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Vol. 2, Issue 15
March 15, 2000

Pixel Obscura:

Have Soul, Will Travel

by Josh Vasquez


.“brother can you spare a body?”

he premise behind Omikron:The Nomad Soul, developed by Quantric Dream, is that the soul is transportable, able to move with a disturbing fluidity between “shells.”  It is appropriate therefore that the game’s cinematics are so centered around constant movement.  During the opening credits sequence, we are forever moving forward, flowing with a preternatural smoothness down streets, across courtyards and above the city as David Bowie’s neo-futuristic title song (written explicitly for the game) hums like a crackling current.  Every cut is a shift from the end of one movement to the beginning of another, a steady wave surging forward across the landscape.

The cinematics are broken into two sections.  The first thing we see is a commercial for a cola of some sort, heartily endorsed by a rather enthusiastic talking head.  But, as we discover, this is a giant billboard a la Blade Runner when the “camera” veers off to the side and passes down a street packed with hovering cars and bejumsuited citizens.  A man on the run, hotly pursued by bi-pedal tank like machines similar to the ED 309 of Robocop fame, rushes past us, firing back at his pursuers before exiting stage left by way of a stolen vehicle.  We cut from a strip club to a snowy wasteland to a desert ruin, the same running man being chased by a gang of less than sharp shooting soldiers, all the time catching glimpses of a demonic eye glaring out at us from the shadows.

The opening certainly grabs your interest, getting the ball rolling as dramatically as it does, and what it lacks in spectacle it makes up for in curiosity inducing detail.  The animation is similar to Outcast’s in that it flows rather nicely and comes across as pleasantly “realistic,” with the noticeable exception of the brief strip club sequence, nude bodies not making the best computer animated subjects, all plastic sheen and frighteningly defined angles.  The occasional snow beast, however, looks great as does the odd explosion and resulting dash for cover.  But this is only the beginning.

We learn a bit more of the meaning behind all of this frantic running about in the “second act.”  Standing before a swirling blue circle, an out of breath man tells us that he is from a parallel world and that we are needed.  He explains to us that we will have to transfer our soul into his body in order to cross the dimensional rift (man oh man, are those popular).  But beware for, as he warns, we “can make mistakes” and must live with the consequences of our choices.  What is so charming about this intro strategy is how cleverly and yet how simply it references the fact that the player is about to interact with a game.  The character actually mentions that it is our computer that will allow us to enter his world and that he will step in to reclaim his body when we take a brake from game play.  There is a wonderful honesty about all this, an oddly effective attempt to not hide the fact that Omikron is a game but, at the same time, not reduce the stakes of the mission.

It is because of this directness that the creators’ use of a character looking at us and explaining the goings on does not seem boring or trite, but instead refreshingly earnest.  This strange directness is continued during the before mentioned credit sequence, where all the arial views and slanted angles are depicting the everyday movements of this city of the future, as if the drama is always being played out in the most mundane of settings, forever present but always out of sight.  There is a slightness to the cinematics of Omikron, a breezy lack of substance that is ultimately a bit damaging if only due to the fact that nothing makes much of an impression, but that is also intriguing because of its very insubstantialness, a ghost like quality that strikes the viewer with the same oddly urgent significance as experiencing deja vu.


- Joshua Vasquez is the resident film critic here at loonygames. He also writes for the Internet film site Matinee Magazine

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Credits: Illustration © 2000 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 2000 Josh Vasequez. All other content is © 2000 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, so don't do it, or we'll cut you in twain.