innocence, but to do this she dashes about beating up and slaughtering security guards and law enforcement officers. Does that not strike you as something of a double standard?
Bungie has termed Oni's combat system as "Full-Contact Action". Instead of just giving our hero a shotgun and a rocket launcher and letting her loose on the world, they have focused more on the martial arts element. It is possible to win the game by blasting away your opponents with handguns and other ballistic implements, but through a combination of your kick and punch buttons you can perform many much more intense and disciplined manoeuvres, such as the aforementioned neck-snapper, throws, disarming techniques, and other moves in true beat-em-up style. Your opponents are no slouches either, and they have clearly been supping on vitamins also, hurling kicks and punches at you with gleeful abandon, and if they see a weapon they will try to pick it up before you can get to it. Throughout the game you are to come up against more varied enemies, such as prototype robots and other martial artists. Defeating them though is simply a case of avoiding them then taking them by surprise. Much to our surprise at ECTS, the team demonstrated a method of cheating your opponents by exploiting the ghosting element of the game. Whenever your character comes up against a wall, if that wall impedes your vision it becomes transparent so you can see to move Konoko. However if you are clever you can actually see through walls and observe your enemies before they can see you, giving an unfair advantage and spoiling the gameplay. We hope very much that this will not be seen within the full version..
While it looks quite bland and uninspiring in places, in others Oni looks as though it could excel. Its competition may give it a run for its money though, with established brands like Tomb Raider and Metal Gear Solid due up for another outing in the near future on the PS2. However, if Bungie hit their ETA of March 2001 there is every chance that Oni could cause a stir in the post-Christmas lull. Release Date - March 2000