Oni Preview

We play the final version of this highly-anticipated action game.

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Even now, in late November, the team of Bungie designers and programmers located in the company's San Jose office is packing their bags and moving some 1,500 miles up the west coast to take permanent residence at its new home in Redmond, Washington. The move is part of the recent purchase of Bungie by Microsoft, which was completed earlier this June. In fact, while its colleagues from the Bungie Chicago office, who are responsible for Halo, made the move months ago, the San Jose team decided to stay put until development of Oni was completed. And as the move indicates, Oni for the PC is indeed done. We recently had the opportunity to visit the game's publisher, Gathering of Developers, to take a close look at this anticipated third-person action game.

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While Oni has been highly publicized since its announcement nearly two years ago, we were able to learn some new details of the game after some time behind the wheel. During the demonstration, one of the game's designers highlighted some of Oni's finer points as well as the game's background story. Within the game, you assume the role of Konoko, a teenage femme fatale imbued with superhuman fighting techniques. The game clearly draws its inspiration from such Japanese anime as Ghost in the Shell and Dominion Tank Police. In fact, the hand-drawn cutscenes for Oni have been animated by the same artists who are responsible for Bubble Gum Crisis, one of the more popular anime series of the '90s. Oni's story starts significantly before the game itself, well before Konoko's birth, and focuses on the rise of merchant corporations in the near future. As these global companies grew in power, they created their own government to protect their own interests. Dubbed the World Coalition Government, this governing body had a number of branches meant to ensure the corporations' financial domination in the global market, one of which was an enforcement branch called the Technology Crimes Task Force, or TCTF. This paramilitary group cracked down on everyone suspected of possessing "illegal" technology, and it soon became clear that it was nothing more than the muscle used by the World Coalition Government to wipe out its competitors.

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Enter Dr. Hasigawa, a respected scientist who works for one of World Coalition Government's research and development corporations. Hasigawa falls in love with and marries a student activist who's protesting the government's acts against humanity. Having led a sheltered life, Hasigawa wasn't aware of any such crimes, and so his love interest urges him to travel with her to the outskirts of one of the many megalopolises that dot the world in the future so that he can witness this mayhem firsthand. However, during the trip, Hasigawa's fiancée falls victim to the effects of a deadly poison plant and dies before Hasigawa's eyes. Convinced that drastic measures are required to survive the world's harsh environment, the same environment that was created by the TCTF and the World Coalition Government, Hasigawa sets out to evolve humanity.

Gameplay

Hasigawa goes on to create two small symbiotic crystals with the ability to heal and even replace vital organs once implanted into a human host. Viewed as a technological crime by the World Coalition Government, these creations are dubbed illegal, and Hasigawa himself becomes labeled a criminal by the TCTF. He seeks refuge with a pseudocrime syndicate, who in turn betrays his trust by forcing him to implant one of the crystals into his baby son and another into his baby daughter, Konoko. Bungie won't reveal what happens to Hasigawa, but we know that his son, raised by members of the same syndicate that betrayed him, grows up with the ambition to implement a twisted version of his father's legacy by selectively choosing who escapes the government's realm of control and who remains. Konoko is turned over to the World Coalition Government as a child and is raised as a ward of the state within the TCTF.

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This explains Konoko's fighting prowess, as she's endowed with literally hundreds of punching, kicking, tackling, and disarming moves. Oni's entire gameplay is built on an even mix of melee and weapons combat. Arguably one of the most ambitious fighting systems in a PC game, this style of gameplay is designed to seamlessly integrate hand-to-hand fighting with gun battles. Konoko can execute a move that starts with a kick and ends in gunplay just as easily as she can pull off a triple-punch combination. And in practice, these fighting moves can be accomplished just as gracefully as they appear onscreen. Oni's default setting maps the punch key to the left mouse button and the kick key to the right mouse button. Rapidly tapping either one of the keys or executing a combination of both will result in a variety of attacks. Additionally, you can tie in her attacks with the directional pad, which means that if you kick while holding down the back key, Konoko will execute a backward kick. Likewise, punching while the right key is depressed will result in her swinging to the right. Konoko also has a suite of acrobatic moves available to her, which include disarming enemies, dodging, sliding, rolling, and flipping; all of which can be executed with this same attack/jump/direction combination.

