Anoxemia (PlayStation 4) Review

By Sam Turner 15.04.2017

Review for Anoxemia on PlayStation 4

"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul.... I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can." No more beautiful words have been written about the mystical connection between the innate intrigues bound up within the deep dark oceans. It is with some bravery, then, that Anoxemia attempts to package up such watery mystery in one tight downloadable package. From sprawling underwater caves to abandoned submarines left to rot on the bottom of the unknown sea, it is a world to explore. However, there is also a game here that is desperate to spoil the adventure.

Stranded after a submarine crash, Anoxemia begins with the fine moustache of one Dr. Bailey exploring the ocean floor along with his helpful drone. Presented in some fine comic book panels the narrative drive for this watery fiction is competently handled - which, of course, it needs to be when the player attempts to comprehend why a stricken moustache bearing a Phd. would decide that carrying on with their mission to collect contaminated flora and fauna is a better use of their talents, rather than attempting to manufacture some method of recovery.

It's certainly a sloshy narrative, but it does sit in a solid realm of nightmarish mystery and wonder. Move the drone around the screen and the gracious doctor will follow. Lead him to an oxygen tank and he will replenish his supplies. Drop the drone next to an eager specimen and he will graciously add it to his research portfolio. If, though, you accidentally wander into a mine field or some of the deadly plant life, Dr. B and his moustache will blindly trail behind.

Screenshot for Anoxemia on PlayStation 4

Such a control scheme not only gives the game much of its challenge through dexterity, but also it gives the narrative its own drive and purpose. Death will come swiftly and often as you attempt to wrestle both control of the drone and the pursuing avatar, creating a scene where even the doctor starts to outwardly become suspicious of your ability to direct and act towards the greater good of the mission.

It's a clever touch to give so much weight to the control scheme that it not only gives narrative breadth to your underwater adventures, but also it creates a fluid and floating pattern of play as you duck and dive the reticule amongst labyrinthian caves. The lack of weight and, more importantly, active feedback can be an issue, though, as it becomes easy for the player to drift unknowingly into a mine field, therefore sapping the doctor, or indeed the drone, of some of its much needed energy. There were also a few occasions where the drone got caught upon some of the jagged textures of the cave systems meaning that much-needed oxygen was wasted as the game unhinged itself.

Much of the title continues to loop around this constant play of lead and follow. Clicks on the gamepad send sonar lines spewing in all directions, and the current supply levels of the Dr's oxygen and energy are displayed for the player to nod in satisfaction or grimace in fear as they tick downwards, ever downwards. What Anoxemia does capture in these early stages is the human desire to embrace the unknown wonder of the sea. It's very easy to head straight to each of the objectives on the screen, but it's much more rewarding to risk some of that precious breath to see what else might be lurking in the level beyond.

Screenshot for Anoxemia on PlayStation 4

There is a delicate upward trend in these levels of Anoxemia as the game starts finding its feet. Small environmental puzzles ask you to control a harpoon to move rocks, opening up new areas to explore or blocking current flows that hinder progress. It's a layering of mechanics shrouded in a system where each action costs oxygen or energy.

Resources carry over from level to level, so the constant temptation to stretch the capabilities of the doctor becomes ever more tempting, as caves become larger and environments become even more mysterious and deadly. The desire for adventure is a perfect fit for such a setting. Balanced with the rewards for taking that extra risk is a direction that Anoxemia appears to be on a steady incline towards, but obviously no one explained that one needs to pause and exhale at least once when attempting to ascend so confidentially.

As the game begins to drift, unanchored from these early signs of promise, the first symptom that there is something wrong pings from the previously praised control scheme. What starts so positively becomes cumbersome and clumsy as levels get tighter and full of more obstructions. It's clear that a mouse is the best and most accurate way to take charge of the drone in question, but with an analogue stick the bumbling errors begin to stack up, and the potential rewards provided by exploration become a chore.

Screenshot for Anoxemia on PlayStation 4

This slow decline into mediocrity is also matched by the haunting score, which delivers much of the game's early threat. Several hours in, though, and the same score is still dictating the player's progress. There is no definition in the soundtrack, meaning that narrative peaks are often smoothed over and left hanging.

What is utterly egregious, though, is what feels like laziness on the part of the development team itself. Early adventures in the deep are quickly replaced by stages of endless trial and error, where success can only be achieved by performing certain actions in a certain order. There is some narrative justification for this, but consequently it strips away every inch of rhythm and mystery built up in the early game and exacerbates the niggling controls. If there was a slow introduction to this alteration in gameplay style there could have been some creative play here, but instead it feels like the easiest path was taken in order to stretch the game out.

This listless design is also matched by how level exploration is often only complicated by how dark the level design is. Only turning up the brightness of the television can reveal the pathways to explore. All in all, the result is a game that very quickly feels cheap and inaccessible, where the player is robbed out of the joy of exploration and the unknown.

Screenshot for Anoxemia on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

From encouraging beginnings, Anoxemia only continues to deteriorate minute by minute. Strong controls only become weaker and the gameplay only matches this decline. It feels as if every effort was made to curtail the early embrace of exploration and discovery. Even the resource management becomes an uncomfortable routine. The early signs of promise show a studio that had genuine ideas of capturing the mirk beneath the seas, but ultimately there just isn't enough to stop Anoxemia from being dragged to the depths below.

Developer

Badland Games

Publisher

BadLand Games

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

There are no replies to this review yet. Why not be the first?

Comment on this article

You can comment as a guest or join the Cubed3 community below: Sign Up for Free Account Login

Preview PostPreview Post Your Name:
Validate your comment
  Enter the letters in the image to validate your comment.
Submit Post

Subscribe to this topic Subscribe to this topic

If you are a registered member and logged in, you can also subscribe to topics by email.
Sign up today for blogs, games collections, reader reviews and much more
Site Feed
Who's Online?
hinchjoie

There are 1 members online at the moment.