Puzzle games need a reason to have you accept the abstract tasks ahead. Whether it’s a curse, being in space, an ancient civilization, there is almost always a surreal explanation as to why you have to solve these strange and imaginative puzzles. Oneiros answers that by putting you in a state of perpetual dreams, traveling through the depths of your mind to remember just what happened. Does it deliver? Or will it be a nightmare?
Developed and published by Coal Valley Games, Oneiros is a first person surreal puzzle adventure game set in the mind of a man named Liam. After having a strange dream of being in a theater, alone, (the games tutorial segment) you then find yourself awake and locked inside your bedroom. Things continue to spiral into deeper and stranger dreams as Liam tries to find his way out.
Oneiros is a beautiful and engaging puzzle game. It definitely won’t hold your hand or have Liam simply narrate the solution to you, so observation and experimentation are key. You can find his favorite candy through-out the level and eating one will give you a small clue of what to do next, but eating too many in a row leaves him simply commenting on how much he loves the candy. I appreciate the level of difficulty these puzzles offer, forcing you as the player to inspect each item and object in the environment to try and find a logical solution. You’ll also find a clipboard in each area with some doodles that outline what it is you need to do through vague references.
Just an Average, Everyday Thing I Guess…
While the gameplay itself is sound and the environments are very well designed, I find myself incredibly detracted from the surreal experience at how Liam reacts to everything going on. There are hints of a very serious underlying narrative of what has happened leading up to these dreams. Liam’s own broken memories shape the very world he finds himself in with strange and shocking creations, yet at every turn when he does speak up it’s with the same concern you might find in an exhausted teenager. None of this seems to be taken seriously. He isn’t worried, he isn’t scared, he isn’t bothered in the slightest. Liam may as well be shrugging for the camera and skipping along on his merry way which entirely detracts from the situation at hand.
His dialogue suggests how strange everything is, how weird his environment is, but his delivery tells me he just doesn’t really care regardless of the circumstances. His lines also sound like they were recorded in a small room with an echo and it was simply dropped into the environment without being edited. For such an engaging and interesting game, the delivery of the character is what detracts the most from the experience.
I do appreciate the depths the developers went to to let Liam interact with most things in the world around him. Whether or not it is a useful tool or clue, he can pick up objects and inspect them, often having some sort of line or quip about them so we aren’t left with dead air as we try and solve these puzzles. The progression of difficulty in the puzzles sees a rather stark jump from chapter two to three, but not in such a way as to be insurmountable. It’s also a little concerning that there seems to be an almost constant issue with minor graphical skips. At first I thought it was part of the “dream effects” but more and more I started to notice horizontal segments of the screen which felt off by a few fractions of a second; just enough to notice it and be distracted.
Overall, Oneiros has proven to be a satisfying and enjoyable puzzle game to unwind with. The worlds are beautifully rendered, the puzzles are complex and challenging. It almost feels like a light-hearted digital escape room. The underlying narrative Liam is trying to unravel about events in the real world is compelling, driving the story forward as we try to understand what happened. We are teased just enough to keep wanting a little more, but Liam himself is the biggest force against immersion. Every other box from the environment, to the backstory, to the puzzles themselves, lean into the notion of something serious on the horizon, but Liam seems like he couldn’t care less. That and those minor graphical hiccups are the only thing that stand in the way of an otherwise delightful first-person puzzle game. It’s perfect for a rainy day or just relaxing after a nice dinner.
**Xbox code provided by the publisher**
- Beautiful Art Design
- Simple Controls
- Challenging Puzzles
- No Hand-Holding
- Minor Clipping
- Liam Doesn’t Care?