Imagine, for a moment, that your Dreamcast isn't just a (defunct) games console. Imagine that it is a portal to a living, breathing world; a world that is under threat from an omnipresent, all consuming evil force and that an occupant of this parallel universe has managed to somehow contact you through your television. Sounds pretty far out, right? Well, that's exactly the premise of Eidos and Quantic Dreams' 3D adventure title The Nomad Soul.
Upon starting the game, you are greated by a slightly agitated character called Kay'l who explains, well, very little actually - just that he has managed to contact you through your Dreamcast and that the fate of the world is in your hands. After that, he offers up his body for you to use and then he's gone. It's just you - the titular Nomad Soul - locked in Kay'l's body without a clue as to what's going on, where you are or what you're meant to do. Then, after being attacked in an alleyway by what can only be described as a Demon, you are rescued by a Police droid and sent home to recover. And that's when the sheer scope of The Nomad Soul hits you in the face.
The PC version of the game is known as Omikron: The Nomad Soul due to the game being set in a huge dystopian city called Omikron, a city that is located under a vast crystal dome that protects its inhabitants from the eternal blizzard that has devastated the rest of the planet. Ruled by strict totalitarian government agencies, Omikron is further subdivided into four distinct zones, each of which is totally cut off from the others and your adventure starts in a Blade Runner-esque city district complete with its own society, newspapers, sports teams and transport system. The character Kay'l, who has offered up his own body for you to control has a job (as a cop - which helps you no end), girlfriend, mates etc and it's down to you to assume his identity whilst simultaneously trying to discover what's going on, just why Kay'l is a suspect in a murder case, and trying to keep his girlfriend sweet by meeting her for lunch.
The Nomad Soul therefore, is a game that will keep you playing for ages - not just due to the in-depth and cinematic storyline but due to the size and openness of the game world. The zone in which the game begins is truly massive and features fully explorable apartment blocks, shops, nightclubs and cafes. Added to this are a host of sub-quests and job-related activities that you must carry out in order to progress (e.g., arresting a wanted felon etc). Bearing in mind that this is only the first of the four districts (and even identities that you will assume ...) and you have one very lengthy adventure stretching out before you.
The Nomad Soul was quite an early release for the Dreamcast and as such came prior to such games as Shenmue (and it's illustrious sequel), but the comparisons that can be drawn between the two titles are numerous. The open game world, the interactivity of objects, the multiple choice conversations with other Omikronians - it's all very similar. Obviously, unlike Shenmue, The Nomad Soul is a port of a PC game and this is evident in the slightly angular graphics, heavy fogging and suspect frame rate in outdoor environments, but when you take into consideration the sheer scope and ambition within the game the graphical shortcomings fade to insignificance.
Another interesting aspect to The Nomad Soul is that music legend David Bowie had a hand in the creation not only of the story and the concept, but also in the composition of the musical score. Furthermore, Mr Bowie also features in the game as the lead singer of an Omikron based rock group and also as an electrical entity that lives within the city's computer network. In reality though, Bowie's inclusion in the game adds little but a few interesting songs and his texture mapped face. Even without his presence, The Nomad Soul is a game that quite probably influenced many, many adventure games released in its wake. It's thought provoking, entertaining, well crafted and engaging. Ignore the inadequacies (slightly ropy visuals, cumbersome controls, crappy first person shooter sections) and what you get is a game that is impressive in almost every relevant department.
As for the actual storyline and plot ... well, you wouldn't want me to spoil it for you - play the game yourself. And get ready for a surprise!