Genre: Strategy Developer: Publisher: Hemisphere Games Classification: G Release Date: 4th Sep 2009 Platforms:
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The Good bits
The excellent graphics and ambient music provide a relaxing environment
Different gameplay types allow a change of pace
The Bad stuff
Some levels can be ridiculously frustrating.
The relaxing environment, especially the music, plays at odds with the game’s tenser moments.
It has started to get to the point where indie games are relying on minimalism not out of necessity, but as a design choice. D2D Vision Award winner at San Francisco’s Independent Games Festival and one of 10 indie hits honoured in the PAX 10, Osmos follows this credo of 'Less is More'. Inside the game you have your mouse pointer to show you where to shoot, and that is it. The only other things displayed on the screen are your mote, and the rival motes you have to absorb or destroy.
Minimalism doesn’t have to be a hindrance. Osmos is a stunning looking game. From the title screen to the background and to the motes themselves, everything carries a dreamlike quality that draws you in and holds you. The motes themselves have the look of both self-contained universes and single celled organisms. Watching them propelled by physics into collisions is entrancing, a word I hate to use, but appropriate in the circumstances. If there was some way the game could be set to play itself you could happily sit and watch it for hours.
While quite a few 'bacteria sim' type games have been developed since the release of the overhyped Spore, Osmos is the first since flOw to capture that microcosmic feeling, the feeling of being part of a world at the cellular level.
It is also the first we’ve played with a reasonable amount of strategy involved. Osmos is a game about taking risks, and deciding which losses will get you the most in the long run. The general aim of the game is to 'become the biggest' by absorbing other motes or destroying them through various means.
Motes are coloured red if they are bigger than you, blue if they are smaller. Motes only slightly smaller have a red core and a blue outer shell - with the blue disappearing as it gains in size. These in particular require careful planning. Your own mote moves by expelling smaller motes in the opposite direction - every time that happens, you shrink a little in size. You have to make a calculated risk when absorbing similarly sized motes, and the game can be very unforgiving at times. Fortunately you can slow down and speed up time any time you like, giving you much needed planning time to make the right moves and moving things along when you are pushing a larger mote into some anti-matter.
There are three different game types in Osmos: Ambient, Force and Life. In each the general goal is to become the biggest and absorb as many of the others as you can. The Ambient path is generally the simplest, featuring puzzle-type levels where there is usually a specific (if not predefined) path to follow. The Force path plays with the physics of the game, adding attractor motes to draw other motes in, and setting the motes onto an orbital path. The Life path is without doubt the most difficult, introducing intelligent motes which move away when you are larger than them and chase you when you are smaller.
I have never been a huge fan of electronic music, but the ambient electronica in Osmos is a definite exception. It adds to the game’s ethereal qualities, with each track absorbing you in the world of the game. Impressively, when you slow down or speed up time the tracks follow suit, and they maintain their other-worldly tranquility.
This tranquillity is the only part of the game I have a problem with., It ruins the tension you feel as you watch a behemoth of a mote drifting towards you while you frantically try to reverse the momentum you built up. There is a real sense of urgency at times in the game - especially in the more difficult Life stages where you are racing against the AI, and the music doesn't hamper it, it outright contradicts it. It also seems to taunt you with its soothing melodies, chiming its quiet laughter as you smash headlong into that same behemoth for the fourth time in a row.
Frustration and lack of tension aside, Osmos is an excellent game. I would only hesitate to recommend this to the most diehard ambient music hater, and I imagine such a person would be too angry for video games anyway.