I have to confess a huge fondness for party based RPGs/Strategy games. Arcanum, Baldur's Gate, Fallout, Planescape: Torment and Jagged Alliance 2 are all games that I have very fond memories of, and when I came across Abomination while flicking through an old Eidos catalogue last year, I knew I had to have it. Since I managed to find a copy on ebay, it had been sitting on my shelf, begging me to play it until I finally made some time in the last couple of days to try it out.
The gameplay is reasonably simple. You take a squad of up to 4 characters into various sections of the city, complete the objectives in your mission briefing, and then return to the map of the city where you organize your troops, read intelligence data and await further missions. The combat runs in pausable real time, allowing you to stop the action to give orders to each unit, and then watch them play out. This is something I'm very fond of, and I feel it is just as effective as providing enjoyable gameplay as pure turn based or pure realtime games.
A small factor that disappointed me here, though, was how simple the combat can be. The tactics for fighting are quite basic, and I feel the different weapons and abilities weren't worked into the game as well as they could have been. On one hand, it's great fun to wait for an enemy to run past an explosive hazard and shoot it, killing him instantly, or pausing the game and quickly scrambling your troops when you see an enemy throw a grenade. On the other hand, it never gets much more complex than this, and there is plenty of missed opportunity for micromanagement here.
Some of the mission objectives can be quite enjoyable - from rescuing survivors, destroying supplies and uploading computer viruses to simple eliminating all of the hostiles on the map - but the objectives could have been more clearly marked, and at one point I spent twenty minutes wandering over a map trying to find a single crate to destroy in order to complete my mission. Other times they weren't very well explained, and I failed missions simply because I wasn't exactly sure what I had to do.
The hostiles themselves start off as gun wielding humans, but play for a couple of hours and you'll find yourself up against the Brood - the abominations in the game's title. Unlike the humans, who are all reasonably similar with different weapons, the Brood differ quite a bit visually, from shuffling melee weaklings, to energy launching mortar type units and eerie, agile creatures with a nasty explosive projectile attack. Among some of the areas you visit you'll find police officers and soldiers, who will follow your squad around and help in the fight, something I found very cute. My main disappointment is that you can't talk to any of the NPCs in the game, and so none of the enemies or friendlies have any character to speak of.
The game's presentation is, for the most part, absolutely lovely. Being a fan of this pre-rendered isometric style, the scenery was absolute ambrosia to my eyes, and the colour palettes are exactly what I look for in a game. The big city aesthetic mixed with the freakish abominations littered throughout it is used to great effect, and gives a very fun environment to play in.
Sadly, the characters are all modeled in real-time 3D, not pre-rendered as with other games of this genre around the time. Normally I don't mind low res 3D, but compared to the detail that would've been possible with pre-rendered characters these are slightly disappointing. The sound is also a little strange; while I found the music fitted in quite well with the setting, the voice acting is quite awful. Characters also have a strange habit of staying quiet through enemy encounters and serious injury, but when I press the hotkey to make them reload their weapons they suddenly come out with a panicked line such as "Oh shit!" This felt absolutely incongruous with the rest of the game, and the game would most likely have been better without any voice acting at all.
As a whole, it's not hard to tell why Abomination: The Nemesis Project never got the recognition of it's peers such as X-Com and Jagged Alliance 2. While it is certainly a rewarding game to play, it lacks the character and balance to outshine them. Once you get into the game, though, it proves itself as a decent piece of fun, and I'll absolutely be returning to it to enjoy it some more. I often wish there were more games of this style in my collection, and I'm delighted to have found this one! It lacks that certain something required to make a classic, but for those of us willing to overlook a few flaws, there are hours of post-apocalyptic goodness to be had here. My copy worked perfectly on Windows XP straight out of the original box, too!