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Omikron: The Nomad Soul (Windows)

100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  אולג 小奥 (168715)
Written on  :  May 15, 2004
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.57 Stars4.57 Stars4.57 Stars4.57 Stars4.57 Stars

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Better git it in yo' soul!

The Good Charlie Mingus' song goes. Well, finally I managed to play this game, which had been holding my interest for quite a while. The result: I'm not disappointed. "Nomad Soul" is indeed a great game - a very original one, to say the least.

It is known to mankind how difficult is a task to create a game belonging to different genres simultaneously. Quest for Glory series presented a unique blend of puzzle-solving adventure and RPG, unmatched until now. Deus Ex succeeded in combining FPS, sneaking, and role-playing into a very convincing whole. Shenmue offered an unparalleled experience of an adventure almost devoid of puzzles, but filled with arcade and fighting sequences, and even slightly tending to the simulation genre. "Nomad Soul" concentrates primarily in puzzle-solving adventure aspect, which is more significant here than in any of the games mentioned above. Other elements, such as shooting and fighting sequences, appear as segments which have very little to do with the actual gameplay, but which break the game's pace abruptly and provide a change from the slow, meditative adventure-style gameplay.

The first parallel which jumped into my mind was between this game and Shenmue. A huge, detailed, fully populated 3D city, with seemingly limitless places to visit, and with many realistic touches. For example, you can eat in order to increase your energy level - a feature which wasn't available in "Shenmue". You can buy things in stores. You can use a drink automate or chat with unknown people sitting on benches, visit strip-tease shows, and even make love to your girlfriend. Of course, the world of "Nomad Soul" doesn't reach the level of detail and interactivity so fabulously presented in "Shenmue", but it is nevertheless and engrossing, atmospheric, addictive, immersive world, such as rarely seen in adventure games.

The world of "Nomad Soul" is very large. I believe it is larger than Hong-Kong in "Shenmue II", although I might be confusing size with the intricate nature of Omikron's city layout. What is more important is the lack of movement restriction. Near the end the game becomes more linear and takes you to the next point of interest by itself, but for the most time, you can roam about the city freely and visit any place in the district, even if you have nothing to do there. You can go inside the houses and sometimes visit the citizens' apartments.

As you can easily get lost in the big city, a comfortable and gratuite way of transportation is available - the sliders. You can call a slider from any part of the city, to bring you to a location you need to go to. However, some of the locations are not accessible by using a slider, and you'll have to find them on your own. Although the city seems to be so heavily populated, none of the citizens will even speak to you, let alone explain you how to get to a certain point. I can't help but thinking again of "Shenmue", where you couldn't possibly lose your way. Any passer-by would just help you. "Excuse me, do you happen to know where is the Man Mo temple?" - "Oh, the Man Mo temple! I used to live in that quarter. Follow me, I'll bring you there". Of course, such nice citizens would destroy the overall hostile atmosphere of the world Omikron, so it is reasonable they don't show you the way in this game. If you prefer games that make you explore on your own and don't show you the way, "Nomad Soul" is a fitting choice.

The setting of "Nomad Soul" is a futuristic one: an immense, soulless city, with crime flourishing, whores walking along the streets, sleazy bars, sex shops, and what not. Anyone familiar with games like Blade Runner will feel at home here. Personally, I enjoyed a lot the mature content of the game, which adds a lot to the atmosphere. There's no explicit nudity, but enough scenes to guarantee this game isn't for kids.

In its second half the game is more oriented towards a fantasy setting, especially once you leave the city and meet the heroes of ancient legends. There are demons you'll have to defeat with legendary weapons, and you also must become proficient in Omikronian magic. Architecture and literature in Omikron are also not your typical futuristic stuff. The combination of futuristic and fantasy settings works very well and creates an interesting and credibly image of an alien world.

