Good Old Reviews
Omikron: The Nomad Soul - Flawed Game, Pure Soul

Marshall Lemon | 6 Feb 2016 14:00
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Original Release: 1999. Platforms: PC (reviewed), Sega Dreamcast. Developer: Quantic Dream. Publisher: Eidos Interactive (physical), Square Enix (digital). Available on GOG, Steam.

I wasn't expecting to stumble into a David Bowie concert a month after his passing. And I certainly didn't expect it to happen in a video game.

At the time, my experience with Omikron: The Nomad Soul wasn't going well. Technical difficulties had consumed my first save file, and a second playthrough was only reinforcing the game's awkward mechanics and limitations. My current objective was to find a specific electronics repair shop without knowing the address, forcing a manual search of each building in the zone. I uncovered one interchangeable bar, strip club, and sex shop after another, without so much as a random encounter to spice up the search.

Entering yet another bar, I started to turn back - but hesitated. A crowd was gathered here, intently focused on a strangely dressed NPC on a nearby stage. Curious, I stepped closer, and realized this was David Bowie himself. He started to sing "Survive", and even if this wasn't an unskippable cutscene I couldn't have looked away. Hearing him say "Who said time is on my side" - or hell, repeating "I'll survive" - felt like a punch in the gut. All the annoying glitches, limitations, and mission objectives were quickly forgotten, and I suddenly felt like part of the game world.

Objectively, I know this scene aged as poorly as everything else in Omikron: The Nomad Soul. I probably wouldn't have given it another thought without the tragic context of Bowie's death in January. But in a strange way, the experience was like Omikron on the whole - an awkward and clearly flawed experience that somehow surprises you with moments of genuine creative spirit. Or a soul, if you prefer.

Omikron takes place in a dystopian parallel universe, where humanity is ruled by an oppressive totalitarian government. As the game opens, a futuristic police officer named Kay'l breaches the dimensional barrier and requests your help. His world is in danger, and needs a player from our world to upload their soul into Omikron to stop it. You are literally the Nomad Soul of the title, exploring a strange city and fighting the demonic forces which threaten it.

Let's get this much out of the way: Omikron's PC edition has some major technical problems on modern systems, even in GOG.com's patched executable. Higher display settings might run perfectly well in-game, only to crash once you restart. If this happens, there's a Settings application which lets you switch resolutions, but no options were displayed on my Windows 10 system. Manually deleting the configuration file resets the issue, but for some godawful reason Omikron stores your saved games in the exact same file. In short, once you've tweaked your settings, restart the game to make sure it works and never touch them again.

Once you're sure Omikron is working, you'll "upload your soul" to explore its fully realized world. And we know this is a fully realized world, because that's what other characters tell you. Kay'l even claims Omikron is a real place where progress cannot be saved, forcing you to live with the consequences of your actions. It's certainly a unique concept with great gameplay applications - that is debunked within 10 minutes.(The fact that you actually can save the game kinda gives it away.)

Oh, Omikron certainly looks like a self-sufficient world at first glance. It presents you with a fully-explorable city, bookshops, grocery stores, apartment buildings, and more. The streets are filled with civilians and vehicles going about their business, some of whom you can interact with. Omikron even uses some parallel universe language which resembles English with distorted fonts. But Omikron's "this is a real world" premise falls apart almost immediately. Wandering NPCs and vehicles never actually go anywhere, making U-turns on the map's edge and refusing to enter buildings. Dialogue options explaining crucial details - like your partner's murder or wife's name - can be skipped while the game assumes you've figured it out.

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