Windows - 1999
Description of ōdi∙um
Not that long ago a game from Blue Byte called Incubation hit store shelves. The game's design and play were simplistic, yet the game was quite enjoyable. It was a tactical squad-level game, but unlike meaty titles like XCOM and Jagged Alliance, the combat was simplified and relied on a puzzle-like structure for its tactical complexity (and hordes of monsters outnumbering your meager forces). If you were looking for a realistic or plausible theme, Incubation wasn't it. What it did sport was some nice graphics, a compelling story line and a design that was quick, light-hearted, and enjoyable to play.
It was followed by a rather weak add-on, The Wilderness Missions, but fans of the franchise were really looking beyond to Incubation 2. Unfortunately, some shake-ups at Blue Byte resulted in the sequel getting axed. Fast-forward a couple of years and the fine folks at Metropolis have released Odium, a game that might thrill the hell out of all those crestfallen Incubation fans. Although it'll probably leave some of the more hard-core squad commanders scratching their heads and certain that they would rather spend their hard-earned money on that case of Right Guard anti-perspirant that they saw on clearance...
A Terrifying Tale of Monsters, Conspiracies, and Really Bad Dubbing
Odium is set in the near future of 2009; you command a multi-national team of three NATO special force soldiers. In the previous year Gorky 17, an old Soviet training city, was bombed off the face of the planet. The reason for its destruction was a mystery, but now another city, Korov, has gone silent and ominous information hints that the same fate has befallen Korov as befell Gorky 17. Strange rumors describe twisted monstrosities: creatures part human, part machine, part insect. Another team had already gone in to investigate. It was never heard from again. Your job is to lead your elite team and unravel the city's secrets and uncover the truth obscured by dark conspiracies.
The story concept is engaging; moreover the story and setting are professionally handled. Unfortunately, almost from the very beginning it's obvious that the voice acting is uneven at best, and atrocious at worst. Occasionally, character dialogue seems to stumble into incoherent rambling. Despite this, the game's premise is strong. Ultimately though, it feels like pieces of a good story were lost during translation.
Columbus and rubber bands
A large portion of the game is map exploration, where you lead your team through an investigation of the city on a 2D adventure map. The graphics are crisp and nice for the most part, though navigating it can sometimes be a pain, as you can't scroll around much, and the camera tends to snap back if you try to look out too far. Also, in a place or two, it can be a bit difficult to identify properly what areas are accessible.
Adventuring is very straightforward. You have three team members that travel in a group. (No, you can't split up the team.) As you explore the city you'll encounter up to three different types of event triggers. One type of trigger you'll encounter is interacting with characters. Essentially, the dialogue advances the game's plotline, and sometimes characters may even offer to join your team briefly. These dialogue triggers are linear and are set off by predetermined events during the game. The second type of trigger can only be described as an access trigger. These access triggers can be as simple as a box on the map that you click on to open in order to gain access to equipment stores, which you can salvage for your team. Since the game is broken up into stages, other access triggers open up new areas in the city for you to explore. These can only be activated by certain items that are collected along the way. Finally, the most common triggers are combat encounters, where you fight enemies, be they humans or creatures.
Despite being billed as a role-playing game, Odium's RPG elements are limited to triggered dialogues (though each of your soldiers' unique personalities is expressed via campy voice-overs) and character stat improvement. Wandering around collecting items to open access triggers into new areas could probably be construed as puzzle-like, but these are really straightforward. For instance, if you want to open an area that needs a board to gain access, it will automatically give you that option once you have that board. No need to experiment or try loony item combinations in order to open up areas. This straightforwardness is refreshing, and helps avoid those dreaded "lost" moments when you're stuck in a game and are tempted to quit and try again at some other time.
I've got you in check with my rifle, and I'll have you in mate in two moves with my flamethrower
When it comes to combat, you're either going to appreciate the simplicity of the design and game balance or be annoyed as hell at how abstracted combat is. Combat is turn-based and the game uses a square grid system to regulate movement and combat. Your units can take one action (i.e. healing, guard or attack) and move a set distance in a given turn. Besides any unfriendlies on the map, you may also have obstacles and items (like crates and barrels, which can be shoved or blown up) that add additional tactical considerations.
