Omikron: The Nomad Soul Download (1999 Adventure Game)

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It's curious to think about how often we see genuinely new, interesting things in the development of PC games these days. How many cliché titles there are that just redo that which has been done a few dozen (at best) times before, while adding absolutely nothing new to the genre. And then some geniuses come about and come up with something incredible - which, then, just gets duplicated over and over. As it was found in research surveys, the cost to duplicate something is 0.6 times the cost of innovating that same "something" - thus, it's much more economically viable to replicate, rather than innovate. This seems to hold true for computer games - just look at the likes of (just about all) first-person shooters, real-time strategy games, hunting games (though the original idea here was terrible to start with) and many other saturated genres, such as the third-person action genre, which was invented by the folks at Core with Tomb Raider, and was immediately saturated by themselves, "nuked" as the marketing term goes.

On the other hand, there are still some creative souls out there that innovate, instead of duplicating; one of those teams is Quantic Dream, the makers of Omikron: The Nomad Soul.

What is this game like? It's very hard to say. On the one hand, it has a Tomb Raider perspective and a similar system of control. On the other hand, the camera view is never nearly as annoying as in TR, and always faces the right way - nothing like Fade to Black's camera, either, which always seemed to point in the direction opposite in which the character was facing. It also has a resemblance to traditional adventure games, where you have to solve quests and puzzles in the interest of advancing the storyline. No puzzles have the difficulty of Grim Fandango's, though (or Gabriel Knight's). As well, contrary to Tomb Raider, you won't only have to fight your enemies with a gun in your hand - you'll encounter some Tekken-style hand-to-hand action, as well. All in due course, though; the story first.

You start off as Kay'l, who was sent into your (the player's dimension) to ask for your help to solve the problems the nation of Omikron is having, and your soul is transferred into the body of Kay'l, an Omikron police officer. As you enter the world, you are attacked by a demon - which beats you and prepares to drain the life force out of you, just as - luckily for you - a Mechaguard passes by and scares off the demon. You wander off in search of your apartment, wondering just exactly what happened. You pass through a narrow alley, walk out onto the street and immediately freeze. This, both in real life, and on the screen, especially depending on the video card you have. In both cases, you will probably stop and stare at your screen, unbelieving - Omikron has arguably one of the best computer cities I have ever seen in a computer game, complete with traffic, people going about their business, transport ships flying overhead, and in general all things city that happen on a daily basis. As for the computer freeze, it's very likely that your framerate will hit rock bottom while you're on the outside scenes - this is also the first game to completely saturate my dual Voodoo 2 SLI setup (other than the last mission of Freespace 2, that is). The graphics are so stunning, though, that it's worth it in the long run. And the framerate is perfect in the more enclosed areas.

But I digress. You call up a slider and head towards your apartment. A slider is the equivalent of a taxi in the Omikron world: it is an unmanned, computer-powered vehicle that gets you from one place to another at no cost to you. You can let the computer take care of the driving, or you can take the wheel in your hands - a very, very cool concept in my view - and the car physics are actually not bad considering it's sliding on air, definitely better than those of Interstate '82, anyway. Once you return to your apartment, your wife meets you, and mentions a few things that start piecing together the grand scheme of the game. You can do various things around the apartment - some better left unmentioned, and will be left to you to figure out. There is a very cool training room, in which you can hone your skills as a fighter - and it is strongly suggested that you check it out, as fighting skills will come in handy more than once in the game - perhaps even more than shooting skills. After you have performed all the tasks at home, you head out into the weird, wild and strangely wondrous world of Omikron.

While I'm at it, I should mention, as a side note, that the entire concept of Omikron seems to be taken straight from 1984, if not verbatim, then to a great extent. There is the spiritual leader that dictates the "right" way to follow to the entire nation, there is the sect of The Awakened, who operate in defiance of the established set of rules, there is the Thought Police, and in general, everything is very tightly regulated. The world is very futuristic; the date is in the late 7000's, and while that doesn't necessarily equal Earth years (or "cycles" as the Omikronians call them), it is a fairly advanced civilization: vehicles are powered by anti-grav drives, there are spaceships flying over the city (which all look surprisingly identical, just like the cars do - but then again, it's a conformist society, differences are not encouraged, and people get "corrected" for trying to act different). The common folk also looks fairly similar, and of note is the incredible proportion of - how should I put it, women of questionable professions in the crowd - unless that happens to be the generally acceptable attire of the working women of that time period. In general, though, the world seems to be a strange cross between a Blade Runner world and a 1984 theme.

As you work your way through the world of Omikron, you'll find yourself in all sorts of amazingly-detailed environments, talking to all sorts of fairly well-animated people. I can see attempts at producing lip-synched speech, but they didn't work out well enough: I've yet to see lip-synching of the same quality as was present in Fallout 2. Also strange is that characters sometimes read out their entire lines, at other times they don't read them at all, and yet at other times they'll stop about a sentence short, judging by the captions. The motion captured animation sequences for the characters are not half bad, either - the fluidity is impressive, and characters actually appear to have an agenda of their own. They will often stop, look around for a bit, maybe sit down on a bench, take a break, then get up and head off somewhere; you can talk to some while they sit, but often they'll look at you in a paranoid way and take off pretty quick. As you bump into people on the streets some get unhappy and actually complain, though it never gets down to a fight, unfortunately.

