Written by  :  xroox (3970)
Written on  :  Jan 20, 2002
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.14 Stars4.14 Stars4.14 Stars4.14 Stars4.14 Stars

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A new world to explore!

The Good

I liked Omikron a lot. It's a very involving adventure game, dressed up as a 3D RPG (with added fighting/shooting bits). It features a huge gameworld, amazing graphics, great music and some very nice innovations.

When I first started playing the game, I was quite amazed by its intricate, hi-res graphics, and its conjuring up of a futuristic city, with roads full of nicely shiny hover cars and hoverbikes and streets teeming with marching citizens. The buildings tower up into the fog and you can run into the lobbies of apartment buildings, into drugstores and bookshops, restaurants and supermarkets.

The camera action is impressive. I had never played a game before that had this level of slick camera movement. As you run around the streets and wander through buildings, the view is third-person, from behind your character. But when you enter a new location, the camera swings round to show another perspective. It is very well done, is not intrusive and further enhances Omikron's uniqueness. The appeal and "wow" factor does wear off after a while, and the camera movement even gets tiresome at times, but it's still beautiful and, even at late stages of the game, will still often impress you. It is very cinematic. You can also hold down a key to get a temporary first person view through the eyes of your character. This is very useful for looking around rooms a bit more closely. There are numerous cutscenes, ranging from small ones when you do some action or open up a new area, to long, plot-revealing ones. These cutscenes integrate perfectly into the gameplay (as they are in-engine) and voice-acting is generally good. Humour is a bit lacking, but the game's atmosphere more than makes up for this.

The game quickly reveals itself to be a fairly traditional adventure, as you collect items and solve puzzles. But it puts a lot more focus on exploration than on puzzle-solving and the puzzles tend to be well integrated into the gameworld. Later on, there are quite a lot of puzzles that are more logic-based than item-based and have you messing around with ancient symbols and following cryptic directions. Now, normally, I hate this kind of thing, but Omikron somehow manages to pull it off. These puzzles, when they appear, are rarely annoying, and usually quite engaging. There's even a sound-based puzzle, where you have to listen to blasts from a set of pipes, and then try and arrange things to repeat the sequence...Sounds awful, doesn't it? And normally, it probably would be, but Omikron remains so damn likeable that I actually found myself enjoying that puzzle. Oh - And I don't think there are any sliding-block puzzles! (phew)

The most unique point of Omikron is probably its 'body posession' feature. You start off playing one character (an Omikronian cop, called Kay'l), but as you are in fact, the 'nomal soul', you get to transfer your essence to other people, throughout the game. This is great. It can't be just anyone, but there are something like 40 different people throughout the game, who you can inhabit (more than enough). You soon get to recognise who those people are - They can be found lounging around in coffee bars (or the Omikronian equivalent of coffee bars), standing muscularly in gun shops or meditating in shrines. There is just something about these people, and when you take a closer look at them, the camera zooms in and pans over their bodies, while your character says something like ("Mmm, this body could be useful.") After a while spent with Kay'l, you will discover more about what is going on, and will learn how to change between bodies. Also, everytime you die, the first person to touch your dead body unwittingly becomes the new host. This is an interesting feature, and you can only become some characters if you die in certain places. There are also well-hidden characters, and some characters who reappear a couple of times in the game, if you didn't inhabit their bodies the first time around (a nice idea, as it seems as though they've been doing their own thing since you last saw 'em). Every character has a name, age, profession, list of interests (seems rather pointless, as you cruelly erase whoever they really 'were' when you 'become' them) and other vital statistics such as strength, fighting level, etc. You can train 'em up and beef up their stats. A lot of characters also arrive with one item on their person (e.g. a fighting guy you inhabit may have his illegal body-building potion with him, or a religious nut may have some kind of mysterious artefact with him. A thief may have an expensive gem with her). If you're really lucky, they'll have an apartment key with them! This is very exciting, as you get to go to their place and look at where they lived and what they owned. Each apartment is slightly different and will contain different objects, but unfortunately there are only two basic apartment designs in the game, which takes away from the fun and realism factor a bit. Some items can only be picked up in certain characters' apartments.

The game has three main elements - Adventuring, hand-to-hand fighting (Virtua Fighter style) and shooting (Quake style). I'll talk about the combative bits in the section below (sounds ominous, eh? ;)

The story is interesting, although it can be a bit icky and unbelievable at times, but the game is good enough for this to not really matter. There is a vast world out there, composed of the various different sections of the city, each of which is very different from the others. There is a wonderful section composed of high rocks, lush green hills, deep pools and ancient temples. There is the section where you start off, which is slightly Bladerunner-ish, but unique enough. There is another section full of sleazy strip clubs and porn shops (Hehe). Each section has had an incredible amount of effort put into its architecture and overall 'feel' and the effect is striking and amazing. Even the dress of the inhabitants of each section is different. You really feel as though you're running round an otherworldly city, and the graphics never fail to impress.

