Sweet As Syrup: Omikron The Nomad Soul Review

When it comes to music, I’d say I’m a connoisseur. I’m willing to listen to any kind of song, as long as it’s catchy. That’s not so say that there aren’t genres of music that I don’t hold in higher regard, which there are. One genre that I hold in high-esteem would have to be rock ‘n’ roll. To me, there was a singular individual who defined this genre: David Bowie. Sure, there were tons of great singers and bands in this genre, some of which were more prolific than David Bowie. However, Bowie was a musician who was willing to experiment, more so than other performers. I don’t mean just experimenting with music, but experimenting with all kinds of different media.

Despite being gone now, David Bowie is often remember for the classic that is “Labyrinth”, but that’s not all he has been involved in. Back in 1999, David Bowie created the soundtrack for a game called “Omikron”; as well as appearing as two different characters in-game. I want to talk about this game today and give my honest opinion on it. Omikron is certainly a game with a lot of jank to it and it has certainly not aged well. Does that make it a bad game? Well, let’s discuss this game in-depth and see!

Omikron_-_The_Nomad_Soul_Coverart
You got a little something in your eye… (Cover image property of Quantic Dream and Square Enix)

Need To Know Information

This game was developed by Quantic Dream in the year 1999, released for both PC and Dreamcast. Most of the music for the game was composed by David Bowie, who also lent his vocal talents to some of the characters in the game. The game was unique for its time, breaking the forth wall constantly and deconstructing the many genre elements associated with videogames. A couple of sequels were planned for Omikron, but have either been shelved or cancelled outright. To date, Omikron is the only game in its series and the only game of its kind. The game blended RPG, puzzle, adventure, and fighting game mechanics to form something unique. The developers have to referred to it as a “Soul-Playing Game”.

Plot

The game opens in a very meta way, having a game character directly address you, the player. This character is Kayl, and he needs your help. Demons have begun manifesting his reality, and you are the only one who can stop them. Your soul is sent into Kayl’s body, as you take over both his body and personality. You, the player, have now replaced Kayl and must solve a murder-plot which goes much deeper than you thought. At the same time, you must stop demons from claiming your soul.

I found it to be a very intriguing plot, especially the way it blended a cyberpunk plot with a meta-narrative. Unfortunately, I found the lore and setting to be a bit confusing at times. A good example of this is the demons you fight in the game. I was under the impression that all demons were after your soul, but things became a little muddled when I entered the tournament arena. In this arena, you fight these strange hairy-legged demons that don’t steal your soul when you lose. Maybe these demons were just different, but I was left thoroughly confused. Still, I found the plot to be very enjoyable overall, despite some minor lore hiccups.

Gameplay

Omikron flounders a bit in the gameplay development. Actually, a bit would be an understatement. Omikron’s gameplay is one of the things that keeps stopping me from getting fully immersed in the experience. The game focuses on fusing gameplay from five different game genres: Adventure, puzzle, fighting, open-world RPG, and first-person shooting. I’ll start with the gameplay types I found to be the most enjoyable. I liked the adventure aspects of the game. It was fun getting to run around an open-world, a bizarre futuristic city-scape. The controls are a bit wonky for the adventure part of the game, though. For some odd reason, the game uses tank controls. I found this to be annoying and cumbersome, especially when the game asked me to do platforming sections. Yeah, tank controls were not meant for platforming, even if the platforming parts were few and far between.

The puzzle aspects of the game were also very fun, at least in my opinion. Some of the solutions to puzzles were rather interesting, and some required some creative thinking. A puzzle may require you getting sleeping pills, so you can drug the chief of police and rummage through her office for precious info. Combining items as well as finding clever solutions is the name of the game here. Sometimes, a puzzle may have two different solutions which lead to two completely different results. I never found myself being stuck on a puzzle for too long, though the answers to some of them felt a bit obtuse. One such puzzle has you looking for a “secret” rock concert.

The instructions are very clear on where you need to go, yet still somewhat obtuse. For example, it tells you to look for an “antennae”. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, you’re actually supposed to follow the directions and find a satellite. Then why not just say satellite? Satellite and antennae do go hand in hand, but this game is set in a world which is meant to be foreign to the player. How is a common player supposed to know that an antennae is just a satellite, especially when everything else in the game is filled with strange and foreign concepts? I get that the puzzle can’t tell you the exact answer, but if you’re giving someone directions you kind of have to be a bit clearer than that. To be fair, that puzzle is completely optional. Other than that minor annoyance, I found most puzzles to be serviceable.

