Oni features fluid, dynamic animation, some exciting combat sequences, and a fairly involving story that links everything together. However, it suffers from a few very noticeable problems.
Oni is a single-player third-person action game from Bungie Software, which is best known for its Myth real-time strategy series, as well as its old Marathon first-person shooters. Oni is certainly a departure for the popular developer, which was recently acquired by Microsoft. Though die-hard fans might catch a rare reference to Bungie's other games in Oni, the game has nothing in common with any of its predecessors. Instead, its influences can be clearly traced to Japanese science-fiction-themed animated films and series, such as Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and Bubblegum Crisis, as well as Japanese 3D fighting games such as Tekken and Virtua Fighter. The game stays true to its roots: It features fluid, dynamic animation, some exciting combat sequences, and a fairly involving story that links everything together. However, Oni suffers from a few very noticeable problems and several smaller ones, which all serve to prevent the game from being entirely successful or enjoyable.
During the course of the game, you play as Konoko, a young woman with purple hair and a mysterious past. She is an expert in martial arts and is also proficient with various firearms, and you'll have to guide her through more than a dozen levels filled with treacherous enemy fighters who lie in ambush around virtually every corner. The game's story unfolds mostly through text memos you find, as well as dialogue in brief cutscenes that usually occur at the beginning and end of each mission. The dialogue is accompanied by close-up portraits of the characters doing the talking. These are generally well drawn, and the voice acting (which is in English) is generally convincing, such that you get a fairly good sense of the characters' distinct personalities. Even so, it's disappointing that both the hand-drawn character close-ups and the 3D character models themselves are so static. Neither the portraits nor the 3D characters' faces are animated, which can be distracting since many other games already feature 3D characters that are much more articulate or that at least move their mouths and blink their eyes. Nevertheless, some of the more action-packed cutscenes can be quite entertaining.
The game's animation is much more impressive during the actual combat sequences. Konoko realistically dashes around, backpedals, flips, leaps, punches, kicks, blocks, and more. Some of her more difficult combat moves, such as brutal backbreaker and a spinning chokehold that leaves the enemy slumping to the ground with a sprained neck, look great. Likewise, her enemies move about believably for the most part, and they will even sometimes stop to taunt Konoko in battle. Actually, these enemy characters often look much better than Konoko. Many of the enemies are wearing full suits of shiny, metallic battle armor, and since they're also typically wearing helmets or masks, you won't be distracted when they don't wince as you're beating them up. But Konoko's static facial features and her blocky, metallic-looking hair don't come across very well, although at least you'll see her wearing several different outfits over the course of the game, for variety's sake. The game has a few nice visual effects, most notably how large panes of glass shatter dramatically when hit by errant gunfire; but Oni also has a few graphical glitches, like defeated enemies that tend to clip straight through nearby walls and obstacles. There's a good variety of different enemies to fight, and you'll even notice that similar categories of foes still have several variations in stature and uniform color. Even so, you'll quickly find that most of the enemy characters in Oni use the same exact combat moves on you, not to mention the same exact fighting styles. So, regardless of their subtly different appearances or the difficulty you'll have in beating them, you'll find that most of the combat with enemy fighters maintains a fairly consistent form.
Fortunately, this form is quite good, though it can be very challenging. The game's default controls let you move Konoko with the keyboard, as well as look around, turn, and attack with the mouse. You can change these controls if you edit a configuration file in the game's directory, but the default setup is actually ideal once you get used to it. Even so, it is surprising that the game doesn't offer a more convenient means of configuring your controls, and it is still more surprising that the game doesn't support PC-compatible gamepads, especially since the game was developed simultaneously for the PlayStation 2 console. Nevertheless, once you remember the key layout, you'll find that you can make Konoko move about and attack with finesse.
You'll need all the finesse you can muster as you try to take on the superior enemy odds and firepower you'll face throughout the game. Typically, you'll come across between one and three or four opponents at a time. One or more of these will probably be toting a gun. There's no good way to avoid enemy gunfire except to keep moving, so you'll learn to either make a beeline for the gun-toting assailants or to fall back and lure them around corners. Your enemies are very aggressive, and they will always come at you - so you can often help even the odds by using defensive tactics and environmental obstacles. At least you can relieve your foes of their weapons fairly easily once you get up close, and you can use these and whatever limited ammunition they have remaining to your advantage. Oni actually features a rather diverse and interesting variety of weapons. The arsenal includes conventional pistols and submachine guns, as well as stronger plasma and beam weapons, an incredibly powerful grenade launcher, and a very deadly sniper rifle weapon that must spend several seconds freezing over between firing its chilling mercury bolts. Unfortunately, there are no melee weapons in Oni, and though the ranged weapons are interesting, they do start to get repetitive toward the end of the game.