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
couldnt 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." Wed heard genre-bender promises like this
about games in development before, so we were skeptical. But weve been playing
Omikron for the last couple of days, and lo and behold it does include all those elements.
Though were still not sure what the hell it is, one things for sure--we
really, really, like it.
Probably the best way explain Omikron is to address each of the games takes on various genres individually. First of all, Omikron is primarily an adventure and exploration game. The games basic premise is that the player suddenly finds their soul projected to a different futuristic dimensionwhich 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 were not tellingin fact, were still not sure ourselves) and games main goal is to unravel this mystery and do something about it. To accomplish this, the player must scour four different sprawling citiesmostly 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, theres plenty youve got to figure outincluding the local folkways. The world of Omikron is close enough to ours to seem familiar, different enough to surprise you. Of course, youll soon be thrust into other, more disturbing mysteriesmysteries involving murder and the supernatural. To solve these mysteries, youll 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, youll collect items, which can be handily stored on your person in your SNEAK mini-computer or cached in your Multiplan virtual locker. The games interface is elegant and easy-to-use, and accessing your stuff pretty painlessalthough it can sometimes be a little awkward if youre using a gamepad to play. Youre 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 everyones liking, but thus far it hasnt been an issue in gameplay. And of course one of the games 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 Bowies supermodel wife, Iman) in each game, and each body has different abilities.
But its not just an adventure gameits a first-person shooter as well! Thats right, at certain points in Omikron, the gentle art of verbal persuasion just wont do the trick, and then its time to introduce Mr. Smith and Mr. Wessoner, make that Mr. Octogunto your new-found friends. These first-person interludes are scripted into the game, so you cant just go around blowing everyone away, and theyre pretty good so far. One odd thingyoull play most of the game in 3rd person view, so the gamepad is a good choice for most of your adventuring. However, once things kicksometimes unexpectedlyinto the FPS dimension, youll want to switch to the tried-and-true mouse and keyboard combo. This can make for some awkward fumbling, so keep on your toes.
But wait; theres more! Omikron is also a fighting game. Thats right, every once in a while youll 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. Youll want to use the gamepad for this. At least initially, youll only be aware of a few moves; as you progress in the game, youll learn new ones through practice, books you can purchase, and good-old-fashioned button mashing. Though weve only been playing for a while, were much taken with the fighting game. Well see if it holds up.
Finally, Omikron does have a fairly serious RPG element to it. Your character will be rated in certain areaslike energy, fighting, attack, dodge, resistance, and speedand most of attributes can be bumped up through practice and experience. Youll 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 havent had much experience with this aspect of the game, but well let you know about it in our final review.
Graphically, the game is outstanding; though thus far the city of Omikron seems to be wrapped in a persistent fogwhich 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 waythe 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 urinalsthough really odd urinals. Its 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, tootheres no lack of personality (or personalities) in Omikron.
Ah, and the music. David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels have created original music for the game, including eight new songs, including "Thursdays Child." And these are full-length songs, too; ever since we got burned by the few short Cypress Hill songs in Kingpin, weve 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. Theyre damn good tunes, especially the title track. In the game, youll be able to catch Bowies 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 thatso far, at leastit takes all these different genres and combines them in a game that we cant stop playing. With a compelling story, great pacing, first-person and fighting combat, state-of-the-art graphics and Bowies music, were in this one to the bitter end. And maybe by then well have figured out just what the hell this game is.