I first played Odium back in the late '90s when it was included on a demo disc I had acquired. It took me a few tries to complete since I found the game to be very difficult and I wasn't a big strategy gamer at the time. But throughout my numerous beatdowns, something about the game made it stick with me over the years. I always considered picking it up when I saw it in the bargain bin, but I never did. I finally picked it up as a digital release on GOG (and eventually Steam) many years ago. It had been sitting on my digital shelf long enough, so I decided to buckle down and play through it.
Wait, you've never heard of Odium? Perhaps you're familiar with its other title: Gorky 17. It wasn't a huge success (at least not here in North America), but seems to have somewhat of a cult following and ultimately received some follow-up titles. The developer, Metropolis Software, was purchased by CD Projekt (of GOG and The Witcher fame) in 2008, which is an interesting bit of trivia.
All About the Combat
First off, Odium isn't anything to write home about in terms of story or presentation. It's a pretty standard science fiction video game story with very little character development, laughable voice acting, and barebones production values (although the menu is pretty cool if you're playing in hardware accelerated mode). I know what you're thinking, why would you ever play a game with those types of qualities? The answer is simple: the gameplay is rock solid.
I mentioned before that I found the game to be very difficult when I first played it. And it was. It's a game that will absolutely punish you, if you're careless. The key to the game is understanding the weapons (ammo, ranges, etc), enemies (attack patterns, resistances, etc), and the combat system (which ties everything together).
The general flow of the game is this:
- Walk around the map
- Find some items (hopefully)
- Prepare your team by exchanging items / weapons and healing
- Walk around some more to encounter some enemies
That's pretty much it. There are some RPG elements, but in terms of enemy encounters, it's all pre-determined. Enemies do not appear on screen, so it has the feel of a random encounter, but they're not. Once you walk into a certain area, a battle will commence. It's always the same map and the same set of enemies. A lot of the battles even have some dialogue or a CG cutscene once you enter them, which is a nice touch as it attempts to add context around the carnage. So the RPG elements mainly come in by way of leveling up your characters. You gain experience for dealing damage to an enemy (note that it's not just by killing an enemy). When you reach the next level, you get five points to put towards whatever you want. It's a fairly limited system and I dumped all of my points into accuracy and counter attack for all of my characters, but I love the idea. It's very similar to the system in the various "Shooter" games.
In addition to the RPG elements, the game has a bit of survival horror in it, which is an odd choice on the surface, but absolutely brilliant when you dig into it. Ammo and health packs are extremely limited in this game, especially in the beginning. There are no NPCs or vending machines to purchase things from. There are no magical health pools to regenerate health. You really are on your own and it's up to you to find items scattered throughout the map to aid you in your adventure.
All of this comes together in the battle system, which is at the core of this game. It's a tactical, turn-based system, very much like Final Fantasy Tactics and the like. Weapons have a certain range, not only in terms of how far away you can attack, but also what direction. Some weapons use ammo, which can be scarce. Some weapons use batteries that can recharge after a certain number of turns and are critical for conserving ammo. Since there are a limited number of weapons and ammo in the game, you have to decide which of your three units will carry what items. There are some weapons that you'll find multiples of, but some you won't. Oh and I didn't mention this before, but as your guys use weapons, their skill with that weapon is increased. So once you've given someone a weapon, it makes sense to keep them using it, unless you need to alter your overall strategy.
Not Too Tough
For this playthrough, I was fairly familiar with the game and the battle system since I had played it a bunch in spurts over the years. I never made it more than a couple of hours into the game, but I had some strategies ready to be employed. Overall, I found the game to be at just the right difficulty. There's a bit of a learning curve and as I said before, it will punish you at times for making poor tactical decisions, but it's a pretty fair system overall. As long as you take your time and learn from your mistakes, you'll be fine.
I know I haven't been very kind to the game outside of the battle system, but I would like to mention that I really enjoyed the soundtrack. I felt it fit the mood perfectly and the battle music was stuck in my head all day long when I played the game.
This is a fantastic game that has aged surprisingly very well. It's also super cheap and goes on sale all the time, has been given away for free, and is probably in bundles too. It should provide a solid 10 hours or so of great strategic combat that make you work for the ending credits. It can be tricky to get to work on modern systems (I actually had to play in software mode to get it to work properly), even in the GOG and Steam versions, but once you do, you're in for a treat.