[Please note that this review/reflection is packed with spoilers, base-game and Solstice, so if you haven’t played the game, I beg you to do so or skip reading. You as a player are an active participant in OneShot, and not in the typical sense of things. Do yourself a favour and go buy it on Steam. Do not let me spoil it for you.]
Weaving the Story
One of the hardest things to get right, especially when it comes to story driven games, is the way in which you feed the story to the player. The sheer variety in ways a developer can undertake this task can result in many missteps that can sour or even ruin game experiences. Some developers will take the “easy way out” in certain instances. This can result in (quote unquote) “story” games that feel devoid of a genuine story and leave the player in a glorified walking simulator. I personally detest this sort of game, although I can respect the often wonderful graphics they tend to have.
Other developers see the narrative as a crucial part of the story, and a piece of the gameplay itself. In my personal opinion, the narrative in a story-driven game should be built around the gameplay; not running parallel to it. OneShot builds its narrative into the fabric of its gameplay like no other game I’ve played has. It places you in the centre of the main conflict. Instead of you following the protagonist, the protagonist is following you.
The Role of a Player
Every element in OneShot is placed smartly into the game world as fragments to the wider story. To make things even better, you as a player, and the game itself are also pieces of the narrative. OneShot takes the typical disconnect between the player and the protagonist and shatters it entirely. I would not call this breaking the fourth wall per say. It feels more like pulling you onto the stage as opposed to speaking to you from it. You become an active member of the story in a very unique way, and I hope game devs can take this concept and work with it more in the future.
When OneShot said my name for the first time, I had to sit back for a moment. Before the programmer in me took back over and said (yeah, it just took the system user name dude), I was floored in that moment. I don’t recall another game which has contacted me before. The Entity doing so, feeling separate from the game, made it so much more deeply personal and eerie in a way. Not to mention a moment towards the end of the game, which ends up feeling like a threat. When I decided that I had to launch the game again and continue, the Entity noticing me again had me genuinely worried.
This game challenges the very idea of what it means to be a player. OneShot has a distinct level of “closeness” with Niko and the characters around you. When the Entity speaks to Niko directly, and you lose contact, it is honestly a soul crushing moment in the game. You are still in control, but you are no longer connected. You become just a player again, but you don’t want that. You want to be back, able to tell Niko in the game world that things will be alright.
The power of these moments redefine what being a player is, and the lasting feelings it has impacted me with will stay with me for a long time.
Mixing Gameplay with Story
OneShot allows its gameplay to flow extremely well with its story, and the reason why it stays fresh is because it is always contributing to something positive, be it characterization, world-building, or proper progression. Most of the puzzles in the game do all three. The best example for this would be trying to get the elevator working in the refuge. You meet new characters while traversing the area, you grow with Niko even more while at the observation deck, and you advance to the surface once your button is complete. It’s so smartly done that I can’t help but smile thinking about it.
My only critique (and my goodness is it a minor one) rests with how the puzzles were built. OneShot’s methods of reworking/adding computer files to solve puzzles was incredibly unique, although I wish they were a little bit more on the complicated side. I guess you can only do so much when it comes to working with system files, but I feel like the idea could have been worked a little more. If OneShot was built around those puzzles, as opposed to them simply being a part of the game world, I would see them more as a gimmick than a genuine challenge. I say this critique is minor because the puzzles are only a fragment of what the game is trying to do. OneShot is firmly a story-driven game, so the puzzles succeed at what they are trying to do, although it isn’t necessarily to my taste.
A Gold Standard in Characterization
Your interactions with the characters in OneShot culminate in a very hard to handle message that sucker-punches you in the game’s final choice. When I initially chose to smash the light bulb, I understood what I was doing to the world itself. I understood that they were code, but at the same time they “felt real” in the same sense that Niko does. I spent the next day wondering if my choice was the right one. When I made it, I firmly believed that even the possibility of harming Niko felt out of the question.
When Niko realizes he was brought back to the world because of me, I couldn’t help but feel devastated inside. I, as an active character in the story OneShot was telling, did what would be a despicable thing for a typical character. I spent the entire game working to save him, only to null it all wanting to save both Niko and the world itself. And I guess I played straight into the game’s hands because Niko spelled it out for me perfectly during the scene in the library. It was word for word how I was feeling. My “omnipotence” as a separate player was erased, and for the first time I felt like a genuine character. I think it was at this moment, where I was talking to my computer screen out loud, where I knew this game would leave such a powerful impression on me.
Probably the most brilliant culmination of the game’s message resides in the “world machine” or Entity. The creepy music, the terminals, the flippant, dismissive language directed at you (and rarely Niko), leaves the player on edge and worried about what is to come. The game, in Solstice, completely flips it on its head and shows you why the Entity was the way it was. The Entity’s actions suddenly become justified, or at least understandable. It is only once you understand what the World Machine was truly trying to do that you can forgive and allow the game to end properly. The very theme of the game, and all the messages within it, are summed up not through the story, but through the very fabric of its design.
OneShot is going to be my favourite game this year, and perhaps my favourite game of all time. The uniqueness in how it tells its story cannot be understated. I cannot see any other game impacting me like it has for a long time. Nightmargin has gotten a follow and a very watchful gaze from me. Looking forward to whatever is coming in the future.
2017/06/29 – 2017/07/02