As stated before, you will find yourself in many environments in Omikron, some hostile, some friendly. You will also likely notice that fights are very unbalanced: in my experience, if I were defeated by an opponent fairly badly (i.e. taking 90% of the damage that was effected in the fight), I could reload and essentially reverse the situation. I fought a demon once which blocked virtually every move of mine, then executed multiple combos against me; all in all, I was dead almost instantly, with him taking almost no damage. I loaded the last savegame, got into that fight again, and defeated him: this time, taking practically zero damage on my side. This happened a few times, more than I would consider a coincidence. And while I'm on the topic of reloading, I must mention a huge drawback of the game: savepoints. Yes, that dreaded console term. But it gets better than that: there are items you collect throughout your voyage through the world of Omikron that are called "Magic Rings," which are more or less scarce, depending on what you use them for, and it costs one ring to save a game. In my view, there should have been either the savepoints -or- the cost-per-save, but not both. Granted, save points make the game more enjoyable in a certain light, since you don't get to save after every bad guy you kill, but it also alienates players who are used to generously saving their game every thirty seconds for reasons unknown. Worthy of notice, though, is the fact when you activate the savepoint, you can get advice as to what to do next - at the cost of a Magic Ring, of course.

Another neat thing about the game is that you generally don't die in it. Considering that even at the beginning you aren't one with the body you inhabit, it's not too surprising that you aren't bound to it. Usually, if you happen to be defeated by a foe of some sort, someone will be passing by next to you, and his hapless soul will be replaced by yours, so you'll be able to continue your quest. A word of warning, though: try to not do that, reload if necessary, since the bodies you come to inhabit are significantly crappier than Kay'l's.

The puzzle elements of Omikron aren't too hard, but they aren't always entirely obvious, either. At the beginning, you may be overwhelmed by the openness of how much you can do, but as you progress through the game, the purpose becomes much clearer and a linearity of the story emerges.

The sound in the game is very well-done. The environment surrounds the player, with city sounds, echoes, footsteps, and the like. The soundtrack is fairly good, too - with a few reservations. First off, the soundtrack is performed by David Bowie, who actually makes an appearance in the game as an NPC in one of the bars. This has a twofold impact: if you like Bowie, your level of enjoyment of the game will soar; if you hate him, this may be a reason for you to turn down the music volume. In my personal view, his music fits the game incredibly well, but as soon as he starts singing, he destroys anything he built up with the music. That's my own opinion, though, and I cannot alter the score because of that, though I think the readers should be aware of it.

I encountered a few rather strange glitches with Omikron. First off, the intro video doesn't play properly with me, and I'm fairly sure all my drivers are up-to-date. As well, very often my joystick starts interfering with the game, even though I've never told the game I want to use the joystick as an option - as soon as it's off the axis just a little bit, the game detects it and starts mixing up the keyboard and joystick controls. In my view, there should be a "Joystick On/Off" option, or something of sorts. As well, a feature I'm not sure I liked too much is the lack of mouse control - to navigate the menus, the inventory list, or the dialogue choices you are forced to use either the keyboard or the joystick.

Since I mentioned the inventory, I should probably touch up on that. The way storing objects works in Omikron is by materialization/dematerialization through a device called a Sneak. The Sneak has a maximum capacity of 18 objects at any given moment, and any excess objects will not be picked up, however, you can use the MultiPlan terminals scattered throughout the city, which will allow you to transfer your dematerialized objects to a centralized storage system, and thus free up your Sneak. While that sounds like a complicated way of doing it, I find it to be somewhat more realistic than the traditional unlimited inventory (and certainly more manageable, lacking mouse control), and MultiPlan terminals are scattered so widely that you're running a fairly low chance of not having one close by when you need it.

Another very interesting thing I should mention about Omikron is the developers' intention throughout the game to make it feel like you're not in a computer game, but are rather in a complex virtual world instead. Often, characters will grunt at you if you ask them whether this is a video game and try to make you really think that it's not (I suppose, this is similar to The Blair Witch Project's way of making you think that their filming was real), but one of the absolute coolest things about this way of presenting the game is the absence of loading times. You will not see a level change indicator and a progress bar showing you that X percent of the level has been loaded, which is a great thing since you end up returning to many areas more than once. Generally the way it's done is that a huge door is placed between two separate areas, and as you approach it, it begins to open and at the same time load data from the CD. It may have an effect on your framerate, depending on the areas which you are entering/leaving and the speed of your machine, but given a decent system configuration, the impact should be minimal, and this is truly done very well. Hats off to Quantic on this one.

So, in retrospect, is Omikron worth the dollar of the average poor computer gamer? I think so. It has a few rather minor glitches, but in general, this is a very solid game, with a very involving story line, different modes of play (adventure/fight/shoot/swim, though the latter is fairly redundant - they should've incorporated the swim controls into the adventure mode - probably the two modes were written by different teams, or something), the most complex city model I've seen in a game so far. The idea of a soul that can travel to different bodies makes it even more enjoyable, since you have to work on improving your fighting style with other characters, too. If I had one complaint about the game, it would probably be the savepoint + cost per save idea - but I suppose that's life. Fortunately, savepoints aren't excessively rare, and you do tend to collect a good number of Magic Rings, so you should theoretically be fine. And kudos to Eidos for putting up a strategy guide - finally, a company thinking about the gamers rather than the royalties from the printed guides.


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