Oddworld Stranger's Wrath

Is that a chipmunk in your crossbow, or are you just happy to see me?

Were it I reviewing Oddworld Stranger's Wrath, it would automatically receive a ten, or five slices of pie, or thrity-four strands of wig hair, or whatever arbitrary measuring stick youÂ'd like to use to indicate value simply for its use of small furry creatures as ordinance.  Then again, they really donÂ't let me review games much around here anymore, and I think itÂ's clear why.  For one, I might use wig hair to express quality, and for a second weÂ've got people like Swat who are, frankly, better at the art.  So, I leave it for him to share his comments on Electronic Arts first foray into the Oddworld universe, Oddworld StrangerÂ's Wrath.

Oddworld StrangerÂ's Wrath

Every now and then you come across a game that you think will be spectacular.  You start playing it, and painfully come to the conclusion that it wasnÂ't as you had hoped.  That something about it just doesnÂ't feel right.  Technically, the game could be a marvel unto to itself, but your desire to play it is dashed within the first few critical hours of playtime.  You find yourself slogging through the game play, in hopes that it will be a diamond in the rough, searching for some sign of redemption.  Reviewing Stranger was a bit of a mixed bag for me.

Oddworld StrangerÂ's Wrath is set in the same universe as previous games in the Oddworld series. This time out the story unfolds as both a first person shooter, and third person platform adventure.  You play as Stranger, a sort of part human/part beast that would feel right at home on the Island of Doctor Moreau.  He has a sullen, almost dopey sounding voice and sports an outfit ripped straight from Clint EastwoodÂ's prop wardrobe. Apparently they have great cable TV coverage in Oddworld, because thereÂ's no mistaking who StrangerÂ's hero is.  He has a very mysterious past, and when you begin the adventure the only thing you know about him is that heÂ's trying to get enough cash to pay the local doctor for an operation.  From the sounds of it, if he doesnÂ't get this operation, it could prove fatal.

Stranger is a bounty hunter by trade, and in his quest for cash he winds up in a dusty Western town inhabited by a race of talking redneck chickens called Â"ClackerzÂ".  Yes, talking redneck chickens.  The natives are initially downright rude to the newcomer, so much in fact that youÂ'll realize early on how gratifying it is to lay the smack down on the locals.

Stranger can accept bounty assignments from the store in town, and they usually involve traveling outside the townÂ's perimeter to take down a gang leader and his henchmen.  His method of capture involves knocking out the enemy and using a Ghostbusters inspired vacuum which sucks up the body of his victims, dead or alive.

Anyone whoÂ's been following this gameÂ's development will know that thereÂ's something crazy going on with the ammo system.  It seems that Stranger is a bit of an anti-NRA kind of guy who loathes typical weapons, but instead prefers ammo of the Â"LiveÂ" variety.  He wonÂ't shoot a pistol, but heÂ'll rain down death from above with a barrage of furry critters with large sharp teeth.

Throughout the game you will capture and use a variety of different rabid animals to take down your prey.  Want to draw attention away from yourself?  Load up a Chippunk on your crossbow and the little bastard will yell and crack jokes at the bad guys drawing attention.  Other ammo includes spiders that will wrap up and subdue foes, killer wasps, ferocious critters, skunks that will make the baddies puke, and more.

ThereÂ's something a bit surreal about having these varmints attached to your crossbow.  They look back at you with big, crazy eyes, and some of the more vicious ones will have random psychotic eye twitches.  IÂ'll never forget the first time a Chippunk stared up at me with those big, cracked out eyes and said Â"So what are you doinÂ' there guy?Â"Ã‚  I nearly pissed myself with laughter.

Using a combination of the ammo brings some strategy into play.  You can shoot a number of Fuzzles around you as they act like little furry mines.  As soon as an enemy comes into proximity, they jump in the air and swarm him in a flurry of fur and teeth.

When you run out of ammo you will have to hunt for some more, but it usually doesnÂ't take long to find them hopping around.  A couple shots from your Zappflies will knock them out so you can restock.  Your Â"ammoÂ" can be upgraded at the store throughout the game, so you can hold even crazier critters.  Just wait until you see the Chippunk with dual-megaphones strapped to his head, or the cute little skunk with the gas mask.  ItÂ's guaranteed to make you crack a smile or two.

The Stranger can switch between first person and third person view on the fly. Initially I found this to be a bit cumbersome, but after a while it became second nature.  I found myself mostly playing it as an FPS, and only using the third person view when I needed to perform a tricky jump, or gallop to the next town.

The FPS controls feel very solid, but the third person takes a little getting used to.  When pushing full tilt on the thumb stick Stranger will start galloping full tilt on all fours, and once you let go he doesnÂ't exactly stop on a dime.  Within time you grow accustomed to this, and youÂ'll be double jumping over large chasms with the best of them.

When it came to the gameplay, I found the first few hours of play a bit slow and uninspired.  I became bored of the towns that all had a similar bleak feel to them, and the progression was very formulaic.  Get the bounty assignment, travel out of town, capture and collect bounty, rinse and repeat.  There was no compelling reason for me to continue, no attachment to the character and little insight into his motivation.  I almost put down the controller

Then I hit the three hour mark.  Needless to say, Stranger threw me for a bit of a spin; a complete 180 in fact.  As soon as the story fleshed out a bit more and I was able to travel to new locations, it opened up a whole new world of opportunity.  I traveled through lush forests, sailed down majestic lakes, explored ancient ruins, and traversed underground caves.

