I’d never heard of Anoxemia before, but I’m really starting to enjoy games that are exploring the more terrifying side of the deep sea. The highest profile title that I’ve enjoyed that springs to mind is SOMA – as an intriguing thriller with a plot that borders on almost meta-commentary, I see some parallels between Anoxemia and SOMA. However, Anoxemia squanders its potential, and seems to be missing so much of what would make the otherwise interesting story worth experiencing – overall, the adventure feels cheap.
The story is one the major driving forces in Anoxemia. You play as an operations drone known as ATMA who is guiding a doctor, Bailey, through the deep sea to collect plant samples. On descent, Bailey is left isolated and, for reasons unknown, decides to continue with his experiment.Bailey is intent on following you, but doesn’t seem to know why he feels compelled to do so. This forms the bulk of the mystery in Anoxemia,as you seek to understand out who Bailey is and what he’s done to land himself in this deep sea predicament.The narrative of Anoxemia is easily its strongest element, which is a shame given most players won’t have the patience to experience it all. As you descend deeper into the environment, Bailey’s memory starts to become clearer and his backstory will gradually be revealed to you. There’s some meta-commentary on the agency of characters in games, and how the characters you control can affect the actions of others, but it all feels rather pretentious.
The conclusion, whilst fairly standard for this genre, does come as a surprise when Bailey finally remembers who he was and how he got there. The element of ‘fridge horror’ – a cerebral terror that grows over time – is a perfect fit in a game like Anoxemia. It’s just disappointing that it’s such a slog to get there.Essentially, through the game’s 30+ levels, you must guide Bailey past certain obstacles including turrets and mines to collect the desired plant samples. As you’d imagine, ATMA must also find oxygen supplies to ensure that Bailey doesn’t drown. The environments are varied enough – you’ll visit the ocean floor, a wrecked submarine and a secret research facility during your adventure. As you progress the level design gets more complex, which makes Anoxemia feel adequately paced.
In addition to dragging Bailey around levels, you’re also tasked with finding tools to help him complete his work. Treasures themselves can replenish your oxygen, but other tools such as a grappling hook and EMP pulse weapon also help to protect Bailey and ATMA from the threats they encounter in the ocean. Whilst most of the game’s objectives simply require you to just guide Bailey to some items or to a specific location to set explosives, these items help to make things feel a little more variedAs you may have surmised, Anoxemia features little to no combat. This, in itself, is fine – though the way it’s handled can be frustrating. As you only have control of ATMA, sometimes Bailey can difficult to manipulate as a follower – at times, he can be so ‘floaty’ that he’ll swim straight into enemies. Enemies themselves are clearly on patrol routes, but can also dive straight at you with little to no warning or telegraphing, which feels slightly unforgiving in its design. I assume that the developer knew this was the case, as there are achievements/trophies for dying a lot, but it still feels challenging in a way that’s unsatisfying.
Such a feeling is only further exacerbated by the poor physics / collision detection that can stop Bailey from following ATMA -Bailey can sometimes find himself in between a rock and a hard place (literally), which ends the level prematurely. The checkpointing system, which sends you back to the beginning of the level, doesn’t really help matters either. On the flip side, the levels are quite short, but it’s still annoying to have to restart one due to reasons that are out of your control.While Anoxemia isn’t the most technically impressive game, it is pulsating with a dark and oppressive atmosphere. Presented in a similar manner to games like LIMBO and Song of the Deep, the game has a dark vignette around it that makes things seem far more claustrophobic than they really is. The backdrops, while basic in design, do a great job at making the deep sea seem like an alien place to be explored. While this darkness sounds like it would stop the game from being fun, it’s generally easy enough to find your way.
The soundtrack also plays its part in selling the picture of an isolated and desolate journey. Most of the music consists of understated pieces that are designed to complement the ambience of the deep ocean, rather than more booming and orchestral pieces that would seem out of place here. Other ambient sounds, like random bleeps and bloops are used to give the ocean a character of its own.
Whilst Anoxemia is a clever idea, regrettably it’s hampered by some poor design choices. The story itself is great, but takes far too long to reveal itself – to the point where most players won’t bother. The price point for the game is low, but so too is the quality, and the result is an underwhelming experience that’s hard to recommend.
The Playstation 4 version of this game was played for the purpose of this review. You can read our review policy HERE.