Have you ever had one of those dreams where you are floating around in space, slowly grasping at random objects as they pass by, with no real direction? It should be frightening, but instead you feel a level of calm serenity that you've never felt before. Okay, maybe that's just me, but it is not unlike the feeling that you get when you play Osmos, the award-winning game from new indie developers Hemisphere Games. If you're looking for something to keep you totally enthralled on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or a calming experience after a long day at the office, the ambient joy that is Osmos is just what the doctor ordered.
The main goal in Osmos is simple: you, an amoeba-esque organism known as a "mote," must absorb smaller motes to become bigger. As your size increases, you are able to absorb more and more motes until you are the largest one in the area. This seems like a simple objective, and at its core it is. But, in order to propel yourself around to capture motes, you must expel a part of your own mass, which in turn decreases your size. The faster you want to go, the more mass you must expel. Not only that, other competing motes can in turn capture the mass that you have expelled to increase their own mass. For all of its slow-paced, fluid joy, Osmos does require more than a bit of thought and strategy to be a success.
As you proceed through the levels of the game, you will run into different objectives. Many require you to capture a particular mote. Some motes are intelligent and will run away from you, or absorb other motes in an attempt to become bigger than you, thus making their capture much more difficult. Others will repel motes. Unencumbered by other motes as it repels everything in its path, it becomes a very quick target to capture, requiring you to balance your need for speed with the minimum size still required to capture it. Still others will attract nearby motes. It will be in your best interest to capture these motes as quickly as possible, before they become too big to absorb.
The orbital levels really show off the mathematical prowess of the game. The entire gamefield slowly orbits around a super organism. You must keep your vectors in check as you create a stable orbit, all the while trying to gobble up motes that come into and out of your path. Get too close to the super organism, and it's curtains for you as you are quickly absorbed by the giant sun-like creature. An option to display your orbit helps ensure that you are on the right course as you steer yourself towards the next unsuspecting mote.
Later levels are definitely more complex and not necessarily quite as relaxing as the early levels, although it all comes together with a stunning ambient electronic soundtrack that makes even the most frantic of games a soothing breeze on the wind. If you find yourself getting bored with the 47 levels included, you can always go back to any of the levels and play a completely random version. What's not to love?
Analysis: Osmos is one of those games that comes along once in a blue moon and makes you realize that there are still developers out there that care about the game experience, not just what particular genre or brand they can cash in on. Hemisphere Games have developed a game that not only evokes the best of what it means to be quiet and tranquil, but they have crafted a game that has a great deal of replayability and keeps you coming back for more.
The ultra silky-smooth graphics are a big part of the overall feeling of the game. There is nothing clunky or choppy about the animations, and the motes move smooth and free across the screen. Absorbing motes happens just as you might think it would, with mass transferring from one to the other in a balloon-sort of fashion, as the absorbing mote puffs up. Even when you zoom out on a level such as the orbital levels, with hundreds of motes all in motion, the game remains totally playable and suffers nary a skip.
The smooth, buttery graphics are complimented by some of the best ambient electronica I have heard in some time. Names that will be familiar to those who are fans of the genre have contributed to the soundtrack, including Loscil and Biosphere. Sometimes compilation soundtracks can sound disjointed and tossed together, but the soundtrack for Osmos fits as seamlessly as the motes themselves. It is really a large part of what makes the game so soothing to play. Turn the music off, and it's still a great game, but you'll find it may become a bit repetitive. But add in the soundtrack, and it turns into more than just a game. It becomes an experience. I don't think I've ever felt quite as strong about the experience of playing a game as I do about Osmos. It is that different.
I believe I've run out of adjectives to describe this game. From start to end, it is a fluid mass of gaming goodness. Even the level selection screen smoothly flows into the game experience. There is nothing aggravating about Osmos. I never found myself becoming annoyed with the game, even when I would get stuck on a level. I would just pour myself back into the game and try again. It was all very zen. Certainly worth the ten spot that Hemisphere is asking for it. I can say nothing better than go, go now and purchase this game. I think you'll find that Osmos is truly unlike any gaming experience you've ever had.