Oni: This word from Japanese folklore denotes a creature of great size and strength with a fearsome appearance. It's also the title of Bungie Software's long-awaited 3-D combat action game, published for the Mac by Gathering of Developers. But who or what is the oni in this game? Is it your lithe and limber alter ego, Konoko, or someone or something else? You'll have to find that out by playing the game.
Oni takes place in a dystopian future's giant metropolis, which is rendered in true Japanese anime style. Konoko's training as a special agent enables her to infiltrate the activities of the Syndicate, an underground crime ring. Headed by Boss Muro and populated by legions of cybernetically enhanced thugs, the Syndicate traffics in illegal technology and works insidiously toward global domination.
Soon Konoko discovers that defeating the Syndicate won't be as easy as she thought. She uncovers mysteries within mysteries, some involving her background-who she is and where she comes from become an integral part of the plot. The tale works like origami, with fold after fold adding complexity. Despite Konoko's single-minded focus on taking Muro off the streets, Muro apparently wants to keep her around. Why? What connection do they share? And can she trust those with whom she works most closely?
These Hands Are Lethal Weapons
As those who know me can attest, nothing about Peter Cohen says delicate. I'm big and clumsy. I tend to frighten small children, animals, and Macworld Expo attendees-maybe I'm the oni. That's why for me, Oni offers pure escapist entertainment. Konoko, whom you control throughout the game, has the agility of a gymnast, the stamina of an Olympic distance runner, and the stealth of a jungle cat. For a big ol' schlub like me, slipping into Konoko's shoes is an exotic treat.
As Konoko, you must infiltrate heavily fortified buildings bristling with well-armed guards and automated defense systems. The 3-D action takes place from a third-person perspective, with the "camera" generally positioned behind and above Konoko's body.
You certainly have no shortage of futuristic weapons at your disposal, but Konoko's real strength is in the martial arts. You start the game with a variety of moves-kicks, punches, and throws-and at various points you learn more-advanced techniques. Oni has some of the most fluid player control I've ever seen. By combining different keystrokes, you can make Konoko execute powerful moves. You'll find a library of these in her diary, which you can access with a click of the mouse while playing. Also look for detailed information about weapons, special items, and Konoko's objectives through the in-game help screen.
Like Tomb Raider, Oni emphasizes stealth and planning over raw firepower. You must think through situations rather than just reacting, and you'll also have to solve a few puzzles along the way. Like Unreal Tournament, it has no shortage of action. However, unlike both these games, Oni is free of gore and bloodshed. The story is written to appeal to an adult sensibility, but without strong language or R-rated imagery. When Konoko and her opponents come to blows, you'll see bursts of light but no blood. Some hard-core gamers may be disappointed, but this certainly makes Oni accessible to a larger audience. If you're a parent, rest assured that the action here is at the level of a Saturday morning cartoon-your kids won't encounter any gruesome showers of body parts.
Low-Calorie Eye Candy
Oni's environment is spartan. Konoko walks through and around skyscrapers, warehouses, and low-rise buildings. The imaginative ornamentation of medieval castles or giant spaceships you find in other games is absent here.
Oni is all about close-quarters action, not sightseeing. I'm perfectly happy that the primary drain on Oni's frame rate comes from character animation, not from rendering realistic-looking backgrounds or other such wallpaper. However, some of the large open spaces in Oni can put a strain on Macs at the low end of the game's system requirements. Make sure to check these before you plunk down your money.
So what's wrong with this game? The lack of network support hurts its long-term playability. If you'd hoped for some chopsocky action against your Internet buddies or other folks in the office, forget it. That's a shame, because multiplayer support can keep a game fresh long after you exhaust its single-player possibilities. Oni does have user-adjustable levels of difficulty, however, so you can play it at a few different settings to test your limits.
Oni lacks the ability to save games at any time, opting instead for a system that lets you save only at preset points in each chapter. You may be annoyed that you have to make Konoko jump off the same roof over and over, but you're rewarded with a very clear index of saved games that positions you at key moments.
You can tweak audio and graphics settings, video resolution, and difficulty level on Oni's main screen, but the method for customizing control keys is obtuse; rather than making it an in-game option, as most games do, Oni forces you to launch the game while holding down the shift key to remap commonly used keys. Alternately, you can customize Oni's controls by using a text editor to edit a game file. But what is this, Windows? This feature should be out in the open.
PETER COHEN is a senior editor at MacCentral.com, and when he's not playing games, he can usually be found ragging on them, ranting about them, or harassing other Mac gamers on GameRanger.Only the Oni: Konoko gives a lesson in civility.