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Archived Review

Omikron

I was born into three things in life: Heavy Metal music, sci-fi movies, and adventure games. When you mix any of these together, I could hardly be happier. While Omikron: The Nomad Soul doesn’t quite have all three, Eidos and Quantic Dreams will still steal your soul with this new cinematic sci-fi adventure masterpiece. Is it a game? Is it real? There’s no way to know unless you take a deeper look into Omikron, the game and the city, to find out your destiny.

One thing I love to pick apart in movies and games is how someone who has no previous connection to a place can find himself teleported, frozen in time, or otherwise displaced and know an alarming amount of information about where they are. Someone living in the 17’th century can find himself in the 22’nd century, wander around ignorantly for a sum total of five minutes, and then immediately start knowing more than he ever should. Omikron does not fall victim to this fallacy, at least not very much. You go through the game not knowing what a lot of things are, only finding out through experimentation or talking to people. The game starts with an Omikron Security agent showing up on your monitor pleading for your help, asking you to take over his soul and enter the city of Omikron to help save his planet and your own. By accepting his plea, you start the adventure of your life. You enter Omikron in the body of Security agent Kay’l. Kay’l and his now-deceased partner Den had been investigating a series of strange murders that led them into the middle of an interdimensional laundering of souls. Now it’s your turn to try to solve the mystery and save the unsuspecting citizens of Omikron and Earth, all while trying to adapt to the different lifestyle and technology of Omikron.

Omikron is a city of four sectors: Anekbah, Qalisar, Juanpur, and Lahoreh. Each of these sections has its own setting, whether it be a Persian atmosphere, a maze of seedy back alleys, or a busy metropolis- Omikron is a world within a city. However, despite their differences, all the sectors have one thing in common: strict governmental control. Omikron has a very twisted government. At the top of the chain-of-command is IX, a computer, who regulates the “quality of life” in Omikron by setting the amount of sleeping hours a person is allowed, controlling where a person can go, what kind of music a person can hear, and even the weather. Second-in-command is the Legatee. The Legatee, who is as corrupt as any government official can be, enforces the laws set forth by IX by using Omikron Security. Omikron Security acts as both a police force and a city military. Each of these controlling factions become very great and deadly enemies to you and your cause.

Omikron’s gameplay can be split into three portions: the main adventure, the first-person action sequences spread throughout the game, and the arcade fighting sequences. You will spend most of your time in action mode, meaning you have to traverse the streets of Omikron searching for clues, solving puzzles, and trying to figure out what is going on. One sequence may have you traveling to a bar to question a murder witness, while another may have you tricking a surveillance technician into thinking his computer is malfunctioning so you can take control. These sequences are much more than simple block pushing and lever pulling, although there are a few levers. You must find specific items to accomplish these tasks, and even then you have to figure out what benefit you get from them.

The first person sequences can be a bit odd at first. They don’t have the typical feel of Quake or Half-Life. Your character responds much differently, and so do the enemies. Despite the fact that the FPS portions are secondary, the AI of most enemies is somewhat better than that of Half-Life or Quake. Enemies will duck, roll, and even run off to try and get to you from another angle. Aiming is what becomes the real challenge, as the weapon seems to be less accurate than that of most FPS games. The only major drawback to the FPS portions is that in some segments enemies outside of your viewing distance still have the ability to shoot and kill you, causing for much aggravation, but also causing you to have to rethink your strategy. A guns-blazing invasion will only get you killed.

Omikron’s arcade fighting sequences are probably the game’s biggest shortcoming. The interface is much like that of Virtua Fighter in that everything is 3D, and you will end up running around in different corners of the area, fighting up stairs and around desks. The fighting moves look stiff and somewhat forced. Doing a spin-kick to cause your opponent to fall down is slow and inaccurate, as are the game’s responses to your commands. Luckily, you have to option to experience both FPS and fighting training within the game, before your life actually depends on it. The game will quite often mix a little of both action and adventure, or fighting and adventure, such as when you begin taking assigned missions. Such missions will have you traveling to a designated location, shooting your way through a dock, figuring out how to get underneath a bridge, and then blowing it up. These commando-style missions are both fun and challenging.

