Omikron: The Nomad Soul is a lot like the Titanic, so incredible and awe-inspiringly awesome at first that you tell yourself that it could never sink. Then Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” starts playing on repeat, and you shrug it off, sure that it’ll stop eventually. It never does. Soon you’re desperately clutching at denial, telling yourself that things will eventually become brilliant like the beginning while the boat capsizes and random passengers are thrown off into the icy water. Eventually, as you look down at the hundreds of frozen corpses, many cut into small pieces on the propeller blades of your once-magnificent ship, you realize what you should have known the whole time—this wasn’t as fun of a trip as it was supposed to be.
It starts off so good, too. Like the lovechild of Snatcher (for the Sega CD) and Blade Runner, you’re constantly forced to question everything around you, and the futuristic atmosphere that lends to this is both suffocating and fittingly impersonal. It’s the best kind of cyberpunk, simultaneously presenting a claustrophobic world and a small group of people, any of whom could be the enemy. The problem is that it doesn’t maintain this. The first third of the game is incredible and exactly the kind of game that the industry needs more of, but the remainder of the game devolves into a boring, predictable, agonizingly repetitive attempt to shove in as much “bad” as possible.
It seems like two completely different people wrote the beginning and end, or maybe one person with two different personalities. One of those personalities understood that the characters are the most important part of a game like this, and as a result, you’re presented with a bunch of interesting people in the beginning. The other personality clearly felt that gameplay gimmicks are more valuable than those characters, because the latter two-thirds of the game are populated by bland, uninteresting shells. Part of that is due to the fact that the beginning focuses on a specific character while the later parts allow you to “reincarnate” into various NPCs, so the game can’t really craft anything compelling based on who you are since there are too many potential people you could be.
It’s a waste. The body-switching mechanic is woefully underused and mostly just an uninteresting gimmick, nowhere near valuable enough to justify losing characters who relate to one another. The first character you take control of has a wife, a partner, a job—everything you need to feel like you’re truly that person and put you into situations where everything is interconnected. None of the other characters (and you can only go into specific ones) have that, mostly just being there to progress the plot. Who you are stops mattering midway through the story, and you’re eventually just referred to as “Nomad Soul,” completely independent of which body you’re inhabiting. It makes the whole mechanic feel superficial and empty.
When you’re referred to as “Nomad Soul,” characters are breaking the fourth wall and talking about you the player. You’re apparently not playing a computer/Dreamcast game…no, you’re taking control of someone from another universe. While this is amusingly campy at first, the characters keep trying to make it clear that you the player are controlling people from an alternate universe, and you are not from here, and this is not a game, and all of this is real. It quickly stops being amusing and jumps straight into being mind-numbingly stupid and grating.
The controls in Omikron are atrocious, so bad that I literally hit my computer out of rage. You have different control sets for walking around, swimming, shooting, and fighting, and it’s incredibly irritating. The fighting controls are the only ones that feel at all natural, and constantly switching back and forth between control sets is unnecessarily annoying. Fell into water accidentally because there’s a ton of it and the Resident Evil-esque “walking around” controls aren’t tight enough? Now you’re using the swimming controls. This happens enough to be hugely irritating, and what purpose does it serve? None. It’s just annoying for no obvious reason. Even worse, there are some sections that are vaguely platformer-ish, and the awkward movement the control setup affords simply isn’t tight enough for it to work.
The “walking around” controls are just like they are in Fahrenheit, but unlike Omikron, they actually work in that game. The difference is the environment; while Fahrenheit is intuitively laid out, never forcing you to run across overly-large areas looking for a door, that’s exactly what Omikron does, and while the environment that you start out in is largely open and easy to navigate, later on you open up sections of the city that are unnecessarily labyrinthine. Oftentimes doors that look identical to one another are packed into tight corners that are frustrating to get to given how slowly your character turns, and many of them aren’t doors at all, but just decorations that look like doors to give you the illusion that the game is bigger than it is. To try and drive home the “bigness” of the game, a huge number of generic NPCs are walking around these areas. However, they’re so generic and parts of the city so difficult to navigate with the clunky controls that it actually winds up making the city feel tedious and empty to walk around.
Another problem is that the game is borderline unplayable on some computers that use ATI graphics. I don’t know the specifics, but there are black blocks that obscure the screen and there doesn’t seem to be a solution (nor is it likely there ever will be, given this game’s age). Playing it on a non-ATI computer worked for me, but using the map crashed the game, meaning I had to do a lot of unnecessary exploring that frustrated the hell out of me. This is the only game I’ve ever had these kinds of problems with.
