CDMAG Preview

Putting the "adventure" back in Action/Adventure

Published by Eidos

Okay, action fans—I've heard you admit it. "Gee, it sure would be nice if there was a little more story to this shooter." And hardcore adventurers? You've been kvetching for years about the evils of most action hybrids. "They're stuffing the genre with shallow, twitchy box-stacking sims." So it should be interesting to see whether Eidos' upcoming 3D action/adventure Omikron manages to please both camps. Omikron seems to be, at its grafted little hybrid heart, a game with both punch and puzzles.

Its story looks pretty variable—an oddly coherent mishmash of sci-fi and mysticism, subtle investigation and direct force, hackneyed setups and highly unique twists. For example, there's little shock in the fact that you'll be playing a cop. Heck, it's practically a time-honored game tradition. But this time, wait, you're not actually a cop—you're really… you. As a computer user from planet Earth, you've personally been asked by Security Officer Kay'l to help save the city of Omikron. And to travel to this parallel world, you'll have to electronically transfer your soul into Kay'l's virtual body.

Don't be so surprised—in the high-tech, Orwellian city of Omikron, computers can do marvelous things, such as digitally storing inventory items, flawlessly directing a crowded traffic grid, and carefully controlling every aspect of human behavior and society so that Omikron's residents display an acceptable average level of happiness and productivity. (Paranoia fans, just repeat to yourselves, "be happy, citizen—the computer is your friend!") Compared to such feats of technological wizardry, what's a simple soul upload? Child's play.

Once you step through the portal to Kay'l's world, you'll be attacked by a demon, saved by a 'mech, introduced to the essential creepiness of an over-regulated society, treated to a really spiffy theme song, and seduced by a woman who claims to be your wife. All within the first ten minutes of gameplay. With these opening pleasantries out of the way, your situation devolves rapidly into murder, suspicion, betrayal, and conspiracy.

Riddle me this

As befits a true adventure, much of the story will be carried through dialogue with other characters. You'll have to chat with many folks to build a clear impression of the world you're trying to save. In addition, the traditional inventory-based puzzles (give the reptile chow to the lizard so that it will fetch you a key) seem well represented in this title, despite its 3D-accelerated, dark-landscaped, pop-icon-scored resemblance to a hardcore action game.

This is not to say, of course, that action fans won't find their share of real-time mayhem in Omikron. Remember, you'll be playing a futuristic cop, and they have hostage situations for breakfast.

Hand-to-hand combat seems fairly straightforward—once an enemy approaches, your perspective will rotate to a side view reminiscent of many console fighting games. The joypad keys are then reassigned from their usual functions to a variety of physical moves, and pressing combinations of these action and movement keys will create some of the elaborate martial arts attacks we've all grown to know and envy.

Firearm combat, on the other hand, will be handled a bit differently. Whenever you enter an enemy's range, the normal third-person, Tomb Raider-esque interface will be replaced with a first-person view, complete with little red crosshair in the center. The trick, of course, is simple—make sure the bad guy is targeted, then shoot him.

To prevent frustration, training areas will be available for both flavors of combat, giving traditional adventure players a chance to get used to the concept and console action junkies an opportunity to see how the controls differ from whatever they might have played yesterday.

Nuts and bolts

Of course, if the residents of an otherworldly city are going to ask to borrow your soul, they'd better make the trip worthwhile—no cheesy graphics, no endless string of box-filled warehouses, no B-movie voice acting. From what we've seen so far, Omikron definitely delivers. The domed city is a brooding, darkened place, employing the game's proprietary 3D indoor/outdoor engine to create a Max Headroom-like atmosphere. Advertising signs light patches of featureless sidewalk, police 'mecha keep a wary eye on passing citizens, and the building interiors are beautifully tailored to their function and the status of their owners. A definite sense of "have and have not" becomes eerily apparent when comparing the apartments of Kay'l the cop and a cargo worker he's sent to interrogate.

Those who serve the system are rewarded. Huxley would be proud.

The game's interface seems extremely simple, allowing the entire range of movement and actions to be selected via a PC gamepad. An imaginative piece of fiction lends in-game credence to the elementary controls—each resident of Omikron wears a wrist-mounted computer called a Sneak, which ties into the city's central computer and allows them to access various basic functions. By using this device (or, in real-world terms, by pushing the M button on your gamepad), you can access your personal log, call a taxi to any useful destination in the city ("spent" locations will disappear from the list), use any mystical rings you may have (to save the game), or check your inventory items, which are allegedly digitized into the Sneak when you pick them up. Although the number of inventory slots is limited, items can be transferred to the city's networked storage system, Multiplan, and saved until needed.

Non-gamepad users should be able to get by with a set of keyboard commands, but currently the gamepad seems to be the more effective choice for easy control. Either way, though, Omikron promises easy accessibility to anyone who has played a console RPG or fighting game.

The soundtrack is equally noteworthy. In an attempt to both create an unearthly musical environment and maximize the mass-market potential of the game, Omikron's creators went straight to the top—perennial rock star David Bowie. Rather than licensing a selection of pre-existing songs, however, the team quickly found themselves talked into an entirely new collection of music by a very enthusiastic Bowie. Aside from contributing his very considerable musical talent to the project, the former Ziggy Stardust also appears in Omikron as a digitized freedom fighter.

Death, and the art of saving games

Impressive and entertaining as the game may look at this early beta stage, there is nonetheless one worrisome factor to consider—Omikron might be trying a little too hard to resemble a console title. Sadly, this consolewannabeism is a common malady among action/adventures, and Omikron exhibits its most classic symptom—restricting the player to pre-determined "save points".

The game's most fascinating feature, however, might help to compensate for the savegame limitation. This is Omikron's central concept—that you, as the player, are really the "soul" of your machine. So if one character falls victim to your ill-considered actions, you should simply be able to move on and find another virtual host. (Assuming, of course, that the high-tech medics of Omikron City can't just save your borrowed butt with their handy regeneration beams.)

With any luck, Omikron may be the first game to make frequent saving not merely unnecessary, but actively uninteresting. After all, you never know when the next available body might have all the… features… you've been craving.

Autor: Cindy Vanous
Source: CD MAG

CDMAG Preview Monday, August 02, 1999

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