To escape or die trying is your objective in Psygnosis' bid for a new genre hybrid. O.D.T. combines Tomb Raider-style 3D third-person shooting with rudimentary Diablo-style RPG elements for a not-so-new-feeling gaming experience. Set in that netherworld between futuristic gauss rifles and turn-of-the-century dirigibles, what seems innovative in the cutscenes and on paper sinks in the gameplay department like a lead zeppelin.
The airship Nautiflyus, looking much like the one from the cult film Pervirella, was on a mission of mercy to deliver the magical Green Pearl to the disease-ridden city of Calli, when it took a shortcut across "The Forbidden Zone" and crashed into a dark tower of evil or something. Now the ship's captain and the Pearl itself have been kidnapped by blowhard sleestak aliens, and it's up to the four remaining members of the crew to seek out gas for the ship's balloon (oddly littered in handy carrying cases throughout the tower of unspeakable evil), the Pearl, and the lost Captain Lamat himself.
You play one of four crewmembers. There are no actual character classes per se, but there are significant differences between each character. Stats representing armor, weapon control, spirit, and experience outline each character's strengths and weaknesses. Thus, character traits range from bruiser Maxx Havok's high defenses and deft weapon handling to the mysterious Archbishop Solaar's potent occult faculties. As in any RPG, the characters gain experience, spells, and more powerful weapons as the game progresses, and experience can be applied to raising the characters' vital stats. Beyond that, however, the game doesn't really offer the addiction quotient of, say, Diablo, with its hundreds of randomly generated "individual" magic items, compelling quests, and truly varied approaches to play. To its credit, the stats do make a big difference, and O.D.T. rewards the favoring of one stat at the expense of others, since new spells and weapon power-ups require ever-increasing stat minima. Replay value is severely damaged by the game's primitive save function, which requires you to reach save points scattered conservatively throughout each level. Few, if any, PC gamers are likely to enjoy the "extra challenge" provided by an adventure game without the option of saving at any time.
The bottom line with O.D.T. is that control plain stinks. Try it with a keyboard, try it with a gamepad (the game does not support a mouse); it makes no difference. It's awkward and buggy. Try to jump over a small rock, and suddenly you're floating in the air next to it. Climbing up and down ladders, and for that matter, hanging off railings to retrieve hidden power-ups, is a dangerous prospect indeed, since both are achieved using the same controls as walking toward the precipice in question while tapping the B-button (or the spacebar on a keyboard). Combine this awkward control decision with the game's marginal location tracking, and you'll be plunging to your death with alarming frequency.
The AI is similarly impaired. Most enemies are on autopilot and simply discharge a blast every X number of seconds. The more powerful the enemy, the smaller the value of X. Simple as that. A fair number of them don't even bother approaching, instead favoring the "stare angrily into space" technique of stalking humans. They must not be very hungry in The Forbidden Zone.
O.D.T. is not an ugly game. Lots of the spells and plenty of the monsters look good though not particularly magical and with nowhere near the grandiosity of Final Fantasy VII. The quality of character animation varies throughout, sometimes achieving almost spritelike clarity, while at other times the motion captures are weak, and obvious polygons prevail. Ultimately, when faced with visual innovators like Unreal and new levels of immersion, as in Half-Life's integrated story, O.D.T. seems like just another sad port from a console. Sonically, the game does have a lot to offer, with excellent use of ambient sound, footsteps, and so forth. Nicely equalized, the sounds make good use of the stereo field to some immersive and spooky 3D effects.
The idea is terrific. A fully realized hybrid of the RPG's addictive character development and the immediate and fast-paced gameplay of the third-person adventure game would make for a great game. But O.D.T. offers neither. A truly rewarding RPG experience relies on strength in one elusive category that is beyond all nit-picking about graphics and control and so forth: story. O.D.T. doesn't have much of one. As a result, the new genre is something that O.D.T. dies trying to achieve.