Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD|
Abe, Munch, and the entire Oddworld universe has to be one of the most magical and slightly twisted creations of all time. It’s also one of the gaming industry’s best-kept secrets. While never achieving epic amounts of notoriety, this unique franchise has developed into some sort of underground cult classic. I’ve been a fan and a part of the craziness ever since Abe invaded the original PlayStation back in the late 90’s to the point where I have written strategy guides for all the Oddworld games, and I still continue to get emails, so people are still playing these games.
While the Oddworld gameplay was traditional console platform fare at the time, the fantastic characters and unique backdrop for the stories were unlike anything I or anyone else had ever seen in a videogame. Oddworld moved from the PS2 to the Xbox in 2001 with the release of Munch’s Oddysee, again with traditional platform gameplay only this time in glorious 3D. Jump ahead four more years and 2005 saw the release of Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath; a new spin on the tale that abandoned Abe and the gang and focused on a new type of hero. And that brings us to today, with a fully remastered HD edition of the game for the PS3.
Prior to Munch, Oddworld was a 2D side-scrolling platform game. The only thing that remotely approached 3D was being able to move between foreground and background plates. Munch took the series into 3D while keeping most of the original gameplay premises alive, but it did introduce a clever “buddy system” where Munch and Abe had to work together to solve puzzles.
Stranger’s Wrath turns the series upside down with a unique western flavor and a first-person perspective that is so much fun to play it is likely to attract a whole new crowd of fans. The game offers a unique mix of third and first person action with jumping, item collection, and melee combat in third-person and intense weapons combat while looking down the sights of a double-barrel crossbow. You are free to pick the perspective of your choice with a simple click of the right analog stick.
Of course the most unique element in this latest Oddworld is the “live ammo” system. In this universe the ammo is really ALIVE. Yes, you fire actual living creatures ranging from the cute and cuddly Chippunks to the Rabid Fuzzles with the bloodshot eyes. Of course, before you can fire the ammo you have to collect it first. While the lazy bounty hunter can simply stroll into the General Store and purchase ammo, real men (and those on a budget) will hunt it down, stun it with Zappflies, and stash it in their ammo pouch.
Ammo is usually in abundant supply and the designers have been gracious enough to put ammo spawn nests fairly close to where you are going to need it. There are nine types of ammo and upgrades for most that you won’t obtain until later in the game. Some upgrades are purchased and others are simply bestowed upon you in the final missions. Ammo is also quite hilarious in form and function, even when it’s sitting on your crossbow waiting to get fired. Chippunks will actually talk to you, and Fuzzles will snarl and snap at the creature next to them. They all have a very unique purpose that plays out more like combat strategy than a puzzle, especially when you start getting creative in combining their uses.
For instance, you can fire Fuzzles at a target and they will stick and bite the enemy or you can fire a cluster of Fuzzles into the ground creating a trap. Then you shoot a Chippunk into the cluster and he starts talking smack to the enemy who investigates and gets ambushed by the Fuzzles. You can fire Skunkz, which will cause any nearby enemy to uncontrollably vomit leaving them vulnerable to your attack.
Ammo comes in various amounts and does variable damage. As a bounty hunter your ultimate goal is to collect your targets alive since they are worth substantially more than a dead bounty. Subduing and capturing is nearly an art form in Stranger’s Wrath, but once you learn and master the Thudslug-Zappfly combo you can pretty much capture anyone and everyone including most of the bosses. That’s not to say the game is easy. There were several bosses I ended up bringing back dead.
The game is laid out in linear design where you move from city to city, earning money to pay the doc for a much-needed operation. My only problem with this concept is that you never do get the operation so for much of the game I was being thrifty, trying to save up the 20,000 for the doc while going without ammo storage upgrades and other useful items. Had I known I was free to spend my bounty earnings the game would have been so much easier.
Each town has a general store where you can purchase upgrades and ammo. There is also a bounty store in each town with a list of several bad hombres you can hunt down for cash rewards. Again, they are generally worth twice as much (if not more) if brought back alive, but it will take some skill to do that.
Gameplay goes something like this. You wander around glorious 3D landscapes collecting ammo along the way to your target zone. When you reach the target zone a radar map appears showing all the enemies and their vision cones. Alerted enemies will turn red. It’s up to you how to take down the henchmen leading up to the boss in each area. You can opt to set clever traps, lure the thugs one or two at a time with live bait then ambush them, or just run into the mix with crossbow blazing.
Control is awesome with the left and right triggers independently firing each side of the crossbow. You can quickly change out ammo with the D-pad moving up and down through the critter selection then left or right to assign that critter to a barrel. The game pauses during this time so you can check ammo inventory and plan your strategy. You also have a quick-spin tornado attack that can pummel your opponents into submission without leaving the third-person action view.
Both the enemy and you have health and stamina. For you, stamina slowly builds up and is a pool you can draw from by pressing the Triangle button and beating on your chest to refill your health bar as needed. Stamina fills up while you rest or when you collect bounties. The trick is you do have to stand still while beating your chest, so you can't heal while engaged in combat, climbing a rope or running away.
As for the minor enemies, their status is represented by stars that appear over their heads. Three yellow stars and they are stunned and ripe for “live collection” in your bounty vacuum cleaner (don’t ask). Lesser minions can also be shot with the Bolomite which instantly cocoons the target rendering them helpless for a few moments. You can also beat (or shoot) them to death and collect the corpse for half the bounty.