Without giving away too much, there are some major plot developments which will keep you on the edge of your seat.  There is also a great sense of character development with Stranger, and at certain points you feel genuinely attached with his quest and his plight.  ItÂ's not too often you see quality character development in games, so itÂ's a treat when it actually happens.  You might dismiss Stranger as a semi-childish game based on the character design, but I have to say that there are some dark moments.  ThereÂ's a very grim and ominous tone throughout the latter half of the game that is accentuated by the moody, haunting Western inspired score.

In terms of overall difficulty, Stranger is about average.  Some boss fights are laughably easy, and others will have you swearing at the television until you smack your head and realize Â"Oh yeah, why didnÂ't I think of that?Â" It will take you around twenty hours start to finish, and never once do you feel like any of it is Â"fillerÂ".  The levels are designed so well that you wonÂ't have to spend a lot of time backtracking.  However, there is one particularly frustrating segment towards the end that had my blood boiling, and it reaffirmed my hatred for any sequence involving countdown timers.

When it comes to the art direction of this game, itÂ's flat out gorgeous.  I have no doubt that I would have completed the game a few hours earlier if I hadnÂ't stopped and admired my surroundings from time to time.  Even if the premise of the game hasnÂ't hooked you yet, Stranger warrants a rental just to drive home the fact that games are becoming an art form, like it or not.  After the first few hours of plain and dry desert towns, the world becomes a lot more interesting.

The environments are extremely organic.  Trees and grass feel and look like trees and grass.  Critters hop all over the ground, and insects buzz through the air.  Walk into a forest and youÂ'll see the soft glow of the sunlight filter down through the trees, with flies sparkling in the lightÂ's path.  Underground caves emit a colorful luminescent glow which is also breathtaking.  The draw distance is quite far as well, especially during levels when you are traveling down a river or lake.  The action is locked in at 30fps and I canÂ't recall seeing any slow down.  Just like previous Oddworld games, the CG movies are top notch and are a nice treat to behold when you finish an area.

I had a bit of a gripe when it came to the character models used in Stranger.  Only a couple models were used for the Clackerz, and it detracts from the overall atmosphere of the game.  Some of the stock enemies could have used some variation as well.

The sound is an equally mixed bag.  On one hand, you have some great Western inspired themes that play throughout the game; they have a grim, haunting and melancholic feel to them.  They work well with the plot, and help to immerse you in the Oddworld universe.  The ambient sound effects are great and add to the organic feel of the game, from the buzzing of the flies to the chattering of the animals running through the bushes.  On the other hand, some of the voices are sampled horribly low and are difficult to hear.  Some characters you encounter later on are almost impossible to hear due to the poor quality.  WhatÂ's odd is that these same voices sound great in the CG movies. 

There are some very funny moments when listening to the locals.  They will carry on and talk amongst themselves as if you werenÂ't there.  You will overhear them discussing bounties youÂ're currently after and even chatting about the weather.  One of the funniest moments was when I overheard a couple of Clackerz philosophizing about the latest bounty.  Â"Well, I think that there outlaw is mean because he wasnÂ't breast fed as a kidÂ".  In typical Oddworld fashion, thereÂ's a nice sense of humor waiting to be discovered if you have the patience.

In conclusion, I feel that StrangerÂ's Wrath is an excellent progression of the platformer/adventure genre.  The level of dedication from the Oddworld team is apparent in even the smallest detail, and itÂ's easy to see how much they love the world and characters they have created.

StrangerÂ's Wrath left me satisfied, but empty.  Just like a great story, itÂ's hard to realize that the last page is near, youÂ'll have to put the book down, and the world will disappear into your memories.  Stranger joins the ranks of other gaming gems like Beyond Good and Evil, which manage to successfully create a real, living world.  One that you secretly hope youÂ'll be able to visit again.

-Swat

Comments

I've really enjoyed this game... I wish I had more time to get into it. I think the world is really, really interesting and it was done in such a cool way... Great review, Swat!

I'm thinking about picking this one up. Another game to add to the birthday list.

So now that its been played you going to be adding it to the trading post?

Can you maybe compare to the previous Oddworlds? I played the first one - Abe's Exodus I think - and enjoyed it. I realize that was a generation ago.

It's a completely different experience from the other Oddworlds. The only thing really tying it together is the quirky inhabitants with silly voices and the dark sense of humor.

There's pretty much no puzzle elements, it's strictly a FPS/Platformer.

One thing I should have mentioned in the review is that it has low replayability. When you complete the game - that's it. Nothing more, game over man

I'd definitely give this one a rental, take a good chunk of the weekend and play it all the way through.

Thanks Swat.

Arise!

Anyone try out the new HD version of this game, released recently on PSN?

The presentation was definitely improved near to today's downloadable title market, but I found myself shocked to be playing a game from many years ago. I don't know if they've made any gameplay changes, but I really wish they would've. I intro/tutorial model they use has been out of date for years now. It's very hand-holdy, clearly designed as a tutorial instance, and very loosely story related.

The meat of the game, the missions, haven't grabbed me. I'm only a few missions in, everything's been solid, just not great or unique. The praise supposedly comes from a few hours into the game.

Basically, I just restated what Sean said almost seven years ago. It's a great port, I'm just not able to comment as much as I'd like on the game.