Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Nomad Soul (PC) - Part 1

Omikron The Nomad Soul title logo pc
And the final 'N' game I'll be playing this year is late 90s possess 'em up The Nomad Soul. Or maybe this is actually the first 'O' game, seeing as it's labelled Omikron: The Nomad Soul outside of Europe (plus Omicron is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, represented by an 'O' and I'll shut up now).

Whatever you call it, this is Quantic Dream's debut game, released long before creator David Cage's obsession with QTEs and PlayStation 3s. It apparently was originally intended to make an appearance on one or both of the earlier PlayStations, but in the end only the PC and Dreamcast were graced with its presence.

Like always my plan is to play it for an hour or two, or however long I need to get a good idea of what kind of game it is, and show a whole lot of screenshots along the way.

Soul Nomad is a tactical role playing game by Nippon Ichi for the PlayStation 2 about a young hero who finds that he or she has been cursed to share their body with the soul of their world's greatest villain and is then sent out on a journey to form an army to smite evil!

This has absolutely nothing to do with Nomad Soul, but I can forgive you for getting the two games mixed up.

The Nomad Soul begins with a pre-rendered CGI intro, as was the fashion at the time. You know how some games start with an entirely unconnected advert, then pan away to reveal that it's actually being shown on a television in the world? Well this is one of those games. I'm struggling to actually name any other games that do this (besides Saints Row: The Third), but I'm sure this must have been a cliché even at the time.

Sorry, I'm being overly snarky again aren't I? I'm just annoyed that they covered this video in flickery lines so I can't make an animated gif out of it without the file size being ridiculous.

Well there it is, the cyberpunk looking city of Omikron that we'll presumably be spending most of the game walking the streets of. I tried to get a better shot of these streets, but there was a lot of fast cutting here showing the protagonist doing action stuff, so you'll have to live with this I'm afraid.

Our hero runs down an alleyway, he shoots a robot, he rides away on a bike, he beats someone up somewhere else entirely...

...he goes to a strip club?

Nope, he's not even in the room for this bit. This is just one of those pole dancing interludes I guess.

Hey, the protagonist just jumped out of a portal to interrupt my game and chat with me directly!

So okay Kay'l wants me to press the 'any' key to possess his body and enter his world, because I'm the only one who can save it... and that's all the information he's going to give me?

Dude, Kay'l, I've read Nigerian scam emails more persuasive than your pitch. You seemed like a pretty badass hero in the intro video, why not try saving the world yourself? I mean either way it's going to be your body doing it, so it might as well be you driving! You may be in a rush but me, I can leave this screen on for hours, so you might as well tell me what's going on.

It'd be even worse if I was playing the Dreamcast version, as I'd have to explain to him that I'm not using a computer and that my controller doesn't come with an 'any' key. Well, unless I got the Dreamcast keyboard out I suppose...

Oh my poor poor Dreamcast keyboard, used for two games of Quake III and then stored away ever since. Don't worry old friend, I'll find a purpose for you some day.

I took pity on the portal jumping policeman in the end, and this is my reward. Kay'l's body got pounced by a monster the second we returned to his universe, and now it's sucking the glowing green soul right out of him. This is starting to remind me of another game I played a few weeks back... only in Soul Reaver I was playing as the poor sucker who was doing the sucking.

Saved by a police mech at the last second! The guy may have the social skills and empathy of RoboCop, but he's armed like ED-209 so I'm still very glad to see him. Thank you cutscene robot!

Ah, I figured out how bring up the menu screen. There's our guy: first name Kay'l, last name 669. He looks like he's cosplaying as a male version of Joanna Dark but he's actually an investigating agent. He's received basic police training in combat and his interests are... 'void'? Well, I'm starting to see now why he needed to borrow someone else's soul.

Hey there's a page of stats over here as well. Seems that our man Kay'l may actually be an RPG hero!

Shame I've no idea what half of this means. Apparently energy is different to mana, speed is unrelated to dodge, and my fighting experience is so low it can't even be measured in numbers.

Leaving the alleyway triggered a long intro featuring flybys of the city streets, but I wasn't really paying much attention seeing as I've already seen them show the place off in the first intro! You can only introduce the player to something once.

