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I’m sure you’ve all heard that you should “Never judge a book by its cover” and after playing Anoxemia, I’d like to add “Never judge a game by a pretty trailer.”
Falling somewhere between the problematic Song of the Deep and the inky darkness of Limbo this metroidvania-style game has you playing as Dr. Bailey, a mustachioed-clad scientist who has been despatched to collect plant samples from a contaminated area at the bottom of the ocean. However, on his decent he suddenly finds himself stranded with nothing but a diving suit and an operations drone (ATMA). For some reason Dr. Bailey decides that the best thing he can do with no way to contact the surface is to continue with his research all while growing more paranoid that ATMA is attempting to kill him.
Controlling ATMA, your role is to guide Dr. Bailey through each area to collect the target plants before you move onto the next area and essentially repeat the process again. At the same time you have to avoid various traps such as rogue drones, WW2 mines and turrets most which can kill Dr. Bailey with a single hit. If this wasn’t enough to deal with you also have to find oxygen cylinders scattered throughout the level to stop him from drowning.
Utilising a tethered control system, where ATMA goes Dr. Bailey follows, or should I say floats lazily behind you, often at enough of a distance to make him an easier target than you would want. In fact, Dr. Bailey’s only purpose in the game is to collect samples and occasionally set dynamite to clear passageways. As the drone, you can get a harpoon, which can be used to clear rocks out of the way as well as use a sonar to locate enemies as well as the direction of samples still to be collected. As such, your own means of defence is to avoid everything, which considering the hampered controls is easier said than done, especially when many enemies will ignore any kind of patrol pattern to make a beeline towards you.
The other main annoyance here is with the checkpoint system, which is limited to the start of each level with no way to create a custom checkpoint. Considering that the levels are quite short, this might not seem like much of an issue except when you’re likely to be killed off because Dr. Bailey got snagged on a rock while trying to escape or stopped to pick something up when you needed to move quickly. As such, it can be especially rage-inducing to get most of the samples only for one clumsy move to send you back to the start of the level. Still the game does come advertised as being “hard” which it certainly is as you will die frequently … so much so the game actually gives achievement points for these deaths as you battle through the 38 levels, though the effort you put in comes at little reward with the developers seemingly focusing on making the difficulty high while not focusing enough on how it effects the gameplay.
On the plus side, the game is visually very pretty to look at with shoals of jellyfish swimming in the background while everything shot almost in shadow with the cave systems being especially fun to explore, though the feeling of freedom to go anywhere in the level is constantly hampered by the invisible layer of acid which will kill you if swam into while keeping the player with a much more confined area than it would first seem.
While the game might come with a low price tag, it only becomes more like a bad movie experience as you often end up wondering how much you have to endure to justify what you payed rather than the challenge in trying to beat it like you might get from the likes of Dark Souls or Ninja Gaiden, games that were celebrated for their toughness, but when frustration overtakes the challenge it leaves little to keep you coming back.
Game description: Anoxemia is a 2015 adventure games from BSK Games, that takes us on an undersea journey that while visually interesting, is equally a test of player patience.