Content Warning: This article contains images and discussion of stylized guns and gun violence
In high school, I read a book called House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski. It’s a big volume, thicker than my arm, thicker than itself, actually – it’s specifically printed such that the pages stick out from the cover, as if they are expanding, breaking free from it. This complex novel has a number of intertwined narratives, but central to them all is the house, which is – like the book itself – bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.
OTXO (pronounced ocho, it’s the Basque word for wolf) features a house with similar properties, filled with rooms like the Cosmic Ballroom and Infinite Foyer, ever-shifting.
The characters of House of Leaves descend into the eldritch depths of their house attempting to explore it, to document it and to make it real when it couldn’t possibly be. They don’t recognize until it’s too late that the house will swallow them up and digest them into the darkness.
OTXO asks them to fight back.
OTXO, developed by Lateralis Heavy Industries, is a top-down shooter in the tradition of Hotline Miami, reveling in ultraviolence set against a striking black, white and red color palette. Players must fight through room after room of heavily-armed enemies as they make their way through the house, stopping every so often to purchase drinks granting new abilities from a mysterious bartender. Players will also fight bizarre and powerful bosses like “The Abhorrence” and “The Inbred Basilisk.” There’s also a guy with a mantis head and a gun nun, which is exactly what it sounds like.
OTXO’s pretty weird.
The game doesn’t explain itself, nor does it need to – the unknowability of the game is part of the experience, adding to the surreal atmosphere. Fans of Remedy’s Control and the lore of “The Backrooms” will feel right at home with OTXO. I anticipate at least one three-hour video essay about the game’s story will be put on YouTube within a week of release.
OTXO isn’t just a surrealist art piece, though; it’s also ridiculously fun to play. The gameplay is dead simple: run, shoot, roll, kick, repeat. It’s John Wick by way of Salvador Dali – melting Glocks instead of melting clocks. Players have a health bar, which seems weird considering Hotline Miami was far more punishing, until one realizes a single bullet is nothing in OTXO. According to in-game stats, I shot over 18,000 bullets in my first full run of the game. Gunfights are accordingly hectic, as enemies have lightning-fast trigger fingers and, unlike the player, infinite ammo. While basic enemies go down in just a few hits, they outnumber you 10-1: Being surrounded by a crowd of machine-gun-toting goons with bottomless magazines is a death sentence.
Speaking of guns: there are a lot of them. OTXO features an impressive arsenal of submachine guns, shotguns, rifles and handguns, some of which are pretty recognizable, but others are more obscure. Each gun has a distinct personality, offering different firing rates, damage values and magazine sizes. Personally, I grew attached to the “Christoforos 10 Silenced” which, when combined with abilities that increase firing rate, empties its 33-round magazine faster than I can say “OTXO.” One neat feature in the game is that players can visit the previously-mentioned gun nun and choose which weapons can be found in upcoming runs, allowing savvy players to customize their experience, creating runs where every enemy carries a .50 caliber sniper rifle, for example.
The guns are also LOUD. My headphones are normally set at a comfortably low “10/100” setting, which offers an immersive, but not overpowering gaming experience. OTXO’s guns sound like they are being fired right next to my ears at this setting – I fear if I turned the game any louder I’d go deaf for real. It’s wonderful.
Gunfire isn’t the only sound players will hear in-game: OTXO also features a substantial original soundtrack composed entirely by the developer himself. It’s high-energy, stylish and perfectly compliments the gunfire to create a magnificent chorus of violence.
OTXO is a rogue-lite, meaning players are expected to die often and slowly unlock upgrades that will help them progress further into the house in future runs. At first I was worried the game was too easy, but it turns out I picked up an overpowered combination of power-ups that made all my SMGs shoot quicker, harder and longer, which was a fluke. Subsequent runs have been brutally unsuccessful. The game also has an “Impossible Mode” that is, at least so far, exactly as advertised.
Despite its cryptic narrative trappings, OTXO is fairly easy to parse conceptually: It’s a repeatable Hotline Miami. Fans of that game tired of replaying the same levels will likely pounce on OTXO. I know I’ll be playing for a while, collecting all the guns and unlocking more secrets of the house. I’m not convinced OTXO has the staying power of contemporaries like Hades, with its ensemble cast and top-notch writing, but what it lacks in narrative depth it makes up for with thrilling infinite gunfights.
Thumbnail courtesy of Lateralis