At first glance, Odium appears to be an intriguing cross between the X-COM and Final Fantasy series of games. It promises a deep plot, statistics-based character development, stunning graphics, and tactical, turn-based battles. Unfortunately, most of its features turn out to be underdeveloped, and for every element of this mix that developer Metropolis Software House gets right, two go horribly wrong.
In the near future, a secret military compound in Russia is bombed into smoking ruins. A team of NATO commandos is sent to investigate. It disappears. You are Cole Sullivan, leader of a team sent to find out what happened to both the first team and the facility. Actually, you play the role of Cole Sullivan and his two subordinates. You soon discover that the destroyed base is filled with angry mutants. Not surprisingly, that discovery is followed by the realization that you must fight the mutants to complete your investigation.
So begins Odium's tale of exploration and combat. And for the first ten minutes you'll probably be enthralled. The game takes place on prerendered backgrounds through which you guide your polygon characters. A huge amount of effort must have gone into creating the game's backdrops; they're amazing. Every area is a cluttered masterpiece filled with elaborate little details. Odium is locked into a 800x600 resolution, but the images are so well drawn that the limited resolution is really a nonissue.
Because the characters are rendered in real time, you'd expect them to stick out from the lush, prerendered backgrounds, but each model is so lavishly depicted that it blends into the surroundings almost perfectly. Your mutant enemies are monstrous hybrids of man, animal, and machine, and they look great. The polygon count on virtually every model is high enough to make it appear seamlessly real, and smooth animation completes the effect.
The game's interface is excellent as well. It's intuitive and nonintrusive to the point of being almost invisible. From inventory manipulation, to movement, to combat commands, access to every option seems clearly thought out and is no more than a few logical mouse clicks away. It won't take you long to become completely acclimated to the controls so that you can concentrate on the adventure.And that's the last good point in Odium. Unfortunately, once you get past the terrific graphics and the nice interface, agony sets in. The game's story is told mainly through spoken dialog. Dialog needs to be well written and well acted to be effective. However, about the only positive thing that can be said about the voice acting in Odium is that it's marginally better than the horrid dialog. Characters waffle between being generic action heroes and cowardly idiots, often within the span of a single sentence. Their limitless capacity to come completely unglued at the start of every encounter - randomly mixing saucy taunts with simpering displays of fear - becomes tiresome very, very quickly.
Although Odium ostensibly has adventure elements, it has virtually no puzzle solving. Each level follows a similar structure: Walk everywhere and pick up every object. To unlock certain areas, you must have a specific item, but there is no guesswork involved. Click on an interactive background element, such as a door or a piece of equipment, and if you have the correct object to activate it, the game automatically prompts you to use it.
A set number of encounters are placed at predetermined but invisible points throughout each map. When a battle begins when you walk over any of these locations, a brief loading screen appears and is then replaced with a magnified view of your surroundings. Combat is turn based, and it plays out across a grid of squares that covers the background image. While there's nothing particularly unusual about this structure, Odium's line-of-sight model is singularly asinine. Different weapons have different, mysterious rules governing their firing arc. A pistol, for instance, can be fired only in a straight line. In other words, if an enemy is standing directly next to you, but diagonally, you can't hit it with a handgun. Some firearms have the magical ability to be fired diagonally, but none can be aimed up or down. A mutant the size of a very small mouse will block your view of a fourteen-foot tall monster standing directly behind it. The line-of-sight rules seem even more arbitrary and bizarre because of the realistic graphics and the nature of the weapons.
Ammunition is in short supply throughout the game. Since you have no idea what battles lie ahead or where you're likely to find more supplies, the biggest strategic element of Odium is deciding whether to fire your weapons or to conserve ammo by simply stabbing your enemies to death. There are a few battle tactics to be mastered - some landscape features, such as barrels, can be used as weapons by exploding them from a distance, and the various enemies have specific strengths and weaknesses. But the combat system is not deep enough to have much lasting appeal, and it becomes tedious long before the game is over.
Odium is a role-playing game without any puzzles and a tactical combat game with a repetitive, maddening, and simplistic battle engine. And that's a shame, because somebody really sweated over those graphics.