Everyone's got that game they used to love but nobody else seems to remember it. This site it dedicated to those games. Check in each week for a fresh look at another hidden gem and weigh in on whether it should be remembered as a classic or not.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Year: 2001
Developer: Bungie (PC & Mac); Rockstar Toronto (PS2)
Publisher: Take Two Interactive
Platform: PC, Mac OS X, PS2
Metacritic score: 71 (cross-platform avg)
VGChartz sales to date: PS2: 530,000; PC/Mac sales unavailable

Genre's get spoken of a lot when talking about video games. It's human nature to want to classify and categorize things, boiling them down to their "essence" so that we can simplify the process of thinking about them in relation to the stuff already in our heads.  A genre helps us determine what other games might be similar letting us decide whether it's something we'll enjoy or helping us to figure out the game's mechanics.  But the dark side of genre's is that it makes it all to easy to fall into a groove, checking off those main features gamers expect and then calling it a day.  Rarely are developers and publishers willing to stray too far from a genre's formula, not only out of fear of alienating consumers but also because combining different forms of gameplay is often beyond the abilities of whichever engine the game is being built on.  But when they are willing to go out on a limb, developers have a shot at radically shaking up the status quo and even creating an entirely new genre much as David Jaffe accomplished when Twisted Metal ignited the car combat genre.

All those in favor of whooping a little ass today, show of hands please?  Any opposed?  Yeah that's what I thought.
Oni jumps head first into these uncharted and treacherous waters by combining a 3rd-person shooter with a brawler.  The game's style, themes and story are all heavily influenced by anime, particularly the excellent Ghost in the Shell series.  You play as Technological Crimes Task Force agent Konoko, an elite member of the World Coalition Government's police force.  Ostensibly the TCTF is tasked with confronting the Syndicate, a global network of united criminal organizations that is constantly challenging the WCG for control and power within this near-future dystopia.  But in truth the WCG has also been using their police to suppress any opposition to their authority, criminal or otherwise, and Konoko begins to suspect there's a lot her employers are hiding from her, including her own past.  Uncovering that truth will mean placing herself at odds with both the Syndicate and the government, but fortunately Konoko is well equipped to deal with any threat.

Sunglasses and leather coats, of course, are included in that list of equipment.
Konoko is a bundle of graceful lethality.  She can effortlessly switch between laying down a stream of lead from an SMG to suddenly face-kicking three dudes at once.  It's that fluid shift between hand-to-hand combat and gunplay that makes Oni so unique and so fun to play.  You'd think that having access to a range of firearms including handguns, SMG's, assault rifles and even heavy duty weapons like rocket launchers or energy rifles would obviate the need to let your fists do the talking.  But Oni does a good job of balancing the power and ammunition available to make a guns-blazing approach more challenging then you'd assume.  In addition, you'll usually be dealing with groups of multiple enemies who will use their own firepower to give cover while melee units close around on all sides.  Since being hit disrupts your firing it's most effective to use your arsenal to close distance and then relying on Konoko's considerable martial arts skills to finish the job.  While at first she's limited to a few basic strikes, as you level up Konoko will be able to unleash a visually exciting dance of punches, kicks, throws and leaps to string together powerful combos.  You'll need to learn these tricks and make the most of them since there are multiple classes of enemies each with their own melee style.

Only two enemies this time?  That's perfect, one face for each foot.
Re-playing Oni after all these years reveals how surprisingly fresh the gameplay remains, but also shines a light on some aspects that were clearly unfinished and rushed. At the time Bungie was known as one of the best of the small contingent of Mac developers having found major success with the Marathon and Myth series. Oni was one of two games the studio was working on, but when that other game was publicly unveiled during the keynote address at the 1999 Macworld Expo, the studio's fate would take a drastic and monumental shift.  That other game was Halo: Combat Evolved and Microsoft liked the reveal so much they immediately bought Bungie out from under Apple's nose, famously triggering Steve Jobs' epic wrath.  But for Bungie, the buyout meant they had to hand off ongoing work on Oni to another studio while they turned their focus entirely towards creating gaming's next blockbuster franchise.

Take Two stepped in and took control by handing development off to Rockstar Toronto, but was wise enough to keep most of the existing staff as Bungie's West coast office in place.  But it's likely that this transition is the reason why the game feels a bit unpolished.  Maybe the project lost some key staff, or perhaps they were trying to rush the game to shelves before Bungie released Halo during the Xbox launch a few months later.  It's also possible Take Two didn't want to devote too many resources to a project that wasn't theirs from the start.  Whatever the cause, Oni's overall quality suffered in the end.  Parts of the game that had been previously teased, such as LAN-based multiplayer, were absent from the finished product.  More troubling, the levels had a distinct feeling of sparsity and emptiness since most interior spaces were devoid of any interactive elements or even scenery clutter.  Anyone willing to look past the rough edges was treated to an incredibly original game whose flowing combat promises a more polished game hiding below.

Knocked flat on her back, surrounded by enemies, some of them pointing guns at her.  She's got 'em right where she wants 'em.

I wouldn't count this one out just yet, but it's not looking too good.  When Microsoft bought Bungie, Take Two took over the remainder of development along with publishing in exchange for rights to the property.  Since then Take Two hasn't done anything with the game since it was originally published, aside from a blurb for the game on their website.  At the very least you'd think it would get a re-release on Steam, especially since it would add to their growing library of games able to run on both PC and Mac.  In any event, it's fairly easy to find a used copy online and finding a download of the superior PC version should also come naturally to anyone reading this site.

Even if Take Two has forgotten they own this property, there's still hope it will again see the light of day.  Bungie split off from Microsoft back in 2007 and in 2010 announced a 10-year partnership with monolithic publisher Activision Blizzard.  Unlike some other developer contracts with Activision, Bungie secured a deal in which they retain ownership of any IP they develop during the contract period.  Bungie has been pretty tight-lipped so far about what's in store, with only a few murmurs hinting at a sci-fi themed MMO likely headed for the next Xbox console.  It's doubtful they'd buy back the rights to Oni just to turn it into an MMO, but it would make sense for them to reclaim that property now while they can maintain ownership and control over it.  But then again you never know, introducing a fluent blend of shooting and martial arts into the MMO genre could certainly bring a little spice to it, and Bungie has proven they're willing to take risks with an established formula.      

Any formula that includes a jump kick to the back of the head is a winner in my book

Have you played this game?  Is there a game you remember being great but no one else has heard of it?  Sound off in the comments below, and be sure to Like us on Facebook or Follow us on Twitter!

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