The theme tune on the other hand is bit more interesting. It's a track called New Angels of Promise created by David Bowie for the game (youtube link for you there). He provided a few songs for the soundtrack, appears in game as two different characters, and his creepy blue face is on the US cover of the Dreamcast port. Not that David Bowie himself is blue; I mean his likeness was used for a creepy blue guy who presumably appears later in the game.

Anyway my inner monologue seems to think that Kay'l wants me to go to his apartment, even though he never told me where it is, and it's also showing a suspicious amount of knowledge of local terms like 'Sneak' and 'slider'. By the way it turns out that Sneak refers to that arm-mounted computer I brought up earlier to check his stats, and not the act of moving stealthily (gotta make a quick trip to the options screen to redefine some keys now).

Man, I'm definitely not the brains of this operation.

My inner monologue figured out the 'slider' is their word for 'taxi' and then intuited how to call one over with my computer. Then I took over, failed to find the door to get in, and then managed to get run over by the thing. At least it doesn't seem like it's possible for me to lose all my life like this, just most of it.

It's these bloody controls, that's what it is. The game has Resident Evil style movement with no separate camera stick, and I'm stuck using the keyboard because it hates my Xbox 360 pad. I had to unplug the thing to stop him walking backwards and if there's one thing I despise it's a game that makes me reach around the back of my PC and unplug my pad.

Whoa, Kay'l's got a nice place here. He's got a floating coffee table, a lizard tank, seating for a dozen people... facing towards the front door. I guess they must not have television or fireplaces in this universe, and lizards are boring.

Now that I'm indoors the camera has gone a bit on the Resident Evil side as well, switching between angles as I walk around, and I can't say it's making it any easier to figure out the floor plan. There are at least two doors leading out from here though I'm sure of it.

This door led to Kay'l's personal training room, where he can generate solid holograms to kick him in the face. I set it to the easiest difficulty to give it a try and you can see how well that's working out so far. My opponent's made of strips of projected light and he's still wiping the floor with me!

Combat is set up a lot like the 3D fighting games of the time, with its own set of controls. I've got two kicks, two punches, I can jump, duck, walk in two dimensions, and step in and out of the third. Presumably there's a way to block as well but I can't figure it out. I'm the last person who should be  passing judgement on fighting games, but my instincts say... this is kind of crap.

Oooh, magic floating rings in the kitchen! These are basically a save point, and saving seems like the smart thing to do right now.

My inner voice reveals that I get the impression that I'm the only one who can see them, which is probably because THERE IS NO ONE ELSE HERE. Dumbass.

Oh shit there's someone else here, and she's got a gun! Where's my gun, huh? Didn't Kay'l trust me with his sidearm or something?

The mysterious intruder gets a good look at Kay'l's face, then immediately throws her gun aside and runs up to hug him. Then she asks him where he's been and why he hasn't been in touch. Apparently the guy's been missing for a while.

Though I'm stuck watching this touching reunion from the Lizard tank cam. But hey, at least I've got dialogue options!

Obviously 'you wouldn't believe me' is right off the table, so I can either claim not to remember where Kay'l's been hiding over the last few days (which isn't technically a lie), or just come out with the truth.

I figure that I might as well tell her what actually happened, seeing as I could use an ally who's on the same page as me. Plus if Kay'l knows about soul jumping and dimensional portals she might know something about them too, right?
Kay'l? Are you sure you feel alright? Do you want me to call a Meditech?

No, I'm OK. I... I think I've lost my memory.
So much for choice then, as Kay'l automatically picks option #1 second time around. Though she believes the amnesia story instantly and suggests that I should go check out my office at Security Headquarters. First though I'm going to finish opening cupboards and pocketing everything I find. I'll have that gun off the floor as well.

I came across some food for Kay'l's lizard, so I decided to feed the guy and he went over to grab a key for me. Well trained little guy. Must have been staving too, as if Kay'l's mysterious associate had been feeding him then she'd have taken the key herself days ago.

Man I can't just keep calling her that. Hang on; I'm going to look this up.

Right, the internet assures me that she's called Telis. Plus apparently neither she nor Kay'l are emotionless robots, so I have no idea why that conversation was filled with lines like "tell me about the circumstances surrounding my disappearance."

Anyway, I've got myself a mysterious lizard key and a place to be, so I can leave the apartment now and head out into the city.

I've only got limited item space though, so I should really drop some stuff into the Multiplan storage system first. These are connected up across the city, so whatever I dump into one I can retrieve out of another. Something else inspired by Resident Evil, though at least it's stopped short of making me use ink ribbons to save.

