Odium

Turn-based action game reviewed

White Coats

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A bloody big telescope, yesterday

Scientists. You just can't trust them.

When they're not destroying the world with black holes (Outcast), sucking hostile aliens into our world from another dimension (Half-Life), or creating paradoxes that threaten to unravel the entire fabric of space and time (The Time Machine), they're obviously just enjoying a quiet cup of tea while planning what mayhem to unleash on the unsuspecting planet next...

The white coats have been at it again in Odium, meddling with Forces Beyond Their Comprehension, resulting in an entire sewage plant's worth of the brown stuff hitting an industrial size fan.

And you, of course, have been sent in to clear up the mess.

Arriving in a small Polish town, all you know is that the last team sent to the town has disappeared, and that the Russians have recently bombed their secret city Gorky 17 into the ground for reasons unknown. Whatever happened in Gorky 17 could be happening again...

Five Go Adventuring

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Hm, take it or leave it, let me think... Bah, what the hey, I'll take it.

The game itself is a mix of real time adventuring and turn based combat, with some basic RPG style character development thrown in for good measure.

The adventure section of the game is fairly straightforward, with you guiding your team of hardened special ops types (and anyone else you find along the way) around the Polish town as you try to find what's left of the last team to be sent there, and to discover exactly what is going on.

The game is mostly played from an isometric view, looking down on your characters and their surroundings from above the rooftops, although some of the smaller interior areas are done with more interesting camera angles, looking like something out of Resident Evil or Nocturne.

And like those games, Odium has a mixture of pre-rendered backgrounds and real time models, giving you the best of both worlds. The town is modelled in far more detail than would have been possible if the whole game had been real time 3D, and the models can be more detailed as well because only a handful of them are moving on screen at once. In fact, the level of detail shown in the models for the characters and monsters puts most first person shooter and 3D real time strategy games to shame...

Moving around this environment is easy - left clicking on any spot moves your team there, with the screen staying centered on your characters as they move around. Interesting items usually flash to make them stand out, and right clicking on one brings up a little dialog box to let you use it or pick it up.

The whole thing is rather simple and linear, but although it won't impress a hardened adventure game player it does keep the game moving at a fair old pace, and you rarely find yourself getting lost or not knowing what to do next.

Turns? TURNS?

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The Gothfather, Andrew Eldritch himself, puts in a surprise appearance with Dr Avalanche...

It's the turn based combat that is the real meat and bones of the game though, with fights sparking off every few minutes as you wander around the town. One minute you are walking along, minding your own business, the next the screen has zoomed in to a more detailed view and you are surrounded by hostile mutants.

Each of your team members can move and fire in any given turn (unless they are stunned, frozen, or otherwise incapacitated of course). Select a character and the squares they can move to are highlighted in green. Select a weapon or right click and the squares they can fire into are highlighted in red.

Although the basics are very straightforward, mastering the combat can take some practice. Working out what weapons to use in which situations, finding out how best to position your characters to avoid them all being taken out by an area attack, and discovering which enemies are immune to certain weapons are all important parts of combat.

And because ammunition is very limited, particularly at the start of the game, if an enemy is badly wounded or stunned it may be best to move in and finish them off with a close combat weapon to avoid wasting any of your precious ammo.

The array of weaponry is fearsome, ranging from axes, baseball bats and bayonets for close combat to shotguns, rifles and pistols for ranged attacks. Rocket launchers, napalm throwers and grenades are available for those special occaisions, and there is even a devestating ion rifle that can rip through multiple targets .. if you can persuade your enemies to stand in a nice orderly line of course.

The flamethrower is my personal favourite though, producing an impressive looking stream of fire that leaves your target burning for a few turns, taking more damage all the time. There is also a liquid nitrogen weapon that freezes your enemies, leaving them unable to move or fire for a few turns.

Most weapons use ammunition, but some (including the flamethrower) don't, instead needing to be left to recharge for a few turns between uses. Knowing when and where to use these special weapons, and against which enemies, is something you will need to learn...

Progression

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This bizarre wheelchair-bound gunslinging mutant looks like bad news...

Given how frequently fights occur, it's a testament to the game's designers that combat rarely gets boring.

One of the main reasons for this is that the game features a whole range of different enemies to unleash your arsenal on. Almost every other fight you get into includes at least one type of creature you've never seen before, and they get bigger, more deadly, and more gruesome as the game progresses.

Each new monster is introduced by a short pre-rendered cutscene before the fight begins, and these are top notch. As in any good horror movie, the monsters are always lurking in the shadows in the cutscenes, seen only in brief glimpses and extreme close-ups, leaving you still unsure exactly what you are facing until the fight loads.

In fact, waiting to see what bizarre creation is going to lunge out of the shadows at you next is one of the main reasons you will keep coming back to the game. The monsters are all exquisitely detailed and gruesomely conceived, and each has its own weapons and characteristics, and (in some cases) weapon immunities.

There are literally dozens of different creatures to kill during the game, and with the wide range of weaponry available to you by the end of the game there is always something new to try out.

Killing monsters will earn you experience points which you can then spend on increasing your maximum hit points, hit accuracy, luck, and other statistics. Also, using weapons successfully in combat increases your proficiency in them, allowing characters to cause more damage with weapons they are experienced with.

Odium is no role-playing game, but the experience system does add a basic character development element to the game, and it all helps suck you in as you decide how to specialise your different characters.

Conclusion

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Attack of the invisible man!

At its heart, Odium is a turn-based combat game, following in the footsteps of the old X-Com games. The difference is that Odium looks beautiful and is easily accessible, but still has the depth to keep you interested.

The adventure keeps the plot moving along, but at the end of the day it isn't going to challenge most players, and it is the combat and the endless succession of bigger guns and new monsters to kill them with that keeps you hooked.

The only real let down is the ending, which is something of an anti-climax, and leaves you wondering what the hell happened - I think maybe I managed to skip a scene somewhere along the line...

The final battle was easier than several of the earlier fights, and when it is over you are left with a lengthy in-game cutscene as your commander ties up all the loose ends, and a whole new explanation for the events you have witnessed is shoe-horned in at this point, which feels a little unsatisfying. And then, to cap it all, the game ends with a little cinematic showing you flying off into the sunset carrying a big dossier marked "top secret", obviously leaving the developers open for a sequel.

But given how much fun the rest of the game was, I'm perfectly happy to sit back and wait for the sequel now...

Eye Candy            

Download The Demo

Try before you buy - download the demo! (81Mb)

8 / 10

Read the Eurogamer.net review policy Odium Gestalt Turn-based action game reviewed 2000-03-02T18:35:00+00:00 8 10

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