The story is very good, although while the playing the game I had a vague impression it wasn't the first time I heard about demons wanting my soul, corrupted police officers, terrorists which were actually good guys, and so on. Some features remind of Feeble Files, an adventure game I disliked because of its unethical nature, despite its solid plot. Other parts were similar to Deus Ex. A pretty standard plot, but a well-developed one, that keeps you in suspense for a long time and unfolds like a detective/mystery game: gather evidence, talk to suspects, etc. You'll also need to know about Omikron's history and culture in order to understand the plot and to make progress in the game. You'll be deciphering mysterious writings, read books in the library, fulfill ancient prophecies, and so on.

The most noticeable gimmick of "Nomad Soul" is the ability to control multiple characters. There is no protagonist in the game except yourself, or, better to say, your soul. By extracting souls from other characters you can possess and control them, like in Maken. Some parts will force you to control a specific character, but for the most time you'll be free to choose which one of the available characters you want to control. The characters all have their own strengths and weaknesses, which is very important, since you'll be using them also in fighting and shooting modes. Every character also has his/her own background information, including name, age, profession, and even address. It is fun to control different people, from an ordinary female student to a legendary ancient warrior.

The main, adventure mode of the gameplay in "Nomad Soul" relies heavily on puzzle-solving. The puzzles are mostly elegant and logical, although some of them can get quite tricky. If you expect a game where every action is evident, this game is not for you. This is primarily a puzzle-solving adventure just like Tex Murphy or Gabriel Knight games. In fact, it has more puzzles than such a pure adventure as "Blade Runner" (although less than in any of the Tex Murphy games). Some puzzles should be familiar to anybody who plays adventure games: how to get this police badge which grants me access to a certain restricted area? This police officer just asked me to bring him a cup of coffee... Aha, got it! Other puzzles involve re-arranging objects, finding correct patterns, gathering mysterious ingredients for magic spells, or deciphering strange writings. Most of those puzzles are anything but easy, and require keen observation. Since the world is so large, it becomes very difficult to find important places and objects that are scattered all over the huge area. I remember a puzzle that involved finding spots that were marked on a map in the real city. I had to wander around the large district, looking at every corner, trying to notice something unusual. "Nomad Soul" is a challenge even for veteran adventure gamers.

Beside puzzle-solving, the adventure mode (which occupies about 90% of the game, if not more, in case you are willing to explore a lot) also contains some physical activities. There are some places where you'll have to do some jumping. Also, you should be careful when crossing the streets, since a car can hit and hurt you. At certain points you'll have to swim and to dive in order to retrieve an object lying on the ground underwater.

The game deals nicely with getting important objects/buying things issues: you can gather many objects which are unnecessary to the adventure part, but which can come in handy while fighting. Many of those objects (such as medikits) can be simply bought in a drugstore, which is very convenient. Of course, you'll need money for this, and getting money is mostly a part of the plot. Unfortunately, I haven't encountered any gambling places or possibilities to get a part-time job in "Nomad Soul" so far - a feature that was so convenient in "Shenmue".

The monotony of puzzle-solving is broken by two other gameplay modes in "Nomad Soul": fighting and shooting. Fighting mode is fairly simple and fun. There are several moves and combinations you can perform while fighting, as well as offensive and defensive strategies. Fighting takes place on a platform and is always one-on-one. The fights are neither very difficult nor too numerous. The cool part is the ability to improve your fighting skills by training. You can visit a master, train, and make your character stronger or quicker. This is a nice RPG-like addition to the game.

The first-person shooting mode is more developed than the fighting one, and shouldn't be taken lightly. There are only five or six shooting sequences in the game, if I recall correctly, but they are pretty long and fairly difficult. Although you do control various characters, none of them is a super-powered tank who can barely get hurt. You also don't have an ultra-strong weapon that blasts everything that stands on your way. The enemies are smart and will waste no time tracking me and shooting me to death. Your goal is usually not just to eliminate the enemies, but to complete a certain mission, like for example placing bombs to destroy a bridge. Shooting sequences appear mostly at important moments in the game, and often serve to advance the plot. The layout of the levels can get very complicated, and it is not always easy to find the correct path. I recall a particularly difficult level where I had to jump on roofs and to climb ladders in order to access a broadcasting antenna or something similar. It was very hard to find the way through the maze of roofs and ladders, and there were deadly robots wandering around that I couldn't kill.

