Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath
Platform: Microsoft XBox
25th January 2005(North America)
4th March 2005(Europe)
combination if ever I saw one)
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Fierce is the spirit
of her waters
She creates us
Binds us - flows in us
The fool who dare enslave her
She wash his life away
-Native Grubb Proverb
Inhabitants is, as far as I'm concerned, what the games industry is, or should be, all about - developers who create not just games, but real characters, entire worlds with depth beyond the scope of just the games set in them - just because they like doing it
. It's this kind of development philosophy that makes Oddworld games just so damn fun to play.
Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath is in fact pretty drastically different to the other games in the series, but only in gameplay terms – the masterful artistic direction that made the rest of the Oddworld titles so enthralling, has remained (almost)completely intact. True, there are no cameos from previous Oddworld characters, and unless I’ve missed something the only creatures that even turn up in both Stranger and one of the previous games are the Fuzzles. This was, IMNSHO
, kinda unfortunate because I’d have quite liked to at least meet a Mudokon
or something on my travels, and the slig
s from the first three games were tons cooler than the scaly rednecks that took their place in this one.
In any case, onto the drastically differentiated gameplay. Like I said previously, the other Oddworld games have always been puzzle-based affairs more than anything – stranger takes the entirely different route of making combat pretty much the only focus of the entire gaming experience. Stranger, your rather cool, badass, Clint-Eastwood
has two control methods – third person, for the good old platforming segments, and first person, for laying the smackdown on those damn outlaws.
You can switch between the two with a simple press of the right analogue stick, which is handy, because both control systems have their own individual advantages – to the point that they can both be useful in the same situation. You can run faster in third person mode, and have different attacks activated by the two triggers (A headbutt, and a spinning punch) – plus, if you run for long enough, you actually start sprinting forwards on all fours. Not only does the animation on this weird almost cat-like method of running look seriously cool, but it allows you to cover long distances, like between bounties and/or towns, in short order – plus, as an added bonus you can ram into an enemy outlaw and knock ‘em out cold
. There’s also the pretty obvious advantage that this makes platforming about a billion times easier, but that kinda goes without saying, does it not?
While you can just pummel bad guys into the dust in third-person mode, the combat really heats up in first-person where you get to use Stranger’s pretty slick arm-mounted crossbow. This being an Oddworld game, you can’t seriously expect the main character to be armed with just a standard real-world weapon – and Stranger sure as hell isn’t. His retractable arm-mounted crossbow can be loaded with two types of ammo and fire them at the same time – but here’s the kicker – the ammo is actually alive. Not live in the sense that it hurts more than blanks, but live in the sense that it consists of small animals, quite often of the furry and cute variety.
This is where the previously mentioned Fuzzle
s come into play. You can load them into your crossbow, fire them at an enemy and watch them run around screaming as they get bitten to death by what amount to tribble
s with an attitude problem.
The other kinds of ammo you run into include Stunkz (That spray noxious fumes everywhere and allow you to capture outlaws while they’re throwing up), Bolamites (That web-up enemies Spider-Man
style) and Chippunks that act as a distraction by shouting abuse at your foes.
Of course, this is all well and good, but why are you actually fighting the bad guy hordes at all? Well, the game – like all the oddworld games before it (Can you tell I’m a fanboy yet? )comes packaged in a tightly written, expertly told narrative with a couple of good twists thrown in to keep things interesting. I don’t want to spoil anything here, but the general premise of the game at the beginning is that you’re a badass
bounty hunter – you want moolah
(Yeah, it really is called that in-game) – so you bag the bad guys, dead or alive
. The fact that you appear to capture bad guys by sucking them into some sort of wrist-mounted device, when they’re roughly the same size as you or bigger, is kinda strange – but then so’s the rest of the game.
Aesthetically, the game is at worst, functional, and at best, an absolute masterpiece. I must admit that at first, I wasn't at all impressed with the game's graphics - i found the textures to be bland, the scenery to be sparse and uninventive. It just looked... dated. The visuals dramatically improve in some later areas of the game, however, like the lush riverside locales and snowy mountain peaks. A couple of times I had to just stop and admire the scenery - and that's about the highest accolade you can give to a game for graphical prowess, although it unfortunately it only managed this a couple of times... Having managed it at all, especially with a jaded PC gamer like me, was pretty impressive anyway.
The soundtrack's no slouch, either. While there aren't really any standout tracks that you'll constantly notice, it does a good job of switching between spaghetti western
style lonely guitar notes adding to the atmosphere of the calmer sections, and techno backing tunes for the faster paced, combat segments. There were even a couple of bits where i swear the music was reacting to what i was viewing on the screen - creepy, atmospheric noises while looking at an old aborigine-style wallpainting, for example. Or maybe that was just my paranoid imagination.
This game is, indeed, great. It’s actually pretty bloody fantastic. It’s fun to play, the last few levels are an absolute blast (As all videogame climaxes should be) – the plot twists were intriguing – and it’s got plenty of originality to boot. There’s some minor issues, though, one of which, surprisingly, concerns the usually excellent Oddworld narrative. To put it bluntly, the main species of creatures that you run into throughout the entire game, the ones that run the towns you hang around in and the shops you buy things in, along with the bounty stores you get work from are, in fact, just chickens. That’s right. Just, walking, talking, chickens.
Well, okay, maybe they look a little more like ducks. The fact still remains though – how uninventive is that? Just how much imagination does it take to rip off Donald Duck
? These are the same guys that brought us sentient slugs that used mechanical legs to move around, and a Spiritual Leader in the form of a gigantic raisin! The rest of the species introduced in the game are at least slightly original. This was just a let down.
But hey, I’m just being picky here. That’s just one small issue that really doesn’t matter in the face of this solidly-built, well narrated, brilliantly imagined and realised package that quite simply just oozes quality.
Other sources of info:
- Official Oddworld site, got some cool stuff (Be sure to check out Alf's Rehab and Tea
- Where I got most of the release information from, most nethead
gamers are familiar with this one.
- Can you say self explanatory