Everything about this aspect of the game is very simplistic, resulting in a sense of nostalgia for console RPG veterans. Don't expect authentic modeling here. Even the game's long range weapons, like the rifle, only have a range of eight or so squares. Additionally, the firing arcs for weapons in Odium are akin to pieces in a chess game. A pistol's target area is set in a Rook-like fashion (fires at 90° angles only), and a rifle's arc of fire is much like a Queen's (they can target anyone at 45° angles). Grenades can be thrown anywhere but have a very short range. Also, some weapons have area effects, or create other special conditions. For example, flamethrowers can set an enemy on fire, a tranquilizer gun can stun an enemy, and gas grenade can poison.
Other abstracted elements might have purists pulling their hair out, too. The only rifles in the game are ones with one-shot clips, and apparently the elite team wasn't expecting much resistance as they start with meager ammo reserves. It doesn't change much later in the game, either, so you'll often find yourself scrounging for scarce ammo supplies. Even when you do manage to kill some hostile soldiers, scavenging their ammo is a no-go. Not to mention that the game ends if any one of your team members dies (including escorted civilians), so you'll have to replay the entire combat when faced with a casualty!
The Junkyard Principle of Combat
Odium's arsenal of weapons is actually fairly diverse. Weapons include a range of items, from rifles, axes, grenades, flame-throwers, and rockets, to some even more fantastic sci-fi-type weapons. Players can also find and equip their agents with body armor, health boosters, and pick up special access trigger items that are used to open up new areas of the map when faced with certain events.
Something this game does better than most games (including XCOM, Abomination, and even Jagged Alliance 2) is to provide a superb balance among all the weapons. Sadly, in so many games today, players inevitably find themselves favoring a few select weapons, while huge stores of unused equipment fill the virtual dumpsters. Not so with Odium, since ammo is rare and each weapon has certain effects, limitations, and ranges, even typically lowly weapons, like the axe and pistol are essential items for survival. Players have to be frugal with their resources, for while a rifle does more damage than an axe, you'll want to conserve ammo when feasible, as you'll need it later when the rifles range and coverage could become a lifesaver.
Like the Scay'ra of Incubation, the creatures you'll fight in Odium are varied and have a range of abilities, armor types and special defenses. That means each of the creatures you face will have its own attack. Some will have special abilities like invisibility or the ability to poison or tranquilize you. You'll often be outnumbered or faced with mammoth opponents that can take incredible amounts of damage. Certain creature types are invulnerable to certain types of attacks. When you combine this with the game's balance of weapon types, it really highlights how an outstandingly simple game design can offer such a broad range of tactical considerations.
Who am I but five stats and a bad voice over?
Make it through combat and you'll likely discover the joys of character development. When a character gets enough experience he or she gains a level. When this happens you can spread five points among the attributes: hit points, luck, accuracy, counterattack, and calmness. Each character also has a rating with weapons. The more he uses a particular weapon in combat the higher the rating he'll earn with that weapon. Ratings are on a scale from 1 to 10.
Odium really is a good game. It's also very short and could be finished in a marathon weekend. The game could have really benefited from a branching storyline, as replayability would improve the gaming dollar value. This, a few other minor problems, and a niche appeal keep Odium from being award-bound. Nonetheless, the game is a fun, albeit brief, romp. If you're one of those gamers that finds his free time in limited supply; and fun and challenge are more vital than realism and authentic ambience, Odium is the game for you. However, if you judge by the standards set by XCOM and Jagged Alliance 2 you may want to steer clear of this quaint horror/sci-fi title.
Review By GamesDomain
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ōdi∙um is available for a small price on the following websites, and is no longer abandonware. GOG.com provides the best release and does not include DRM, please buy from them! You can read our online store guide.