Capsule Review: OneShot

(A note on versions - the original version of this game was released for free in 2014. It was remade and expanded for a Steam release in 2016. An update in 2017 added a great deal of new content which is now considered essential to the experience.)

An adventure game with retro graphics that frequently breaks the fourth wall. You play as a child named Niko, but you the player are treated as separate from Niko and occasionally addressed directly. Niko (who has no explicit gender but for convenience I shall refer to as male) wakes up in a dying world with no idea how he got there. It’s soon revealed that he is the prophesied savior of this world and that he’ll need the player’s help to fulfill his mission. You then take him on a pilgrimage to restore the sun.

The world you travel through is genuinely compelling, so it’s a shame it doesn’t get more focus. The game tantalizes with glimpses of worldbuilding but then spends most of its time on tedious fetch quests or stock puzzles (including Sokoban and Mastermind variants). You’ll pass through interesting areas with interesting inhabitants, but neither will receive much development. Nobody interacts with you in a realistic way, either - most people are aware of the prophecy and recognize Niko as the savior, but barely lift a finger to help him as their world dies around them. So instead of getting to know people and learning about the world, you have to do uninteresting inventory management puzzles to make progress - often due to arbitrary or implausible obstacles that damage the worldbuilding.

The other main focus is the fourth wall breaks, but these have their own problems. While the game does get some mileage out of Niko and the player being separate people with separate knowledge, the rules of this are strange and inconsistent. You still play as Niko in the normal sense - walking him around and telling him who and what to interact with. This happens for some time before he becomes aware that you exist and it’s never implied that he feels controlled, but later on when you have him solve certain puzzles he has dialog indicating he knows the actions were initiated by you. You also have occasional conversations with him in which you choose between limited dialog options (sometimes only one) which damages the idea that it’s genuinely you the player talking to Niko.

Many of the mechanics and events associated with fourth wall breaks feel very gimmicky. They don’t actually make much narrative sense upon examination and their implementation reveals a lack of consideration for the user experience. For example, the game basically needs to be played windowed rather than fullscreen but there is no way to increase the size of the window above its default 640x480 resolution, which can be obnoxiously tiny on modern displays. There are also a few puzzles that involve the game manipulating other things on your computer and there doesn’t seem to be any in-game recourse if these fail due to quirks in your setup.

The purest example of the problems with the focus on gimmicks is right in the game’s title. Rather than evoking anything about the game’s world, characters, or plot, “OneShot” refers to a particular gimmicky fourth-wall-breaking mechanic that can be very surprising but damages the player experience and doesn’t make sense with the story - and the developers clearly realized this, because they mostly removed the mechanic for the Steam remake without changing the title, premise, or story, even leaving in some now very misleading dialog at the start of the game.

I don’t regret buying or playing OneShot, but it is a mountain of wasted potential. I spent the majority of my time with it bored or frustrated, backtracking to solve puzzles or fighting its interface and assumptions about my computer. The ending was abrupt and unsatisfying and left every question of consequence unanswered. Some reading online revealed that if I manipulate the game files in a certain way, I can access a second and substantially different playthrough that does answer many of these questions, but if the game is going to make it that hard to get to its story, I’m not going to bother. Information vital to understanding a game’s plot should never be hidden in a second playthrough. After four mostly-tedious hours in which nothing made satisfying sense, I’m not going to jump through hoops for more just in case the rest of it is better. I did read some spoilers online, and it doesn’t look to me like the answers make any more sense than what I’ve seen so far.

But I still see Niko sometimes when I close my eyes. I remember what it felt like exploring the lonely Barrens, finding life and death in the Glen, and reeling at the claustrophobic enormity of the Refuge. I’m not sure the developers realized what a special world they had created. I wish they had loved it as much as they loved the gimmicks.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished a normal playthrough and saw an ending. I did not return for a second playthrough or Solstice run.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

You can get it or learn more here.