Once you begin to unfold the story of Omikron, you start to realize the great originality of the game- the aspect of being the Nomad Soul. Being the Nomad Soul enables you to be resurrected upon death by the next person that touches you. However some of these postmortem interactions can be all too convenient, such as when you are fighting a demon in an apartment and a mystery woman pops in just before the demon can steal your soul. This type of convenient interruption happens more than once in the game. Aside from resurrecting into another body after death, you later earn the ability to transfer your soul into willing bodies at a whim. This can become both profitable and necessary. Some people of Omikron posses great items, money, or just the right identity you need to get where you want. Omikron also has a fairly unique inventory system in the form of a Sneak. The Sneak is the ultimate Personal Digital Assistant. Your Sneak is a computer grafted to your arm that is used to hold all of your inventory, certain memorized data, a system to call a Slider (much like a taxi) to take you to locations you’ve discovered through clues, and even your own identity. The Sneak can only hold a limited amount of objects. Once this limit is reached you must find a Multiplan, which acts like a virtual locker. Multiplans can be found mounted on the walls of most apartments, stores, and offices. With the Multiplan you can transfer items to and from your Sneak, examine objects in your locker, or permanently delete the items you no longer need.

Bringing this masterpiece to visual life is the excellent graphics engine used by Omikron. While the graphics aren’t as bright and vivid as Unreal, they are very detailed none-the-less. Each sector of Omikron has its own visual characteristics, from the building style, to the building textures, even to different kinds of people. People wander the sidewalks, while hover-cars, known as sliders, and motorcycles drive the streets. The level of detail on the vehicles is similar to that of Need for Speed, in that they have their own reflective surfaces that change as they move. The people walk with great realism in their short skirts or vinyl-look pants. All this great detail does come with a cost, though. Running the game at 1280 x 1024 with all the detail levels maxed-out can become very sluggish in open areas. After a while, I ended up having to drop the detail, the traffic density, and the viewing distance to keep a reasonable amount of detail while still keeping a fluid speed of movement. Maybe once the new NVIDIA Geforce256 becomes widely available, the game will be able to run at its fullest limits and still be reasonably playable.

The game's sounds and music are excellent. The game box boasts an original soundtrack done by David Bowie and Reeves Gabrels. While I admit I don’t have a clue as to who Reeves is, I am somewhat familiar with David Bowie’s work. This claim of an original soundtrack is somewhat misleading. All but one of the David Bowie tracks appear to be directly from his latest album, Hours. Only one song seemed slightly different from the version heard on Hours, which is a song entitled “New Angels of Promise.” This song is played in beginning of the game after transport to Omikron. It acts as a soundtrack to a brief fly-by tour of the city of Omikron. This song differs only in the fact that it is slightly remixed, and the lyrics “Suspicious minds, you didn’t feel us coming,” from the original song, have been changed to “Omikron, you didn’t see us coming.” Despite this bit of pickyness, the songs are implemented in a very interesting way. You can listen to the various Bowie tracks by attending concerts for an Omikron band known as The Dreamers (also the title of a song on the Hours album), or by purchasing the songs from different stores in the game. The concerts can be quite interesting. In Omikron, The Dreamers are not approved by IX or the Legatee and are therefore wanted people. With their wanted status, the concerts must be held in secret, being advertised only through flyers lying around bars and houses in the city. Once a concert starts, you are treated a to a Bowie song combined with MTV-style music video camera angles and brief black and white segments. The purchased songs can be taken back to any apartment and played whenever you wish. The rest of the soundtrack, which I assume if the portion Reeves Gabrels is responsible for, fits in quite nicely as ambient music that changes to suit the events around you .

Sound effects are fairly average- nothing outstanding, but nothing disgusting. If an action warrants a loud thump, a loud thump is what you get. Voice-overs, which aren’t used for all conversations, are done reasonably well also, though they are not anything outstanding. While overall, the sound, music, effects, and dialogue are excellent, their quality falls short at times. Some of the ambient songs play with a low hiss in the background, while several of the conversations have an annoying reverberating effect to them. Not all of the conversations have this quality problem, though there are quite a few, which unfortunately scar an otherwise well-done audio feast.

Putting the slow fighting response and audio blemishes aside, Omikron is a very stable game. Not once did it crash, not even while multi-tasking between the game, Netscape, and ICQ. Which is something that can cause even the most stable of games to crash or show graphical glitches. The Quantic Dreams website describes two early-in-the-game glitches that players have been e-mailing the about, but I never came across these problems. However, if you do find a problem in the game, the website gives possible work-arounds, and explains that a patch is in the works to fix this. The only problem I ran into that seemed to be a viable bug was in the sector of Omikron known as Qalisar. Here I found that occasionally the AI controlling the traffic, both people and cars, could run into a traffic jam where people would get stuck in the middle of traffic. This would cause cars and people to begin forming long lines that would not end until you left. During one of these traffic jams I made the mistake of trying to hail a Slider, causing me to get stuck in the process, and forcing me to exit the game. I found this to happen several times, but only in Qalisar.

If you miss the days of adventure games, especially unique ones, Omikron is definitely for you. It features a rich, ever-unfolding story line, excellent interactivity, and an unbeatable universe of sight and sound that results in the most immersive adventure game I have played in several years. Quantic Dreams is definitely a company to keep your eyes on.







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