Indie games tend to lean toward the cerebral. Either by challenging your brain to overcome difficult obstacles or simply telling a twisted story that leaves an impact, indie games have to rely on working your brain in different ways than the newest, flashy AAA title out there. By and large, I do appreciate this, because gaming really is more than staring at a screen and pushing buttons. A quality title will hang on to you long after the game is over.
That being said, I see what the developers were going for when they crafted Anoxemia, but the method they used to achieve it suffers in how they chose to execute it. After introducing you to a Dr. Bailey, who is tasked with exploring the deep ocean floor in search of particular plant life, he is thrust into a chaotic situation as his sub crashes and disconnects power and oxygen sources. You are actually tasked with controlling his robotic companion ATMA, who guides Bailey through the deep sea like a cursor with a delayed reaction time. I'm sure I feel a vibe of meta commentary about games and who is in control, but I just end up with a game based upon the second worst mechanic ever: the escort mission. Wait...the whole thing is underwater, the number one worst mechanic.
For reasons unknown at the start of the game, Bailey and ATMA decide the mission of collecting deep-sea plants trumps the basic survival mechanism, even though Bailey only appears to have about ten minutes of oxygen available at any given time. Luckily, though, there are plenty of oxygen "cartridges" scattered all over existence, as if someone prepared for you to be trapped below the waves and desperately needing them. ATMA needs energy as well, both for basic operation and use of weapons, so you have to make sure you find those cartridges too. So, stack that on: now it's an underwater escort mission inventory management game. And it's dark. Like "turn up your TV settings" dark. My first play session in early morning next to the television was fine, but later in the day when I sat back at the couch I couldn't see anything and had to move close. The game's main sale page brags about "Interconnectivity" with the PS Vita, but I'm finding nothing special at all short of simple Remote Play. The game was dark on my Vita to the point I saw more of my reflected face than the game itself.
With little to no text on screen, you are left to figure out a lot. Enemies and obstacles are relentless: there's even trophies for dying 100 times, if that tells you anything. Most anything that hits Bailey will result in an instant kill, and Bailey's floaty follow attitude means you have to predict the attacks, which often come rapidly with no remorse. Bailey has no common sense whatsoever: he literally follows you anywhere, even if you guide him to put explosives on a spot and stand still while it explodes. The only things he does on his own is collect the stuff you point him at and run quickly to you if you leave him alone in the dark, because of course he doesn't have his own light source. Early on you are introduced to proximity mines, that begin following you if you get too close, and relentlessly follow until they blow up on something. Soon after, you're introduced to a huge area where literally every section of the map will activate a huge array of proximity mines. I felt this arrived long before I'd developed a logical way to overcome them, which turned into a lesson in frustration. As I said, it appears that the game has something interesting to say in it's storyline, but the mechanics required to get there may put off many a player before they even get to that point. Watching the trailer (embedded below) shows an enthralling plot. Reading the flavor text makes you think that there's more to the drone you are piloting than meets the eye. But when I come upon an impassible minefield with no real back story or plot, it deters me from playing, even if there's an underlying plot that is supposed to be heightened by my myriad frustrating deaths. Other indie games like Super Meat Boy have insane amounts of deaths, but they instantly respawn you for another shot at a level that takes seconds to complete. The slow burn of Anoxemia takes a few seconds to return you to the beginning, and an accidental death near the end of a level will prove frustrating as it drags you back to start all over again.
Anoxemia tries to give an enthralling experience, but I have a hard time getting past the first impression, where it wraps three of the worst video game tropes together in one package. I personally feel the replay value is low, because I don't see me going back after I see the main plotline. If you can create the perfect vacuum of screen comfort, controller logic, and mechanics understanding, Anoxemia will surely provide an enthralling story, especially for people who enjoy notably difficult games or ones that pull anxiety out of you. Personally, I enjoy mystery, but I need more storyline than "hey, my dude has a pink mustache, and he's trapped at the bottom of the sea collecting plants," mysterious plotline or no. At a mere $7.99 for around 30 levels, it won't really break your bank to take the plunge.
Thanks to the developers for providing a code for review.
Final score: 2.5/5