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Nomad Soul, The

Entry updated 7 February 2017. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (1999; vt Omikron: The Nomad Soul in the US). Quantic Dream. Designed by David Cage. Platforms: Win (1999), DC (2000).

The Nomad Soul is a Science and Sorcery action-Adventure, set in a Parallel World which fuses a somewhat routine Cyberpunk background with ritual magic and supernatural predators (see Gods and Demons). As in the Manhunter series, the action and Adventure aspects are unusually disjunct; in this game most of the player's time is spent exploring the world, talking to its inhabitants, and solving puzzles, but some isolated sequences are modelled after fighting games (see Videogames) and First Person Shooters. The Nomad Soul was also part of a brief wave of fantastical Videogames created in association with musicians, a movement which is perhaps exemplified by the unimpressive Dystopian vision of Queen: The eYe (1998 Destination Design, DOS) (see Queen). Here, David Bowie supplies several songs (most of which are included in revised form on the 1999 album "hours ..."), as well as providing voice and gestures for two characters and contributing to the game's design. Bowie's metafictional appearance as the lead singer of an underground band called The Dreamers is echoed in the game's introduction, in which the player is invited to possess the body of an "investigating agent" from another dimension, through the medium of the game which they are already playing.

Once the game has begun, the player finds themselves in the city of Omikron, occupying the body of one Kay'l 669 and expected to continue the police investigation of a mysterious serial killer. It soon emerges that the murderer is both a police commander and a demon in disguise. After the player kills the demon, the game's broadly linear Interactive Narrative continues with an invitation to join an underground organization opposed to the city's ruling computer and overly powerful corporations. The commander turns out to be merely a pawn of a much more powerful demon, who created the Videogame in which the player is participating in order to lure human souls into his world, where he can eat them. Only by rediscovering forgotten magical arts can the player defeat this nemesis, which is fused to the city's master computer, liberate the people of Omikron and escape from the game with their soul intact. As in such earlier games as Mercenary (1985), players are allowed to roam largely at will through the various regions of the city, which are extensive and highly operable if somewhat shallow (see Worlds in Balance). Much use is made of the player's titular ability to transfer their mind from one body to another, whether to solve puzzles or to escape the death of their current host (see Identity Transfer). The game's visuals are stylish and filmic, but its narrative fails to achieve an elegant fusion of the disparate elements from which it is composed; its contemporary The Longest Journey (1999) is far more successful in this regard.

The Nomad Soul is a highly ambitious game, in some ways – as in its emphasis on exploration and its characters' ability to improve their fighting skills – more reminiscent of Computer Role Playing Game designs than those of Adventures. Nevertheless, the action sequences are simplistic and occasionally frustrating by the standards of dedicated fighting games and First Person Shooters, some of the puzzles seem overly cryptic, the controls are sometimes awkward, and the narrative occasionally provides players with insufficient guidance, meaning that they may find themselves wandering aimlessly through the gigantic city. The design demonstrates an approach to gameplay which has since become particularly associated with Cage, that of a three-dimensional graphical Adventure in which miniature action games are embedded. Arguably, however, Cage did not truly master this style until the release of his next work, Fahrenheit (2005 QD, PS2, Win, XBox; 2007 XB360), in which the more immediately stimulating sequences are smaller and more tightly integrated with the flow of the story. (This game, while it involves a group of AIs in present-day New York, is centrally concerned with the fulfillment of a prophecy about a pure-souled child pursued by various factions with paranormal abilities, and is thus difficult to approach as a work of sf.) Ultimately, The Nomad Soul represents something of a triumph of style over content, one that seems thematically suggestive of the "prog rock" concept albums of the 1970s (see SF Music). [NT]


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