Okay, I’ve been avoiding it, but I have to talk about the story now: It’s a huge letdown. Seriously. It starts out brilliant, but everything after exploring your partner’s apartment is worthless, and the game should have just ended there. It would have been short and made very little sense, but that would still be a better game than Omikron. Instead, they forced a ton of that you’re-the-only-one-who-can-save-us garbage into the later portions of the game, completely removing the paranoid atmosphere and feeling of government oppression they’d built up to that point in favor of the same boring “good versus evil” matchup you’ve likely gone through a billion and a half times before. Spoiler alert: Good wins. Twists? Not in the later portions of the game. Just a linear only-you-can-save-the-world-and-then-you-do bore-fest. Linear games are supposed to have interesting stories, and this story doesn’t just fail to live up to its potential—it uses a chainsaw to cut off the promising early story’s face and tries to wear it. Yes, the two vaguely resemble one another. No, it’s not the same thing.
I’m not big on puzzles, so I can’t really judge the game on its puzzles. I will, however, say that I found that they ran the gamut from stupid to random and unintuitive, a problem compounded by many of the puzzles requiring reading. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a problem, but the font that virtually everything uses in the game is this weird futuristic loopy thing that’s barely legible. Rather than being able to just read the clues and figure everything out like a normal game, you’re forced to squint your eyes and try to slowly piece together what the clues say. Even once you understand them, it’s not uncommon for what they say to be completely wrong. I was going to make a “spell” using some ingredients, and something I read said that I needed seven of one ingredient. Well, you can only hold 18 things at a time and I’m fairly certain there’s no way to just drop items, so I left some health at a terminal that holds your things and got seven of that thing. Turns out you only need one. Why does it say seven? I truly don’t know the answer to that question.
All of that could be forgiven if not for the shooting mode in this game. It’s quite possibly the poorest, most random implementation of a shooter I’ve ever seen. In several mandatory sections, you switch into first-person mode (and yay, the controls switch again!) and have to walk around an area shooting enemies. Thing is, they randomly appear and have inerrant aim. Movement is awkward even once you’ve customized the controls to your personal taste, so you’ll be getting hit by a lot of enemies who spawn out of thin air (sometimes they even appear behind you after you clear out an area). It’s hilariously bad, but you won’t be laughing. Worst of all, it’s buggy: Three times I encountered enemies who were completely immune to being shot. I was using the right weapon that killed all their buddies before, and they were the same kind of generic enemy, but suddenly they were completely invincible for no obvious reason. As I shot them hundreds of times in the face while wondering what the hell was going on, they returned the favor and eventually killed me. Here’s the fun part: When you respawn, all of the enemies respawn, too. You get to do all of that fun stuff from the beginning! Yay! Sigh… these sections will likely be easy for FPS veterans familiar with older shooters, but those of us who don’t live and breathe FPS games will likely find this an insanely frustrating thing to include.
The mechanics behind fighting are similarly jarring, suddenly switching to a Tekken-esque fighting game (with—you guessed it—new controls!). Fortunately, these sections actually work better than the shooting sections, and your fighting skills can be leveled up to make it easier on you. It seems completely pointless to include so many different modes, though—the overlap between those who like puzzles and shooters and fighting games is probably pretty small, so rather than bringing people in by being really good at one thing, Omikron manages to all but guarantee that it’ll be frustrating and annoying to almost everyone at some point. This game is truly a cautionary tale against trying to be too many things at once.
The first thing you’ll notice about Omikron is the music at the main menu—it’s awesome. Don’t be fooled, though: The in-game music is less interesting than that, ranging from bland and uninspired to headache-inducing, and the fact that so much of it gets repeated doesn’t help at all. Graphics are strange, with the character models looking really, really odd, especially when they talk. Maybe it was cutting-edge when it was released (probably not), but now it’s just weird to look at. Some of the areas are interesting from an art design perspective, though, as per this game’s apparent desire to hide its good side, those areas often end up being those you spend the least amount of time in.
When it comes down to it, those who love this game love it purely out of nostalgia, and even they are probably only remembering the first third of the game. The first third is so good that it’s easy to be deceived into thinking that this is an amazing old gem. It isn’t. If you’re interested in this game and have heard good things (as I did), know that the beginning is the only good part of the game, and everything else is a completely worthless waste of time.
Here’s what you should do: