domstercool's Osmos (PC) review

Osmos will absorb you into a state of of entertainment. My DZ rev

 A lot of surprisingly distinctive games are now coming from indie developers through the medium of digital distribution. Osmos is a new indie title from Hemisphere Games.

It's one of these games that tries to sooth your soul as you play, something that flOw did back in 2007 on the PS3. The creators of Osmos have introduced a more videogame-orientated experience, but you still need to get that comfy chair, sit in it, relax and just enjoy the experience in front of you.

In Osmos you must absorb the life forms around you. It's an easy to play puzzle game, where you take control of a small blob called a mote. Usually the main objective of a level is to become the biggest mote. Any other circular motes that are smaller will be soaked up when touched by your controlled mote. On the reverse side, if you touch one that is larger than yourself, get ready to have your mote shrunk as the larger one sucks the life out of it.

The complexity comes from the way you move; you must launch some of your mass behind you to drive the mote forward. If you don't plan your movement, you'll soon find yourself dispersing yourself back to a small withering mote again, while releasing mass back into the level for other motes to pick up.

At first the game is very simple and not much of a challenge, but as you progress to the later areas of the game, the difficulty heats up. Some of the levels require you to spend time manoeuvring between crowded areas of motes. This is where the tactics of dispersing your mass effectively really counts. There's one area where the entire level is full of randomly-sized motes and your mote is completely surrounded by them. While you're moving around collecting all the small ones, there are points where you can't get through and if you shoot mass in that direction, those motes will absorb the mass you just freed causing them to enlarge and start touching other motes, which leads to either growing or shrinking accordingly.

To make matters worse, there are different types of motes to muddle up your plan of survival. The Ovarium is a green mote that acts like your own. It can fire mass to move, accumulate mass to grow and it will use those to evade your attempt to suck away its life. Antimatter is a twist on your own mote. They are green balls that should be stayed away from since contact with these will cause your mote to contract no matter what size the antimatter was. One of the more entertaining problems you'll bump into is the Attractors. Acting somewhat like a black hole, this entity has your mote trapped in the Attractor's orbit; you have to collect the motes to increase in size while at the same time trying to avoid changing your orbit trajectory, so you don't fly right into the Attractor, ending your mote's life-eating career.

Initially when starting Osmos and playing through over half the game, the impression is that this game is there to relax you and give you enjoyment. It's a very entertaining game but with all these dangerous motes and precise movement levels, Osmos increasingly loses some of that calm feeling. This will most likely change your attitude from relaxed to annoyance as you botch up your movement, and all your hard work to increase the size of your mote is sapped away. It is strange shouting swear words to the sound of ambient music. But I'm happy for the challenge; it wouldn't be a good puzzle game if it didn't start taxing your mind.

Completing the later challenges often requires you to play the waiting game. Thankfully the developers took note of this and with a simple click of a couple of mouse buttons you can speed up or slow down time. Players can use the mouse wheel to set the right speed to slow down or speed up. It even affects the sound of the music, creating some peculiar tunes.

I'd recommend playing the game while wearing a good pair of headphones to get the full experience of the ambient soundtrack, which complements the pleasant visuals. The backgrounds look somewhat like space and the motes have a cosmic look inside of them and this is shown off better when the motes are larger. The developers tried to go for that universe inside a universe look, in the manner of the marble finale in Men in Black.

Osmos is without doubt a very entertaining game, but don't let the ambient feel fool you; this game isn't going to let you relax all the way through. For £6.99 you're getting a worthwhile package and there's a demo for you to see if it's the right game for you. For most it will be an engaging and addictive, if somewhat rage-inducing later on.

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