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As you progress through Oni's 15 levels, Konoko will learn additional fighting skills, called supermoves. These require Street Fighter II-like button combinations to successfully pull them off, but they are extremely useful against the game's more powerful enemies or for knocking down a group of soldiers at once. One such move demonstrated to us by Bungie was a 360-degree kick reminiscent of Ken and Ryu's hurricane kick from Street Fighter II, which cleared three TCTF thugs out of Konoko's way. Of course, when the going gets tough, Konoko can always turn to her arsenal of eight weapons that are scattered throughout Oni. Since she starts off the game as a TCTF officer herself, she'll have access to the agency's entire lineup of high-powered weapons. It's interesting to note that despite the game's large selection of weapons, there are only two types of ammunition: ballistic and energy. A ballistic ammo clip will work with any ballistic weapon, and the same holds true for energy clips and weapons. Bungie designed this aspect specifically in this manner to keep the tempo of the game at a fast pace. Additionally, doing so keeps the game's interface from getting too cluttered with countless ammo gauges. We've detailed all eight of the pistols and rifles you'll find in Oni on the next page.

Weapons

Autopistol: The autopistol is the first weapon that Konoko will carry, and it fires standard ballistic rounds. In its alternate submachine gun mode, it can fire at a faster rate - though at the cost of accuracy.

Plasma rifle: This weapon is a standard-issue rifle, and it fires balls of energy at a relatively slow pace.

Phase stream: The phase stream is like a portable fire hose. It emits relatively harmless beams of energy that cause anyone in its way to stagger and fall backward. Its primary function is to disrupt an enemy's incoming attack.

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Van de Graf pistol: This handheld pistol discharges a powerful bolt of electricity that can stun nearly any of the TCTF soldiers you'll run into, letting you either run away or attack them while they're stunned.

Mercury bow: Arguably one of the most visually appealing weapons in Oni, the mercury bow fires a supercooled sliver of mercury that can pierce all but the most solid of objects. This weapon acts as the standard sniper rifle in Oni, and while ammunition is very limited, it is quite deadly.

Superball gun: The superball gun is a standard grenade launcher that lobs a single shell that explodes into a group of smaller cluster bombs. If the fire button is held down, the rifle will discharge a bouncy grenade that explodes upon impact with an enemy. Both modes are perfect for clearing out large areas of TCTF soldiers.

Scramble cannon: This weapon clearly draws its inspirations from anime like Macross and fires a swarm of "drunken" missiles that thread their way toward their target.

Screaming cannon: This massive rifle creates an energy field that tracks the nearest enemy and traps them for an indefinite amount of time.

While some of the latter weapons might seem a bit over-the-top, Konoko will need them to handle the flurry of enemies that will besiege her in later levels. Oni has a unique method of classifying the bad guys you'll find within the game. During the first stages, most of the TCTF soldiers you'll encounter will be wearing yellow uniforms. The yellow indicates a rookie status, which means they'll be relatively easy to dispatch. Later on in the game, you'll tackle soldiers wearing blue - and then red - uniforms. Each successive color denotes a faster, stronger, and wilier version of that enemy. Ultimately, you'll come across the boss characters - the game's ultimate enemies and those who possess the toughest fighting techniques to beat.

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If you do manage to best what Oni throws at you and Konoko, you'll be treated to a nice surprise. Although the game doesn't have any multiplayer component whatsoever, once you finish the game, you'll be able to go back and play through the single-player campaign as any one of the game's 50 characters, including some of the downright gigantic boss characters. This will undoubtedly add a significant amount of the replay value that disappeared along with multiplay.

Even though the game is done, don't expect to see it in stores until late January or even early February of 2001. Gathering of Developers and Take 2 Interactive have opted to wait until development on the Macintosh and PlayStation 2 versions of Oni are completed before releasing this one. According to Bungie, a simultaneous launch of all three platforms will be easier and makes more sense than releasing each version separately. Regardless, you can expect GameSpot's full review of Oni as soon as it becomes available for purchase.

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