The music...Ahh, yes! Much talked about is David Bowie's involvement with this game. And he has been very involved with it. Rather than merely contributing a song or two and leaving it at that (like other artists and bands have done with games, in the past), he went all out, contributing no less than 8 original songs to the soundtrack (7 of which later reappeared on his album 'Hours'), playing a character in the game (called, um, 'Boz') and appearing 'virtually' with his band (also including Reeves Gabrels and a rather worryingly dressed Gail Ann Dorsey) in a series of 'underground, illegal' concerts throughout the game. It's always cool to find out about these concerts. You discover a flyer, which gives slightly cryptic directions to wherever the concert is happening, then it's up to you to find your way there. Then you are treated to a full performance of one song, with motion-captured antics from Mr. Bowie and co. (Did I mention Gail Ann Dorsey's costume was dodgy? David wears a polygonal codpiece and 'shakes it' quite often!) You can also buy, or find, special discs during the game, each of them containing a song. It's quite cool to go into someone's apartment, stick a disc in the player and then walk around the place with the stereo going. The other music in the game (composed by Xavier Despas) is also worthy of note. It is mostly great, with different tracks for each city section, all of them working well. It tends to be quite primal and industrial, and I liked it very much. The music that plays when the main menu appears is particularly good, and if you move your cursor up and down the menu options, it makes corresponding 'boom' type noises which you can do in time with the music and...OK, so maybe I'm getting a bit carried away here. But I liked the music.

The game is also long. It will probably keep you occupied for a couple of weeks. And there's plenty of variety. As well as the normal kind of puzzles and exploration, there are added incentives, like trying to find all the various inhabitable characters and try 'em all out, and also other things - hidden bonuses and secrets, different power-up type things to buy and try out, and some nice puzzley-type ideas, which make good and imaginative use of the environment.

The Bad

OK...The main criticism I have with this game is the shooting sections. They tend to be annoying, being rather difficult, over-long and just feeling...clunky. It's odd that, in a game with such an accomplished 3D engine, these sections would feel clunky, but they do. Not in a major, horrible way, but just a bit. They don't quite feel right. I didn't much enjoy these shooty bits, which were often joined with trying to find your way out of maze-type areas or solve simple, push-the-switches puzzles. Death came too often, and usually from somewhere you couldn't see until it was too late. Trying to target enemies could be annoying. There are various different guns you can buy, but there doesn't seem to be much difference between the most expensive gun (with its limited and expensive ammo) and the unlimited ammo gun you get near the start of the game. All in all, the shooting sections pissed me off, and I was glad when they were over. The final battle in the game was also quite a nightmare. I hated it, but eventually managed to do it, and breathed a sigh of relief. The shooting sections are not much fun, and it is only because most of the rest of the game is so good, that you can put up with them.

The beat-em-up sections are better, and are generally quite fun. There are lots of different fighting moves to be discovered, but I found I could win all battles by using just the basic moves. I couldn't really be bothered with working out how to do all the other moves, but all the same, they are there. Apparently, there are also several different fighting styles, depending on which character you are using.

Oh yes, the characters. The idea of changing to different characters is great, and it's very interesting trying them all out, but really, it doesn't make much difference to the game, whichever character you're playing. They all have different stats, but a bit of fighting training and a couple of power ups tends to bring them all to the same kind of level. It's more aesthetic than anything, as to which character you choose. You'll sometimes think "I'm bored of running around looking like this; I'll try someone else." That's pretty much all there is to it. Of course, there are times when you will need to disguise yourself as a certain person, in order to gain access to a certain area. Sometimes, you'll have a certain person you really like and will be forced to give them up. Once you lose a body, there's no going back to it. The former person is left as a translucent husk, hovering where you left it. I couldn't help feeling sorry for these poor schmucks whose physical lives I had ended, and wondering what (in a soul-type way) had happened to them, now. I think it would have been better if you just exited out of these people's bodies and they were left to get on with their lives again. Then, if you wanted, you could re-inhabit them sometime. But hey, that's just an idea.

I was initially confused about saving the game, especially as the manual contradicts itself. I was also worried that it might spoil my enjoyment of the game. It didn't. For the record, here's how it works:
You get 'magic rings' throughout the game (I know, they sound stupid). You can use these at certain save-points throughout the game. Each save uses up one magic ring. Don't worry, though - I never found this to be a problem. It's usually clear if a potentially dangerous section is coming up, or a whole new area, so you're unlikely to die without having saved in ages. I generally saved a couple of times in each several-hour gaming session, and I usually had about 10 rings spare at any point during the game. But still, what's the point? With specific save locations anyway, why include the ring system, too? Although I guess it did stop me from running to a save location every two seconds :)

The interface is a bit too fiddly, but works well enough. However, sometimes interaction in the world can be tetchy. For instance, you are standing in the lift, in an apartment complex - You try to use an apartment key on the lift controls, but it doesn't work. You know this is the right apartment, however. You move a bit to the left - It still doesn't work. You move a bit more - still nothing. Then on the fourth attempt (again, moving a bit), it works. This is particularly bad when you're trying to find an apartment and it could be any one of about three apartment blocks. You might be in the right one, but not realise it, because you were standing in slightly the wrong place and the game says "That doesn't work."

Your inventory can be fiddly, too. You can only carry 18 objects with you at a time (and there's a lot of stuff to pick up). Anything else you want to keep must be stored in an 'electronic locker' system, which can be accessed from many different buildings. Transferring stuff to and from your inventory is annoying, particularly when you're carrying loads of different notes and flyers and gems. It would be better if you could see the items as you scrolled down the list, but you have to use the separate 'examine' option. It's OK, really, just it could've been better.

The Bottom Line

Omikron is dazzlingly unique and stylish, a real vision brought to life onscreen. It is an ambitious and remarkable game that, despite some annoying sections (I'm really looking at the shooting sections here!), works well and manages to hang together under pressure. It is an amazing achievement, and I hope they make a sequel!