Remember when Quantic Dream actually developed video games rather than glorified movies that let you walk forward on occasion? I know it sounds crazy, but that actually happened. Granted, the later games Quantic Dream developed had intriguing and involving narratives, but they still were too akin to films with little gameplay. In the wake of David Bowie's unfortunate passing, we've decided to go all the way back to 1999. Which saw the release of Quantic Dream's first video game that had story input, cameos, and original game tracks by the man, the myth, the legend, David Bowie; in Omikron: The Nomad Soul.
Omikron: The Nomad Soul may have the strangest story in video game history, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Nomad Soul begins with our protagonist, Kay'l 669, directly speaking to the player. Kay'l 669 asks the player if they can help save his dimension, but first, the player must "transfer their soul" into the body of Kay'l so they may control him. Things only get stranger from here. After the player "transfers their soul" into the body of Kay'l, he is then transported into Omikron; a dark cyberpunk city on a world called Phaenon. Once the player enters Omikron as Kay'l 669, they must continue his investigation into a string of serial killings with his partner, Den. This quickly escalates into anti-government conspiracies, demons, and an ancient religious order led by David Bowie himself (as a character known as "Boz").
The plot initially feels overwhelming and convoluted, but once you trek further into The Nomad Soul's narrative and begin to understand what exactly is going on, you will quickly become engrossed in this world's story. Admittedly, to me at first, the story felt too strange and awkward at first.
This almost got me to completely give up on The Nomad Soul, but I was glad that I sat through until the end because my initial feelings soon went away. The Nomad Soul's story isn't perfect though. While the overall plot eventually gets more engaging, the characters always feel so one dimensional. You never care about their struggles or how their fates play into the overall scheme of everything. That is with the exception of one character.
I'd be going too deep into spoiler territory if I said too much, but David Bowie's performance as Boz is absolutely fantastic. Although Boz has odd motivations and isn't around long enough to become likable, David Bowie portrays him in a way that intrigues you every second he's on screen. I even purchased Omikron: The Nomad Soul again on Steam to play through to his part.
For 1999, the graphics are fairly good. The darker shading and non-reflective surfaces help bring the dark Blade Runner-esque world to life. Granted, the graphics were good, but they weren't anything to write home about.
Sadly, this is a poorly optimized game. The only settings you are given to tweak are resolution, clipping distance, display sky, display shadow, street activity, and detail level.
This may not sound like an issue since most of our computers were built after the dinosaurs died off, but there is also a 30fps lock that hinders your experience with the game. I even had an issue running at a framerate above 20fps due to an issue with the 30 fps lock.
The Nomad Soul also happened to be one of the earlier games to use motion capture technology for some actors, including David Bowie. The technology was still fairly primitive back in 1999 for games, but it was still nice to see slightly more animated faces on some characters.
Decent gameplay and Quantic Dream usually get along together about as well as Anakin Skywalker and a group of younglings. So, is it different in this case? Yes and no. Yes, there is a lot more gameplay in The Nomad Soul than what you will find in Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls, but it feels pretty awkward and clunky. I can't really blame the game for that because a lot of older games played in modern times feel clunky and awkward. Times change and so does player accessibility.
There are two types of combat gameplay. First, we have hand to hand combat. Hand to hand is also the less awkward of the two. Once you've engaged in a fisty cuffs battle, you control kicking and punching with the WASD keys. I never could get a good pattern so I just mashed them until I won. The second is gun combat. Once you are given a gun, you are put into a first person perspective. While serviceable, the gunplay in The Nomad Soul feels stiff. Especially when you have enemies from all sides and you have to work with the Resident Evil style tank controls. Overall I've had better, but I've also had much worse.
With the inclusion of David Bowie, you would think that the soundtrack would be absolutely amazing, right? Well, it certainly is great, but it falls short of perfection because of the lack of David Bowie sung songs. There are a few songs sung by Bowie himself, but the rest from him are purely instrumentals and you would have to be a diehard Bowie fan to notice. The other side of the soundtrack comes from Reeves Gabrels. His additions are also good and add to the dark cyberpunk vibe. Gabrels' additions also sound akin to Bowie's genre of music.
Voice acting in The Nomad Soul is also convincing with an exceptional performance from David Bowie himself as Boz. The distorted computerized effect to his voice is also a great addition. A lot of expository dialogue is, unfortunately, just in text. This is most similar to examining an object in Silent Hill and Resident Evil. Along with the fixed camera positions, you will be right at home to many of the features of The Nomad Soul if you are coming off of Resident Evil or Silent Hill.
With the inclusion of many strange features and elements, one would think that Omikron: The Nomad Soul doesn't always know what it wants to be. And you may be right with that conclusion, but that doesn't make it a bad game. In fact, The Nomad Soul does just enough different from other games to remain entirely unique. This is an Underrated Gem in every sense of the word. Just as I did for the late Lemmy Kilmister with Brutal Legend (which was uploaded before his passing), this Underrated Gems article is dedicated to David Bowie.
I suppose it's understandable to see why many people forgot about this gem, but that doesn't mean it's a bad game. It may take some extra hoops to jump through to get this to run on modern machines, but you can still buy Omikron: The Nomad Soul on both Steam and GOG for less than usual microtransaction. I highly recommend you give this game a try.
This is arguably Quantic Dream's best game. An intriguing story, David Bowie, a great soundtrack, AND actual gameplay? It feels like a dream, but it's not. It's a Quantic Dream.
Rest in peace, David Bowie (1947 - 2016)