I truly enjoy playing indie games. Indies typically have smaller budgets, which forces creativity over splash, and a true gem can often be unearthed in the simplest of concepts. In Anoxemia, the new game from developer BSK Games and publisher BadLand Games, that indie spirit holds true as players are tasked with exploring the bottom of the ocean for specific plant life with only a companion drone named ATMA, and the mission takes some very twisted turns as the need for oxygen is constant, and the dangers of the deep are ever present.
Anoxemia is the story of a scientist named Dr. Bailey who must collect plant samples in a stretch of the ocean polluted by the tools of a devastating war. When Bailey’s sub crashes on the bottom, he must continue the mission at all costs, by collecting scattered oxygen tanks and avoiding mines, jellyfish, harsh undercurrents, and so much more in his quest to collect all of the plant samples and find safety back on the surface.
Anoxemia has a whopping 38 levels, and some are short and rather easy, where the player is tasked with finding and collecting a small number of plants to go on to the next level. Later levels get progressively more complicated, with obstructions that must be blown apart with dynamite, boulders which must be navigated around or used to create new paths, and even a huge submarine that must be explored. All of this while solving dilemmas of mines, robotic sentries, and other obstacles. But the biggest obstacle of them all is the constant need for oxygen tanks. Without oxygen, Bailey will die, so making sure to find the tanks actually takes precedent over finding the plants, complicating the mission more and more.
The gameplay is rather simple, as the player takes control of ATMA, Bailey’s drone companion, who then leads Bailey through the levels. The levels use a 2D shading effects over a stationary underwater background to create the illusion of exploration. There is only a small bubble of light around Bailey and ATMA at any given time, so exploration is key to try and visually “see” the obstacles ahead. In fact, it’s this encroaching darkness that adds to the thrill — and terror — of exploration, as you never know what might be lurking in the inky blackness of the ocean floor. ATMA “Tugging” Bailey along also creates some interesting conflicts, and ATMA’s ping is the only thing that can illuminate threats and secrets, so players should ping everything as they explore.
Bailey’s suit can also be upgraded, which is a must as later levels become longer and much more complicated, and running out of oxygen will kill you. Stopping to survey an area to figure out how to get past will happen often, but the constant specter of anoxemia, the medical term for lack of oxygen, looms every step of the way.
What makes Anoxemia unique is the simplicity mirrored against the difficulty. There is a natural progression here, and the need to keep going, to keep exploring, is paramount and a true sign of a wondrous, well-designed game. Anoxemia is a perfect example of a great indie game, and should be mentioned in the same breaths as games like Flow, and Journey, where what you do and how you do it is more important than where you are going, and finally getting there. The serene, almost claustrophobic silence of the deep, broken only by the sound of ATMA’s constant pinging and the occasional spoken line by Bailey, creates a wonderful play atmosphere. And it doesn’t hurt that the simple graphic design is gorgeous.
Anoxemia is the perfect example of why I love indie games. It is fun to play, simple in design and structure, and yet is still steeped in obstacles and conflicts to challenge the mind. This is the game I play after shooting Nazis, exploring Hyrule, and tackling huge robotic beasts, as Anoxemia is the perfect way to relax and still feel challenged — and ultimately rewarded — by succeeding in the mission; if you don’t run out of oxygen, that is.
Anoxemia is available now for the PS4 and Xbox One. This review is based off a PS4 review code provided by the publisher.
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