You know what isn’t serviceable, though? The first-person-shooter segments. Moving and shooting becomes an annoyance, mainly due to the computer controls. Luckily, I used a USB controller and a mod that helped out considerably. Despite this, I still found myself having to use both the controller and my keyboard at the same time in order to shoot manually. Most of the shooter segments just involve you trying to shoot a group of enemies until they die, or trying to wipe out a boss and his cronies. I never found these segments to be particularly enjoyable. My character just felt too floaty when in combat and most enemies can shoot you with perfect range as soon as they spot you. It doesn`t help that most FPS segments fail to result in a gameover screen. Most of these parts will just slap you on the wrist, unless it is a battle against a demon. Because of this, most FPS segments feel pointless since losing isn`t a big deal.

The RPG segments are pretty good, kind of. It`s cool getting to upgrade my character and make him/her stronger, but it feels a bit too grind-y. And do not get me started on that awkward inventory system that requires you to switch out an upwards of 20-30 items from you bank per chapter. In order to get stronger, you have to train by doing FPS or fighting game segments. You do this by entering combat tournaments or VR training. The tournaments always annoyed me, as they made it way too easy to make a ton of cash easy. The VR training was especially annoying, as I would have to run through one of those terrible first-person segments just to touch a post and then run back, all without getting shot at. The controls really prevented the VR training from being all that entertaining, as I found myself pivoting around awkwardly on a consistent basis.

Finally, we have the fighting game segments. These are actually kind of fun, I enjoyed them a lot! It’s your typical Virtua Fighter / Tekken type set-up. You have various kicks, punches, and combos you can pull off. This seems pretty simple, until you realize that blocking an attack is completely random. Sure, you can increase the chance of blocking an attack by levelling up your defence, but you’ll find that enemies seem to block more attacks than you no matter how strong you get. I’ve engaged in fights in the game that take a super long time, mainly due to how many of my attacks were being blocked.

Besides the various gameplay types, the game also lets you jump into other bodies. You see, if your body perishes in a fight with someone who isn’t a demon, you can simply jump to another body. You can also possess other bodies as well, once you get further into the game. This is a cool dynamic, but all bodies pretty much play the same. The only real difference is the stats associated with them. It’s a cool idea, it just feels like more could have been done with it really. To be fair, it’s really cool getting to hop into the life of a game character and explore their reality. All in all, I’d have to say that the gameplay is a mixed bag. Some gameplay elements are great, but a lot of them crumble under their own weight.

Visual Stimuli

The soundtrack of this game is amazing! Davie Bowie really brought his A-game to this project, and it shows. From the title track “New Angels Of Promise” to the various tracks peppered throughout the game, every single track in this game oozes with personality. There are a few generic tracks in here from time to time, but most of it sounds pretty good. I can’t say the same about the character designs though, which did not age well. Keeping in mind that Shenmue came out the same year and for the same console, it’s a little disheartening that the characters in Omikron look early models from the pilot of Reboot. Character animations are stilted and awkward, and no one moves naturally.

The menus are fairly chaotic, especially the aforementioned inventory system. Thumbing through an inventory has never been this tedious before. The voice-acting is also another detriment to this game. Characters either sound good, passable, or in most cases, absolutely dreadful. David Bowie does a great job as the two characters he’s cast to play, but several characters in the game sound constipated or weird. To be fair, mixed-bag voice acting was common for games at the time. It doesn’t change that the fact that it’s still somewhat disappointing.

In Summation

This is really a hard game to give a final opinion on. It’s an amazing undertaking and a great concept, just wrapped up with bizarre gameplay choices and below-average voice acting. As great as it was hearing the late great David Bowie provide his amazing vocals to this game, it doesn’t save it from being fairly forgettable. This game was also a bit of a pain to get running initially, due to it being so old. I recommend this game if you are interested, though. Keep in mind that this game can be a bit tough to play, as some of the gameplay elements have not aged well at all. This game won’t be for everybody, but if you like cyberpunk stories and David Bowie, it’s definitely worth checking out. I can’t say that this game as sweet as syrup, but it is definitely an 6.5/10. It’s good, but not great. Play it with caution, as this game can be a bit of a nuisance to get properly running. I suggest getting this game when it goes on sale on Steam, if you’re morbidly curious.

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