You know what would've been cool though? Item descriptions. Some games love to add character to their world with long-winded descriptions of the objects within it, but this is like 'meh, it's a gun, whatever.' Our hero has next to no opinions about anything.

I tried to hijack a car and drive around the streets like a maniac, but it turns out that I can't, so I took a slider to work instead. This was a three step operation: first I had to watch the car drive through the streets to reach me, then I had to run up and find the door handle, then I had to watch it drive to the destination. I'm sure none of this is going to get old after the 50th taxi ride.

Am I the only one getting a bit of a 'Judge Dredd' vibe from this Security HQ? It's more like a bunker than a police precinct, with one giant metal door the only way to get inside.

Or Demolition Man actually! This is like the evil version of Demolition Man's future utopia... which I suppose is just Judge Dredd again.

Damn, I suddenly feel very self conscious about the fact that I'm the only one in here not leaning on a railing right now. Must be the toxic green fumes getting to them.

Okay the building has seven floors it seems, but none of the doors in here are labelled so I guess I have to try them all in turn until I find Kay'l's office.

Well now I know that it's on level -2 at least. Oh hang on; they're colour coded! All I have to do is memorise what colours are associated with the rooms I plan to visit! Eh, maybe I'll just write them down.

Oh, plus I'm deducting 10 points because the game doesn't let me enter numbers on keypads directly with my keyboard's numerical keypad. The game was developed for PCs first, they've got no excuse!

Right, well I've checked Kay'l's computer and looked up the case he was working on when he died. Wow, they're really committed to using that weird font for place names aren't they?

Turns out that Kay'l and his partner Den were both investigating a series of murders. Each time the bodies were horribly mutilated and the victims had been missing for four days before their bodies were found. Hey, Kay'l was missing for four days too!

I stumbled into my boss's office and tried to talk her into letting me back on the case, but it's not going to happen. For one thing Kay'l's partner Den has been killed as well and his long unexplained disappearance following the murder has made him a suspect. I can't even investigate the crime on my own as the case has been classified confidential by Commandant Gandhar, with all information sealed away in the archives.

Oh hang on a second, I'm getting a call.

Hey Telis. Well I'm kind of at work right now and you know that... but sure, I'll go to lunch with you. I wasn't much interested in doing Kay'l's job for him anyway.


People sure eat differently on this planet.

Poor possessed Kay'l makes another half-hearted attempted to explain that he's a video game player from another dimension, but he's interrupted with a call from the cops, instructing him to go deal with a hold-up at a supermarket. So I guess I'm doing that then.

There's a lot of awkward game design in Nomad Soul, but this journal in my Sneak is awesome. It doesn't do anything special, but just having a list of my current objectives is a huge help when I can't repeat conversations to refresh my memory (even if the thing is filled with police work I'm meant to be doing right now).

Right, I'll save at the restaurant just to make sure, then get a slider to the supermarket.

Oh shit; it's gone all first person shooter on me! And it's terrible!

It's a shame that this level is so short, because I feel like I need more time to work out what's making this combat as bad as it is. I've played GBA games with more satisfying gunplay than this.

Okay first up the feel is all wrong. Kay'l slides around the level like a hover tank, and once he's up to speed it's an effort to pull him back in the opposite direction. The gun hasn't the slightest recoil animation when it fires and the sound effects are puny. Plus I looked down and his feet are missing!

Second, it's no fun at all to engage these enemies. They seem to spawn into the level as I'm walking around; they either roll out from behind something, spring out from between boxes, or shoot me from behind. I thought they were being clever and moving to flank me at first, but nope it seems that they really do just appear behind me.

Seems to me that here's no ducking behind cover, there's no dodging bullets, there's no strategy, it's just about reactions. Bloke appears, move crosshairs over bloke's head.

As I walk down the stairs into the stock room the game switches from first person shooter to fighting game, and I have to drop the mouse and remember where I put my high kicks and low punches.

Kay'l's body seems to react to my inputs as if they're suggestions, and I'm still struggling to make a link between what I'm pressing and what's actually happening. I've managed to get him to do a three kick combo a few times, but it's hard to feel satisfied when the enemy just blocks it and then kicks me across the room. Basically, I'm entirely fucked here.

Do I manage to claw back victory from almost certain defeat? Find out in part two!

Semi-Random Game Box