Blog 568: The Nomad Soul

“Save often… but save points are limited.” Why was this approach ever fashionable? Sometimes dinner waits for no man and being unable to save because you’re not at a handy checkpoint is the most extreme form of frustration.

Omikron: The Nomad Soul is from 1999, well after Unreal allowed you to save anywhere you wanted. We had the technology! Either way, this peculiar genre-bending game has a soundtrack by David Bowie. I don’t think this is good or bad (I’ve never been into Bowie at all), but it’s amusing so I’m going to keep repeating this fact as justification for everything. Another drinking game?

Omikron: The Nomad Soul

I say genre-bending because it’s an open-world Tomb Raider, a side-on beat-’em-up and a first-person shooter. Independently of each other. Sort of.

The architecture of the city is pretty nice, in that communist bloc kind of way.

The architecture of the city is pretty nice, in that communist bloc kind of way.

Adventure Mode

I don’t quite understand why Adventure Mode is controlled like Tomb Raider — the game’s got mouselook in for the FPS parts, so why not let that spill out into the wider universe? Oh well, it was a long time ago — it’s not like the FPS genre had taken off by 1999 or anything. Why tightly interweave your game-types when you can partition them unnecessarily?

Anyway. The open world is the kind of like the open-world crime simulators of this age, the GTAs and the Saints Rowses. It’s a moving background, with inconsequential people and traffic flitting in and out of existence at your passing.

However, and this is the crucial difference, amongst these automatons are characters that can be talked to, objects that can be interacted with in a more meaningful, plot-relevant way (not as many as the scale of the city would indicate, but it’s better than a kick in the teeth). Saints Row: the Third didn’t have actual characters in the world except during cinematics or as mission companions, and it felt somehow less engaging as a result (it made up for this in other ways). Here at least, we have one area where the game is not forcibly partitioned from the advancement of the story.

Unfortunately, you can’t drive around for yourself; you just call a taxi and then get to watch it meander to your destination. You can, however, go into a bar to attend a David Bowie concert.

It's got a waaay longer draw distance than Tomb Raider, I'll give it that.

It’s got a waaay longer draw distance than Tomb Raider, I’ll give it that.

It’s also got hilariously wonky faces. There is clearly some seriously early motion capture stuff going on here — canned animation sequences are very supple but also seem to judder along at a set frame-rate that doesn’t match the speed of the rest of the game. Faces are deep into uncanny valley territory, which is quite a feat for late-90s low-poly artwork, with most looking like they’ve been slapped extremely forcefully from various angles as their mouths contort imperfectly around their words. (I think I’ve worked out what’s wrong — their mouths never actually close when they speak.)

Even David Bowie is rendered in smushy textures and awkward dance moves. It’s hard to take anything seriously when a character’s arm turns inside-out every so often. Why do you think the likes of Tomb Raider made their characters out of discrete, unattached elements? Because the polycounts required to facilitate that kind of movement in a connected mesh just weren’t feasible back then.

Entire faces move up and down heads as their features squirm like those of some eldritch horror.

Entire faces move up and down heads as their features squirm like those of some eldritch horror.

Shooter Mode

It’s always a good idea to try and make at least three different games instead of one (he says, blissfully ignoring his own penchant for feature creep). Perhaps the most annoying thing of all about the genre-bending is the complete turn-about of the key-bindings for each; sometimes you need the mouse, sometimes you need both hands on the keyboard, sometimes you can just cruise along one-handed. Ahem.

The shooter parts are more like minigames than fleshed-out levels. You’ll walk up to a scenario that involves shooting and the game will change mode of its own accord… And yet, the shooter parts are tightly integrated into the game world; you go through doors rather than teleport to new areas. Indeed, after one shooter segment, it reverted to Adventure Mode so I could unnecessarily walk all the way around and back out the front door.

Your arms lengthen considerably for these shoot 'em up bits.

Your arms lengthen considerably for these shoot ’em up bits.

