STAFF REVIEW of Anoxemia (Xbox One)

Thursday, May 4, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Anoxemia Box art The dictionary defines Anoxemia as “a deficiency of oxygen in the arterial blood.”, or in simple terms, a lack of oxygen. This is fitting for Anoxemia, a game developed by BSK Games, as it’s set in the ocean, underneath the surface, where you are constantly in search for oxygen. Looking up the medical symptoms of actual Anoxemia is very fitting for the game as well, as anxiety and confusion is something that you may also experience by playing this dark and brooding underwater title.

You are Dr. Bailey, a scientist who is at the bottom of the ocean and tasked to find and collect specific plant samples for research, but your submarine has crashed, so you must not only finish your mission, but also survive by finding scattered oxygen tanks throughout the ocean bed. It seems odd to me that Dr. Bailey must complete his mission no matter what, especially after such a catastrophic event, rather than focusing simply on survival.

These plant samples seem to be of some serious importance though, and it’s not only until about half way through that you start to question why, or what the motives may be to collect them. The story itself is told through comic book style panels rather than animated cutscenes, and while not terribly involved or exciting, it has just enough mystery to keep you wondering why, hopefully retrying the levels over again when you inevitably die many times for numerous reasons. Many small details of the story are heard through quick quips from Dr. Bailey, so you best be listening to get the most out of the minimal story.

You’re deep under the surface in the ocean, so there’s virtually no light aside from the small glow around you. This is where your sonar comes in, as with a press of a button you can quickly see, at a glance, any imminent danger like mines, enemies, and even a general idea where the plants you need to collect are. And that’s the main goal of the game, finding all of the stage’s plants allowing you to progress through each of the game's levels to find all of the plants. It sounds basic because it is, but don’t be fooled, things become much more difficult in later stages.

The complete gameplay experience involves Dr. Bailey underwater with his trusty little drone guiding him where to go. You don’t actually control Dr. Bailey, but instead the small drone, as the good doctor will follow it to the best of his ability throughout the levels. The drone will gain a few abilities as you progress, like a harpoon hook and a speed boost, but the core mechanic simply revolves around exploration in a timely fashion, as your oxygen is a limited resource.

There are plenty of traps for you come across causing you to perish, like acidic water, harsh currents, enemies, mines and more. The biggest challenge will be determining if you should spend precious time searching for more upgrades and oxygen, or try to rush to the plants to beat the level. Certain actions, like speed boosting, uses more oxygen as well, so when you run out and can’t breathe, you die and need to start the level over.

Eventually you’ll collect dynamite to blast open weak walls, but the issue here is there’s no simple way to determine if you’ve picked up dynamite, or how many you possess. There’s some small meanings to the icons on your drone, but it’s never explained well, and even after a few hours in, I was still guessing if I had collected what I needed to or not. Make sure to move away before the explosion goes off though, as being caught in the blast radius which will instantly kill you, sending you back to the start of the level once again.

Dying is something you’ll become very accustomed to, especially in the latter portion of Anoxemia. Clipping a mine, having an enemy shoot you, running out of oxygen, or accidentally being too close to your dynamite explosion will send you back to the start of the level. In the beginning stages this isn’t a big deal, as levels are just minutes long, but later on the levels become huge and much more involved, and without any checkpoint system a simple mistake can lead to death and a lot of frustration as you have to restart.

Since you’re always trying to follow your drone, and the controls aren’t’ perfect, you'll find that you will become stuck on edges or other small objects like rocks, only to get permanently stuck, forcing you to run out of oxygen, die and try again. This issue becomes even worse in the handful of ‘inside’ levels, where you’re exploring the insides of a sunken bunker or ship with little room to move or a clear direction to go.

Movement is very difficult, though it should be since you’re underwater, but at times it’s not fair, especially with certain physic puzzles as you struggle to deal with the lack of precision of said control. If you happen to stumble upon Anoxemia’s version of a treasure chest, you need to use your sonar to unlock it and you are forced to wait a few moments before it opens. This doesn’t pause the action around you though, and you'll die many times from an enemy that will get you, unfairly, while you are waiting for the chest to unlock.

As for the visuals, the artistic style is dark, brooding, and claustrophobic, but it should be as you are supposed to be at the bottom of the ocean floor. While interesting, there’s not much detail to appreciate, as the majority of everything simply looks like silhouettes as you move across the scenery. There’s a few moments where it feels you’re in a 3D world, but these are far and few in between. The comic book elements of the narrative are well drawn, but there’s simply not enough to keep you engaged between levels to make you care enough to collect underwater plants.

Given that Anoxemia is only a few bucks, it’s hard to knock it too much, and if you can deal with the frustrating controls and the seemingly unfair deaths, there is a decent amount of gameplay here with almost 40 levels to explore. With a few checkpoints thrown in between each level, I would have enjoyed my time with Anoxemia so much more, but there were times where I was wanting to hold my breath, hoping it would be over sooner than later.

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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