In Anoxemia, we play as the scientist Dr Bailey, who finds himself stranded undersea after his submarine malfunctions and crashes. His goal was simply to collect samples of vegetation from a contaminated area under the sea, however as soon as he leaves his ship, it crashes and is destroyed and he loses all communication with his team. With nothing left but his operations drone and a limited supply of oxygen, Dr Bailey decides there’s little left to do but press on and complete his mission, and hopefully along the way he’ll find a way to save himself. Problem is, that’s a little more difficult than it sounds as mines litter the seabed, areas of acid prevent resurface, and hostile machines patrol the areas. And in addition to all this, it seems something a bit more sinister is afoot, and Dr Bailey even questions the loyalty of his drone.

The game sees you take control of, weirdly, Dr Bailey’s drone, which the scientist follows closely – like some kind of fancy cursor – and who you will lead throughout the dark 2D environments. Your primary goal is to collect all the vegetation samples in the level, upon which you will progress to the next area and repeat. Avoiding the dangers in your path is where the challenge comes from, and as the game boasts on its store page, it can be quite tough. Whether you’re attacked by a machine, blown up by a mine, or impaled by some strange form of underwater vegetation, you will probably be experiencing the death-triggered fade to black quite frequently.

When you die you automatically restart the level from the beginning, though each section is bite-sized, so there’s never much to replay. As a result, some of the levels can briefly reduce to trial and error – you can progress half way through a level and die, but the next time you’ll be aware of the hazards that await. It’s not an inherently bad way of designing things, but if you were expecting a more laid back, explorable experience (with some challenges thrown in) then you’re not going to get it here.

Thankfully Dr Bailey has a few tricks up his sleeve to help him navigate the hostile waters. Your drone comes with a scanner that when activated will highlight hazards on the screen, allowing you to better avoid them. It’ll also show you the direction of the samples in the level, as well as any parts of the environment that can be interacted with – say, for example, a bit of rock that can be destroyed with some explosives. You also come equipped with a booster for dashing, and a harpoon for pulling items towards you and clearing the way of any moveable objects. Need to block up a hole that’s creating an impassable current? Use your harpoon to pull down that boulder and block it up. You get the picture. There are actually a few tactics to playing the game that aren’t well explained from the beginning, for example destroying hazards and releasing mines with your harpoon, and even using our drone to lure these EMP mines into other hostiles – one area I encountered was littered with these contraptions that temporarily slow Dr bailey when he goes near them, so I attracted the attention of an EMP mine and let it set off next to a couple of the devices, deactivating them. There’s a little more depth to the proceeding than it may initially seem, but you do have to figure some of it out for yourself.

With regards to the puzzling and level design, I think Anoxemia has something going for it. Though highly simplistic, the levels can be interesting to explore, and I see what the developers were going for with the whole ‘collect all the samples to progress’ dynamic – instead of a constant running side-scrolling puzzler, it’s more of a ‘solve the small levels, then start the next one’ affair, which is fine as far as I’m concerned, as long as there’s good variation in each level and some actual challenge, which there is. Problem is, however, none of it is very well implemented.

The game is clunky at best, and having Dr Bailey follow around his drone as a control scheme causes all kinds of problems. You frequently get stuck, run into EMPs and mines, struggle to pick up items, and just generally fumble your way through the game. I suppose a slow, floaty feeling is apt considering the game is set underwater, but it doesn’t suit the constricted level design and just ends up leading to frustration. Your harpoon is next to useless, aside from using it to destroy the odd EMP, it’s a pain in the arse to utilise. Using it to pull down boulders seems to only work half of the time, and even then not very well, which led, in some cases, to me genuinely thinking I wouldn’t be able to progress. Especially when you have a limited supply of oxygen, effectively making the levels timed, these issues are absolutely unforgivable.

The menu is also terribly unhelpful and awkward to navigate. If you pause the game, you’ll be given a few symbols to pick from on the menu. None of them are listed, so you’ll have to take a guess at which continues your game and which restarts it from the beginning – I’m not even joking, I restarted my game by accident on two occasions. It can’t be that difficult to create an understandable menu screen.

The one potential saving grace, if you could consider it that, is the story and aesthetic. The narrative is fairly compelling and mysterious, and the dark underwater theme comes with an inherent atmosphere, but even then, at times it can be too dark, and the voice acting is a little bit cringe worthy. In some cases I’d hope the story might be enough to drive you through, but there’s just too much wrong with the base experience. The game looked interesting to begin with, but ultimately it’s a mess. A shame considering I can appreciate the puzzle experience they were trying to create, but it ends up just being frustrating, tedious and a little bit shallow (no pun intended).



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games, but my 'real job' is as a postman. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29