Some of you may know that Quantic Dream’s latest big title, Detroit: Become Human came out recently. It was huge. They advertised it with creepy androids in Sydney and they were also at PAX Australia. They waved at me and I hated it. Spooky. Anyway, before this, way back in 1999, David Cage and his team at Quantic Dream had a dream of their own. To make a video game. And they did. They did, and years later, in 2018, I had to suffer because of it.
Let’s take a look at Omikron: The Nomad Soul. There will be a few spoilers but given this game is nearly 20 years old, I think that’s fair.
So. You, the player, are the central character in this game. You’re drawn in, and you inhabit the body of a human that lives in Omikron, a huge sprawling country/city/thing in a digital world. It begins with a conspiracy, who murdered your bodies previous soul and his partner? Who at the local police is actually the one that did it? And not just that, but a literal demon? And then you find out, and then you discover this is actually a very small part of the plot as the demon thing comes to the forefront and you discover that your soul is trapped in this video game. Also there’s another conspiracy. Or a few. It just gets more convoluted as it progresses.
Quantic Dream looked at the idea of making a video game and then realized, they didn’t exactly know what kind they wanted to make. It’s an RPG first and foremost, evoking feelings of Deus Ex, which came out a year later. You have quests, things to do, different ways to approach things. Although unlike Deus Ex, which clearly laid out your options and even had a few hidden behind creativity, Omikron approaches this with the logic of an old LucasArts or Sierra adventure game. Which is, it all makes very little sense and seems to think you need to know the answer to the puzzle before the game gives it to you.
But this is only the beginning, as I walk around this sprawling city with poor tank controls that remind me of early Tomb Raider titles, but with even less finesse. You can take a taxi to your destinations, of course, but the first few times I tried this the game refused to acknowledge my entering them because I wasn’t at the exact right angle, the taxi then became impatient and drove off, running me over. Fine, alright, I can learn to do that better. So then I get to my apartment. My apartment, for some reason, contains a full combat simulator. I guess because I’m a cop? So I do that. I’m thrown into Tekken, out of nowhere. A 1v1 fighting game, complete with awkward combos that don’t connect properly and AI that blocks everything I do before I do it. I discover I am not having fun.
The icing on this cake is when I am suddenly thrown into yet another genre busting experience. The worst, most unresponsive FPS I have ever played. I walk into a supermarket and suddenly the camera is first person, I’m being shot at from all angles, and the tank control slowness persists as I desperately try to turn around and shoot at the bad guys who seem to all be far more agile and well equipped to this strange universe of janky movement and unresponsive hitboxes.
I think it was a little after this I gave up and watched the rest of the game on Youtube and I was not missing anything. The player joins a cult who can see the demons. The cult is lead by David Bowie. Literally David Bowie, but like, magic AI David Bowie. This is important, because it’s the first and only time he contributed the soundtrack to a video game.
Which makes me think, I could have been watching Labyrinth this entire time. I could have been enjoying the whimsical world of Jim Henson and his various muppets. The musical numbers. The bulge (you know what I’m talking about).
But instead I’m stuck in the dreary sci-fi world of Omikron, with its stone walls, advanced technology, glitches, things clipping in constantly, half the town not loading and leaving me in an uncomfortable abyss as the same three people walk past me over and over again.
I think about it a lot, what this game could have been. The idea of your soul being trapped in a game, leading to commentary on the relationship between a player and their game, would have been really exciting and to a score by David Bowie Instead, this plot thread gives way to ‘you’re the chosen hero from another universe’ and prophecies I’ve seen a thousand times.
It is interesting to see the beginning of Quantum Dream as a studio, and the beginning of a lot of their gameplay staples like alternating between characters, girls with short hair, uncomfortable scenes of ‘sexy’ women, commentary on modern issues.
But I’m so tired. I didn’t deserve this. I couldn’t read anything in the game because the font was bad. David Bowie didn’t deserve this. I want to go home.