I once went deep sea diving with a bloke called David, in an old bell shaped antique suit. As I reached the bottom of the ocean I was so scared, so terrified, I didn’t move at all and closed my eyes until it was time to resurface. So with Anoxemia, a 2D story adventure set deep underwater, I hoped the game would make me want to move again underwater and, most importantly, be interesting enough to keep my eyes open for once.
Anoxemia means a deficiency of oxygen in the arterial blood. This makes the person very ill, but also very delirious and unable to establish what is real or illusion. This definition sums up the experience of playing the game, Anoxemia, perfectly well. It follows the story of Dr Bailey, a scientist, who must delve into the murky depths of the ocean to collect plant samples in a section of the sea polluted by a huge war. When his sub crashes, he continues his mission, but questions his own reality and the reasons he is down there.
The gameplay consists of you – Dr Bailey – underwater with a little drone in front of you that does all of the work and guides you through the level. You have a small bubble of light around you, but beyond that it’s darkness. You can press the sonar button on the drone, which will then indicate the direction you can go to collect the plants. As you travel through the sea you can find oxygen canisters to keep the supply of O2 up, or you will die very quickly. Why are their oxygen canisters at the bottom of the ocean? Well, Dr Bailey even wonders why and this is when it first becomes very meta. You have to avoid mines, energy sucking robots, and toxic plant life in order to progress through the level. The objective is to collect all the plants before moving through to the next, furthering the story. As you move on you encounter new underwater environments and get some new abilities like a harpoon for shooting and dragging objects. There is dynamite to collect to cause rock falls and create new paths, as well as the ability to power down the robot laser subs chasing you for a short while.
This all works very well and the game really sets up a creepy, claustrophobic atmosphere. The movement is good but tricky, much as it should be while moving underwater. Sometimes the action button doesn’t work as well as it should, and there were times when I just couldn’t progress. I’m looking at you giant rock that needs to be moved by a harpoon. The set up reminds me, strangely of old classic Lemmings, whereby you have to find the safest path to the end of the level. The enemies are annoying at times and there are a few moments where your death seems very random. The interior levels which are in place are a nightmare to navigate around, as you become stuck easily in rooms or on snags. But the game is strangely addictive and using a brilliantly formed concept it’ll hook you into giving it one more go every time you die. Oh, and you will die a lot. There are a whopping 38 levels or so, which is huge for a game of this size and price. And it’s great to see that some of the early levels will take you under five minutes to complete, while the latter ones will tax your mind and test your ability not to throw the controller half across the room.
The story contained within Anoxemia is intriguing, while not imposing itself too much on the gameplay. Some of it is told through comic book cut scenes, but most is found by listening to the voice over of Dr Bailey. I don’t want to spoil anything though, so that’s all I’m going to say about that. To accompany that story, the visuals really embody the tone and nature of the underwater world. Lighting is dark and mysterious, and the characters float in the right way. I would’ve liked to see some more variations in the design, but overall the world is very cool indeed. I really like the style of the comic book scenes and they way they work. The soundtrack is great and easily creates the foreboding atmosphere, whilst the effects of the underwater sounds are top notch. A worthy mention must also go to the actor portraying Dr Bailey, who delivers his lines with huge commitment and enthusiasm.
Overall and you’ll find that Anoxemia will give you a lot of game for a very small price. Getting through all the levels is going to take you a decent chunk of time but the challenge is more than worth the investment. The tone, and the story it tells, is done in a superb manner and whilst the controls can get clunky at times and some of the level design is occasionally annoying, if you can get over that then you’ll want to take a deep breath, hold your nose and discover the secrets of Anoxemia.