Bosses have a full health and stamina meter just like you and take a substantial beating before going down, but with the right combination of ammo you can set up a rhythmic pattern and wear most of them down while taking very little damage. Boss fights typically unfold more like puzzles than combat, integrating certain key elements of the environment and requiring creative uses for multiple ammo types.
Traditional puzzles are few and most could be considered strategic bonuses more than puzzles. A fully powered Zappfly can trigger certain blue energy portals that will lower bridges, cause cranes to drop containers on enemies, or open gates. Zappflies also turn red explosive barrels into giant and deadly fireballs, often creating massive chain reactions and powerful shockwaves. Since enemies unwittingly hide behind these barrels it is wise to target them first from afar.
There are a few interesting twists on the traditional level designs. There are two extremely fun and challenging mine car rides that have you targeting barrels, switches, and other pursuing mine cars with your crossbow on a high speed ride that rivals Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Also, near the end of the game you get your own personal Viking-style rowboat complete with automatic targeting laser turret. With a bit of strategy you can actually use this boat to create some interesting crossfire scenarios.
Oddworld has always been synonymous for bizarre and beautiful graphics and Stranger’s Wrath HD takes those original 2005 Xbox graphics and gives them a fantastic update worth of your HDTV. With stunning 720p graphics running at a silky smooth 60fps you’ll forget you’re playing a last-gen game. More than 80 characters have been remodeled and retextured, so what you see in the game looks just as good as what you saw in the cutscenes back in 2005.
The ride begins with a fantastic cutscene, just one of many that propels the story, and then you are tossed into one amazing environment after the next. Regardless of whether you are in the dusty desert, exploring the massive Opplefarm, trudging through a snowcapped fort, exploring caves, or creeping through lush forests looking for treetop snipers, there is always something fantastic on your screen thanks to improved environments that boast better poly-counts, textures and reflections.
Character design is totally original with the Stranger still being one of the most memorable of heroes even after a six-year hiatus. The predominance of “chicken people” in the towns gets a bit repetitive, but it was interesting to see how they managed to create an entire population of poultry and keep every encounter original. The goofy henchmen in their Cat in the Hat top hats are hysterical and each and every boss is a masterful creation.
All of these designs are totally unique yet they all have a universal theme that is totally “Oddworld”. Fans of the previous games are likely to recognize a few familiar species. Of course the characters that truly steal the show are the delightfully animated ammunition. Just watching these guys squirm on your crossbow is one thing, but to see the Fuzzles leap onto unsuspecting bad guys and ravage them is priceless.
Special effects are wonderful with great lighting, especially in the caves and forests with some colorful prismatic beams that cascade through rock and foliage. Rivers and lakes now feature updated relfections that distort with ripples and splashes. There is a great dust effect in one town where your vision is nearly obscured with orange clouds, and fire and smoke are abundant, especially when you start blasting those red barrels.
The music in Stranger’s Wrath is a mix of western flavor with some original composition that fits the game better than Stranger’s pants (inside joke). The music takes its cues from the onscreen action so when a boss or enemy spots you the tempo increases.
The voice work is hysterically funny and more professional than most feature films let alone videogames. The Stranger talks in an even Clint Eastwood-style drawl that is menacing while the rest of the cast delivers enchanting lines in unique dialects full of hillbilly emotion. This is one of those rare games that makes you want to talk to everyone you meet over and over again, and if you are ever unsure of what to do next, you can even talk to yourself.
The amount of dialogue is impressive. I tried talking to each of the chickens in one of the towns and they each had 10-12 lines they would say before they repeated and once you unlocked new conversation topics more random replies were added to that number. Plus, running over a chicken and stealing their gold while they shout, “Hey now ya stinky turd!” is just as funny the 50th time you do it as it was the first. There is also plenty of hilarious dialogue you can hear if you take the time to eavesdrop on the enemy and even the friendly NPC's.
Sound effects are outstanding and in rich 3D. The Dolby Digital/DTS 5.1 mix surrounds you in environmental sounds along with the yells and taunts of the enemy that are useful in giving away their position. There are all sorts of subtle sounds like the powering up of the Zappfly, the reloading of your crossbow, footsteps on various terrain and surfaces, and so much more. And all of the sound and music has been upgraded to 16-bit 44KHz for premium quality.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath offers a substantial single-player game that will take most gamers 15-20 hours to finish, probably longer if you want to hunt down those hidden Easter eggs, unlockable extras and 37 PSN trophies. While the game is fairly linear and there isn’t any branching mission structure, the way you tackle these missions, particularly the boss fights, is only limited by your imagination. You might just be surprised how inventive you can be in combining various ammo and strategies.
Kudos for keeping the best save game system you can offer – one that lets you save whenever you want, even in the middle of a boss fight or lengthy action scene. Plus, the game autosaves frequently so even if you get caught up in the story and forget to save you won’t have to backtrack much if you meet an untimely demise.
If Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is your first experience with an Oddworld game then you are in for a real treat, and if you’re just coming back to relive an HD remastered blast from the past, you are still in for a real treat. Stranger’s Wrath is still one of the most original designs and interesting twists you can put on the FPS genre while maintaining an equal amount of classic platform and action gameplay. Stranger will suck you in, much like his bounty collection device, from the opening tutorial and you won’t be able to put it down until the final boss fight and surprise ending. And then you’ll pick it up and play it all over again…it’s just that good!