Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Omikron: The Nomad Soul (retro)

After the last podcast took me down memory lane a little, I started thinking about all the cool games I played years ago and either didn't finish, or wanted more of.

Reading on Eurogamer about Heavy Rain got me thinking about Quantic Dream's first game, Omikron: The Nomad Soul. I never finished it, and I want more of it.

Omikron: The Nomad Soul was released in 1999 and I think I got it in 2000. The version I had was on the Dreamcast, and as buggy and shoddy a port as it was, it still managed to make me fall in love with it completely. Back then, I had no idea about what was going on in games like this, literally blundering from one plot point to the next, and right now if anybody was to ask me what exactly the game was about, I couldn't tell you. I did remember the beginning though.

I had never seen anything like it before, a game that 'spoke' to you! Wow. I mean before that I had played Metal Gear Solid on the PSOne and faced off against Psycho Mantis, but this was different.

Anyway, so I agreed to 'inhabit' the weird guy's body and off I went into an adventure. The first thing that struck me about the game was how beautiful it looked. Not that the graphics were anything fantastic, in fact, they were quite laughable i some respects, but the art direction, the lighting and the colours, and the music. Oh yes, I remember the music. They had David Bowie in there and he handled music duties alongside Reeves Gabrels , and Xavier Despas  in the game.

It really was unlike anything I had played up till that point really. Now I can tell you that it was a hybrid of adventure game (in the sense of the lucasarts monkey island, grim fandango style of adventure but without the pointing and the clicking), first-person shooter, beat 'em up, and had separate swimming sections. You can see some of that in this trailer for the game. There was also another interesting story/game mechanic. Your character could swap bodies, getting the person's memories and abilities upon the soul swap, just like what happened in the beginning of the game. What I don't remember though, is whether or not this could be done at will or only with certain key characters or at specific times.

Special mention must also go to the visual aesthetic of the game which seemed to have been informed by a futuristic, haute couture renditioning of Bedouins and Maghreb nomadic cultures.

Even the buildings had a heavy Moroccan flavour to them, especially in one of the cities where the buildings are even painted white. It's unfortunate that the main reason I remember this is because I made  myself nauseous running around the rooftops trying to figure out where I had to go. I am even getting slightly motion sick just remembering it.

David Cage, the lead designer (and writer and director) of the game seems to be one of the last people who is out there trying to keep adventure gaming relevant and fun. It's quite odd actually that even though I really enjoy these types of games I haven't played any of the more recent ones like Broken Sword 3 or its sequel or The Longest Journey or its sequel , I have to do something about that state of affairs some time next year, time and money willing.

Quantic Dream went on to release Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy and are now working on Heavy Rain for the PS3. There is also some rumblings about a sequel, but will wait for more concrete info. I haven't played Fahrenheit, but as soon as I am done playing Omikron and finishing it, it is next on my list. I really enjoy the sense of imagination and the visual aesthetic that was brought into The Nomad Soul and from what I have heard about Fahrenheit, even though it is not based in such a fantastical universe, the same level of imagination has been brought to bear.

Any way, the game is pretty tough to get right now, especially from Nigeria, so I guess eBay and amazon are the best bets to buy a copy if you have someone overseas that can ship a copy down to you. It does take some messing about with drivers and compatibility and possibly even a no-cd crack in order to get it working on windows xp, although vista seemed easier strangely enough. You can find out more about getting it to run on modern PCs in this video here and with google. It is running on my system and I have played about 10 minutes so far and I am hooked all over again. The graphics are a tad bit blockier than I remembered, but it does look a LOT sharper than the blurriness of the dreamcast version.

It's a really cool game though and worth playing. Besides, how could you resist a game that has David Bowie looking like this?

I found the majority of the artwork on this very comprehensive Quantic Dream fansite, and you can see more of the excellent artwork here. 

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