Cyberpunk, as a genre, has always had a devoted fanbase and a huge following for what is, still, considered a niche genre. With the likes of The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell, cyberpunk grew in popularity in the late 90s and early 2000s. Now, with the live-action release of Ghost in the Shell, and Netflix bringing out Altered Carbon, plus games like Deus Ex and Watch_Dogs, it seems like there’s another sudden rise in interest for cyberpunk. So, what better time to throw those rose tinted glasses on the floor and take a look at another PS2 game?
Specifically, we’re going to be looking at Oni, a cyberpunk game with less than subtle inspiration coming from Ghost in the Shell, moreso than other works in the genre. I remember the game very fondly, but it has been an exceptionally long time since I actually played it. So, let’s take a look at whether it stood the test of time, or got lost in a sea of similar games.
Set in the “distant future” of 2032, Oni takes place when the world’s nations have been annexed by the “World Coalition Government”, whose control reaches over 80% of the planet. This all seems pretty common for a cyberpunk story, but the game does manage to create its own tale using this base.
The world’s citizens are kept inside sealed cities, being told that the world is covered in wilderness preserves. On top of this, everything is tightly watched and monitored, with a militaristic style police force scouring the streets for criminals. However, all is (of course) not as it seems. Now, I won’t spoil anything as the story has a number of twists and turns that are actually very well put together. What I will say is that if you enjoy cyberpunk things, you’ll enjoy the story of Oni.
However, the voice acting isn’t great and you’ll have to sit through an awful lot of it. On top of this, the dialogue isn’t quite as good as I remember, sometimes feeling very forced and slightly out of character. But, as long as you can handle that, you’re in for a great story that is a huge amount of fun to play through.
Overall, the gameplay is where Oni really shines. There are, of course, a few negatives… So, we’ll cover those first before looking at the positives. To begin with, the controls for aiming are a bit complicated to get used to, as is the movement when turning. This poses a few problems in the early stages of the game, but once you’ve got the hang of the controls, the game plays great.
The combat mechanics are fun, which a small variety of different melee combos and grapples, as well as a much larger variety of guns to find throughout the levels. As Oni is a beat-em-up style action game first and foremost, areas being blocked off at first is standard. However, there’s an over-reliance on keycards to unlock difference areas, and the addition of puzzles wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Enemies are also rather repetitive, as you’ll find yourself fighting against the same handful of enemy types over and over.
However, the game really does shine when it comes to level exploration. Each section of the game feels huge, with loads of different rooms to explore in between the fighting. On top of this, the combat is really easy to pick up, meaning you won’t spend ages getting frustrated trying to defeat basic enemies. On top of this, the boss fights are extremely fun, ranging from the straightforward “run and gun” fights to puzzle-based platformer style bosses. This variation means that you’ll never get bored, fighting basically the same boss each level.
Finally, because Oni is basically a beat-em-up game, there are a number of different powerups you can find as you explore, each one giving a different ability for a short period of time.
Probably the area that Oni really doesn’t perform well on, its graphics certainly have not held up. The locations feel vast and rather empty, with the environments being very blocky. Considering what other games did with the environments, even when looking at launch titles like Ophen: Scion of Sorcery, this feels like a bit of a letdown. On top of this, the anime style character models are very pixelated, even for the time.
The user interface, at least, is clean and simple. It doesn’t distract you from the action but is visible enough that you don’t forget to keep an eye on your health. The ammo counter will take some getting used to, as it changes style and layout depending on which weapon you have equipped, but it’s not too bad. The biggest issue I have with the UI is the targeting reticle, which floats in the middle of the screen, disappearing behind the environment very often, making aiming quite hard sometimes.
The animations also feel rather clunky, especially when grappling. For example, you can suplex an enemy, but it looks very stiff and robotic. This is opposed to the more fluid (but still not great) animations for the same move in wrestling games. And yes, those games are focused on wrestling moves, but if you’re going to include just one in your game, getting the animation smooth enough isn’t too much to ask for.
And That’s All Folks
Oni, in many ways, is a very dated game. The graphics and animations feel outdated, even compared to games from the same era, and the visual aspects of the level design leave a lot to be desired. The controls are hard to get used to at first, and there’s a serious over-reliance on key-based doors to lock off specific areas of each level.
Despite this, I still love the game and would recommend it to any cyberpunk fan out there. The combat is really enjoyable, if a bit simplistic, and the storyline is great. Sure, Oni might not shine like a diamond, but it definitely is a hidden gem of the PlayStation 2 that is worth at least one playthrough. You can pick the game up for less than £1 these days (at the time of writing), so for the same of a chocolate bar, you might as well get it. It’s not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a fun beat-em-up that will keep you entertained throughout the playthrough.