Shooting mode is also used for two most important boss fights against demons. Since your opponents are not human, regular weapons won't work against them, and you'll have to use a special rod with unlimited charges that fires rays of energy. The second fight, which is also the final battle of the game, was very hard. The boss was almost invulnerable and I needed a lot of precision and patience in order to eliminate him. In short, "Nomad Soul" is quite a challenge as a shooter.

The Bad

Such a complex and experimental game as "Nomad Soul" cannot be perfect simply because it takes so much on itself. One of its problems is the lack of a smooth transition between the main adventure mode and shooting and fighting sequences. Once in a shooting mode, you can't do anything you used to do when in adventure mode, and also can't go back. The usual gameplay is stopped completely while you are involved in a shooting sequence. Medikits are used automatically, which can be a pain in the neck, especially if you have nearly all your energy, but the AI uses a large medikit for you. Most uncomfortably, you could almost never exit the shooting sequence and start it over. You should complete the sequence, which usually takes place in a bordered area, and you can't proceed with the game until you do it. I already mentioned the difficulty of those shooting parts. They become even more difficult because of the stupid saving system (see below) that doesn't allow you to save your progress at any place but in the very beginning of the level.

The fighting sequences are a bit too primitive, and also suffer from artificial transition: you can't move anywhere while fighting except along the little platform which is the battle field. The first couple of battles in the game were a bit too tough, while other were very easy and didn't offer enough challenge. Considering the ability to train your characters' fighting skills, this mode wasn't used enough in the game.

The adventure mode also has its share of problems. There are very few clues to the puzzles, and many times you'll be just wandering around, trying to figure out what to do next and how. The puzzles are also too tough, especially for such a game, which is supposed to be based more on exploration and interaction than on puzzle-solving. I remember some that literally drove me crazy.

The characters in the game are not very developed. I don't recall particularly memorable figures. I had the feeling the guys from Omikron just used me to do all the missions, without really helping me or at least making me feel comfortable. Of course, I got my share of praises for single-handedly saving their rotting planet from the demonic/computer-like threat, but somehow it wasn't enough. Couldn't I at least get a girl or something?..

One of the most annoying features of the game is its saving system, which is ridiculous. Save points system is generally an unpleasant thing, but in linear games with a constantly developing plot such as, for example, Final Fantasy, it doesn't matter much. You just proceed with the story, knowing that you'll meet save points on your way. But in free-roaming games like "Nomad Soul", where danger might await you at any coin, save point system is a crime. I would like to save each time before a shooting sequence - but I can't do that: I first have to go to the hero's apartment or wherever else, and then make all the way back to the crime scene and to engage myself in a fight. I want to save each time before attempting to solve a puzzle. Heck, I want to save each time before crossing the street, since any car can hit me and I might lose energy for nothing! Imagine a pure adventure game where you can die and which doesn't let you save at any time - and you'll understand how frustrating can this feature be in "Nomad Soul". But much more annoyingly, you have to use magic rings at a save point. If you are out of magic rings, you can't save your game at all. Who on earth came up with this idea?! Especially when the amount of rings is limited and you can't just purchase them at a store. This must be the single worst feature in the entire game, which can ruin a great deal of pleasure.

The Bottom Line

Despite its several shortcomings and irritating flaws, "Nomad Soul" is a deep, engaging, immersive, and original game. It must be in any adventurer's collection simply because there is none other like it. It captivates the player through its wonderful atmosphere, strong plot, great setting and design, and mostly its hybrid-like, versatile gameplay and the impressive size of its world. Overall, this is one of the finest examples of a large, epic adventure with action elements, and an important phenomenon in the age of genre-merging and experimentation.