The best part of shooter mode is that you lose access to your inventory, objectives and all the rest. Suddenly, you’re auto-consuming those medkits you’ve been stocking up on (because you can’t tell how much health you have in the real world and it’s probably still low from the last fight) and you haven’t got the faintest idea where you’re going anymore. Good thing they’re tightly constrained areas with no deviations, eh?

There is one peculiar little design detail that stands out, though — you actually have a body. Trying to look straight down? Nope, your… giant pecs? … limit the angle. Try to strafe? Nope, give your unseen legs a chance to pivot first (sidestepping is possible in Adventure Mode, just not in FPS mode. For some reason). It took me a few moments to work out why it felt so strange — I am familiar from this technique of having the camera tethered to an actual body rather than floating free from Thief: Deadly Shadows, which as a slow-paced stealth game works much better with it than this arcadey UT-wannabe we have here.

Some of the creature designs are kind of cool, I guess?

Some of the creature designs are kind of cool, I guess?

This details means I can’t call the shooter mode half-baked — more like… baked on its side. The weapons suck big time anyway, so I thumped the difficulty down because I couldn’t be bothered with this. Give me the slower movement speeds of UT2004 any day, at least the motion is fluid and natural.

Unfortunately, you can’t shoot David Bowie.

Recognise this character with the broken elbows? It's DAVID BOWIE.

Recognise this character with the broken elbows? It’s DAVID BOWIE.

Beat ’em up Mode

Unresponsive controls make the beat ’em up parts basically impossible to win. Or rather, every attempt at an attack is immediately interrupted by a string of unblockable blows from every opponent, on Medium difficulty. There are combos hidden in here but the buttons are so unresponsive it’s hard to tell when you’re getting one by effort or blind luck.

Needless to say, I thumped the difficulty down again. My willingness to actually deal with challenges is proportional to how good the controls are, and these controls just ain’t. (Contrast this to that time I held my own against Jack at some kind of Mortal Kombat on the XBoite, while just a little inebriated. Or, hell, that time I beat him at Super Smash Bros as Pikachu while completely steamboats.)

Unfortunately, you can’t beat up David Bowie. His PR people would probably have kittens if it was even possible.

It's the eye of the tiger, it's the thrill of the fight...

It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight…

Swimming Mode

Yep, swimming gets its own controls menu too (that is, assuming you can read the funky lettering it likes to hide its options behind). It’s exactly like Tomb Raider in this regard — point yourself up and down with the arrows and hold a button to swim. (Mouselook is too good for you, as usual.)

Trying to pull levers underwater here is, just like Tomb Raider but even worse, bloody annoying.

Umm… Swimming doesn’t have a difficulty level. Thank goodness there are no submarine enemies to fight, those harpoon bits from Tomb Raider 2 were even more hideous than the shooting on dry land.

David Bowie doesn’t seem to appear underwater, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.

I only realised how obscene the one swimming screenshot I took was after I'd taken it. So here's a picture of a man taking a wee.

I only realised how obscene the one swimming screenshot I took was after I’d taken it. So here’s a picture of a man taking a wee.

The Verdict

Er… I can see some potential here, but it’s not worth it, even though it’s got David Bowie. To be honest, I’m more of a fan of Reeves Gabrels’ in-game tracks than the full Bowie songs.

It seems almost Daggerfall-like, in the sense that it’s a giant folly (it’s not even that giant, ooh matron). There’s simultaneously too much and too little going on here; the world sprawls and yet there’s very little to do in it. Fully-voiced conversations mean you can’t delve very much into the wacky lore on offer, while the combat parts are far too clunky to satisfy anyone.

It’s interesting. That’s about all I can say for it. And, oh okay, one more for the road: David Bowie.

Oh, did I mention it's got a horrendous not-quite-sex scene right at the beginning? This game is SO EDGY AND MATURE.

Oh, did I mention it’s got a horrendous not-quite-sex scene right at the beginning? This game is SO EDGY AND MATURE.

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2 thoughts on “Blog 568: The Nomad Soul

    • You can also spend your limited saves on hints about how to solve the game. Since it’s basically impossible to know where to go at some points… Thank goodness for walkthroughs!

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