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First Impressions


By Eidos
omi1.jpg (5184 bytes)We’ve been looking forward to Eidos’ Omikron: The Nomad Soul since we got a brief glance at it at E3, partly because what we saw of it looked terrific, mostly because we couldn’t quite figure out what the hell it was supposed to be--as is probably to be expected from a game featuring David Bowie. Indeed, Eidos has billed the game as a 3D action-adventure game, but one that incorporates "adventure, exploration, action, combat and role playing elements." We’d heard genre-bender promises like this about games in development before, so we were skeptical. But we’ve been playing Omikron for the last couple of days, and lo and behold it does include all those elements. Though we’re still not sure what the hell it is, one thing’s for sure--we really, really, like it.

omi2.jpg (5582 bytes)Probably the best way explain Omikron is to address each of the game’s takes on various genres individually. First of all, Omikron is primarily an adventure and exploration game. The game’s basic premise is that the player suddenly finds their soul projected to a different futuristic dimension—which is so far a sort of pastiche of Star Wars, 1984, RoboCop and Blade Runner--and into a new body. Of course, the player has no inkling why this has happened (and we’re not telling—in fact, we’re still not sure ourselves) and game’s main goal is to unravel this mystery and do something about it. To accomplish this, the player must scour four different sprawling cities—mostly in 3rd-person view--in search of deliverance.

Thus far, the adventure aspect of the game seems first-rate. Given that you have no memory, there’s plenty you’ve got to figure out—including the local folkways. The world of Omikron is close enough to ours to seem familiar, different enough to surprise you. Of course, you’ll soon be thrust into other, more disturbing mysteries—mysteries involving murder and the supernatural. To solve these mysteries, you’ll glean information from conversations with the denizens of Omikron, and they are a kinky bunch (uh, the teen rating should probably be taken seriously). Thankfully, most of these conversations are well-scripted and interesting. Unlike many an adventure game (especially consoles), in which too much gets given away too soon in long-winded and artificial dialogue, in Omikron you only gradually piece the picture together. As you go along, you’ll collect items, which can be handily stored on your person in your SNEAK mini-computer or cached in your Multiplan virtual locker. The game’s interface is elegant and easy-to-use, and accessing your stuff pretty painless—although it can sometimes be a little awkward if you’re using a gamepad to play. You’re only allowed to save in certain points, and only allowed a certain number of saves, so you have to be careful. This console-like save system may not be to everyone’s liking, but thus far it hasn’t been an issue in gameplay. And of course one of the game’s coolest features is what Eidos calls "Virtual Reincarnation." If the body that your nomad soul inhabits is killed, your soul will automatically transmigrate into the next person that touches the corpse. This allows players to play in several different bodies (including that of Bowie’s supermodel wife, Iman) in each game, and each body   has different abilities.

omi3.jpg (6286 bytes)But it’s not just an adventure game—it’s a first-person shooter as well! That’s right, at certain points in Omikron, the gentle art of verbal persuasion just won’t do the trick, and then it’s time to introduce Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson—er, make that Mr. Octogun—to your new-found friends. These first-person interludes are scripted into the game, so you can’t just go around blowing everyone away, and they’re pretty good so far. One odd thing—you’ll play most of the game in 3rd person view, so the gamepad is a good choice for most of your adventuring. However, once things kick—sometimes unexpectedly—into the FPS dimension, you’ll want to switch to the tried-and-true mouse and keyboard combo. This can make for some awkward fumbling, so keep on your toes.

omi5.JPG (17187 bytes)But wait; there’s more! Omikron is also a fighting game. That’s right, every once in a while you’ll have to unlimber the lads and whoop up on the bad guys fistically. To this end, Omikron has implemented a fighting system reminiscent of console fighters. You’ll want to use the gamepad for this. At least initially, you’ll only be aware of a few moves; as you progress in the game, you’ll learn new ones through practice, books you can purchase, and good-old-fashioned button mashing. Though we’ve only been playing for a while, we’re much taken with the fighting game. We’ll see if it holds up.

omi6.JPG (23997 bytes)Finally, Omikron does have a fairly serious RPG element to it. Your character will be rated in certain areas—like energy, fighting, attack, dodge, resistance, and speed—and most of attributes can be bumped up through practice and experience. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to do this, since Omikron is dotted with virtual practice facilities. Oh, and yet another Omikron RPG-ish element. You can cast spells as well, whose effectiveness is influenced by your mana rating. Thus far we haven’t had much experience with this aspect of the game, but we’ll let you know about it in our final review.

omi4.jpg (5978 bytes)Graphically, the game is outstanding; though thus far the city of Omikron seems to be wrapped in a persistent fog—which can be seen as atmospheric in a Blade Runner kind of way (which works for us) or just lazy graphically in a Nintendo 64 sort of way—the world of Omikron is visually stunning. Your new dimension is just visually wack enough to make you feel like a stranger, and just familiar enough so you can tell that urinals are urinals—though really odd urinals. It’s sort of like being in France. Omikron also implements such original features as facial motion capture in real-time, and includes 3D motion-captured fighting moves modelled from real-life martial arts champions. It also contains more than 400 different sets and 140 characters. These characters have real character, too—there’s no lack of personality (or personalities) in Omikron.

omi7.JPG (20932 bytes)Ah, and the music. David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels have created original music for the game, including eight new songs, including "Thursday’s Child." And these are full-length songs, too; ever since we got burned by the few short Cypress Hill songs in Kingpin, we’ve been skeptical about this sort of thing, but Omikron has restored our faith. And though of course your enjoyment of the tracks will be tempered by your taste in music, these are not just take-the-money-and-run throwaways. They’re damn good tunes, especially the title track. In the game, you’ll be able to catch Bowie’s subversive band, The Dreamers, performing these songs in bars. You can even purchase the "virtual album" of the music in-game, take it back to your virtual apartment, and kick back with a virtual beverage while virtually chillin’.

The great thing about Omikron is that—so far, at least—it takes all these different genres and combines them in a game that we can’t stop playing. With a compelling story, great pacing, first-person and fighting combat, state-of-the-art graphics and Bowie’s music, we’re in this one to the bitter end. And maybe by then we’ll have figured out just what the hell this game is.

 --Rick Fehrenbacher