More and more, the world of Japanese animation is influencing American game developers. Daikatana, through its protagonist Hiro, has a distinct Asian flair. Septerra Core, with its focus on mecha , also oozes with eastern influences. The trend continues with Bungie Software's Oni, a futuristic science-fiction martial-arts romp that's one part Ghost in the Shell and ten parts Michelle Yeo. In short: weapons, mechs, and butt-kicking wrapped around a gorgeous female lead. Considering the game's action-oriented flair, you'd think it would make a great premise for a console title. Not surprisingly, Rockstar and Take-Two are hard at work porting Oni to Sony's PlayStation 2 game console.
Oni stars Konoko, a police officer for the Tech Crimes Task Force, the branch of the police in charge of bringing high-tech criminals to justice. Oni primarily means "devil" in Japanese, but the word has other meanings, including mischief, curse, and torment. Bearing this in mind, Konoko's past plays a big role in the overall plot of the game. While tracking down technologically enhanced master criminals and doling out futuristic white-knuckle justice, you'll come face to face with the kinds of traumatic events that could unnerve a hardened techno cop.
When it comes to gameplay, Oni promises to take the genre of 3D "beat 'em ups" to new heights with nonlinear worlds, highly interactive environments, and enemies that test the limits of variety. Through each of the game's 17 levels, you will encounter more than 100 enemies, many of which only appear once. Frankly speaking, action-fighting games are a difficult genre to execute. There really hasn't been a good one since Final Fight. Knowing this, Bungie and Rockstar are including a variety of innovations to give Oni a new and refreshing feel. First, though you begin the game with only a few stock punches, kicks, and takedowns, you can learn new techniques as the game progresses. Some combinations and moves will require specific button patterns, while others will come out automatically. Second, each level is large and nonlinear, giving you a variety of places to go. Whether you want to wander around buildings, climb stairs, or throw bad guys out second-story windows, Oni lets you do it.
Police officers are nothing without weapons to back them up, and when it comes to high-caliber pistols and explosives, Konoko comes prepared. Should you run out of ammo or require something a bit more powerful, don't fear. Enemy weapons can be taken away in the heat of battle, and the tables can turn. A majority of the time, this means nothing more than a pistol or laser. However, other times you can swipe mini-tanks and other assorted goodies. Tying it all together are a multilayered plot, some beautiful video sequences, and Power of Seven's original soundtrack - all of which will keep you interested as you're vanquishing countless foes.
Visually speaking, the PS2 version of Oni looks as though it will live up to the same outrageously high standards as its PC counterpart. Thankfully, though, PS2 owners won't need a $1,500 computer and a $200 video card to enjoy Oni. Every level has its own unique architectural feel - be it dark factories, neo-construction cityscapes, or glass-laden skyscrapers. To bring across a believable look, the game's creators hired a series of architects to design the environments within the game. As a result, Oni may be the first console action-fighting title where background visuals equal the best PC releases. On the flipside, character detail and animation is off the charts. Konoko, her enemies, and other interactive elements are composed of more than 1,000 polygons each. This gives the game a high degree of animation, while at the same time it leaves room for plenty of character detail. Clothing will flap, sparks will fly, glass will shatter, and weapons will litter the ground with countless rounds of ammunition. For those into techno lingo, Oni will use lighting interpolation, mip-mapping, antialiasing, and a number of graphical techniques to portray a world that's truly futuristic.
Take-Two has scheduled the PS2 release of Oni to coincide with the system's release this October. The E3 demo only contained six of the game's 17 levels, though, and enemies were utterly sparse. With this in mind, it remains to be seen if Bungie can meet a September release date for the PC version, let alone if Rockstar can complete the PS2 port on time. Still, the action-fighting genre needs a shot in the arm, and Oni's anime feel, coupled with its jaw-dropping visuals and varied gameplay, might just be what the doctor ordered.