Written by Brock Poulsen, brockst4r Friday, 06 January 2012 06:00
After much anticipation on my part, the HD version of Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath has been unleashed on the world. This overlooked gem from the original XBox is being given new life in the current generation, and it is a beautiful new life.
This game is the first one to receive GoozerNation's Editors' Choice award.
I have very fond memories of traversing Stranger's world from the comfort of my parent's basement. I, like many others, was unaware of this game when it was first released. Luckily I caught on before too long; I was sold on the game based on a single magazine ad I happened upon. I drove to my local game store that day and snapped up their only copy.
To be honest, the ad had me at "Oddworld game with a double-barreled crossbow." But add an Odd-western setting and the fact that the ammunition is actual Oddworld critters, each with their own clever personalities and crafty abilities, and you have something special. I never finished the game the first time, and I regret I missed out on so much great gameplay and story.
I considered only reviewing the new features and the upgrade to HD, but I feel like the game deserves a bit more in-depth discussion for its HD revival, since it hardly made a dent in gamers' consciousness the first time around.
HD has been kind to this game; the shiny new visuals are gorgeous. It boasts beautiful environments and character models, and there is an impressive amount of detail in everything from foliage to the ammunition that sticks to walls.
The story opens on Stranger, a bounty hunter who is in need of a life-saving surgery costing 20,000 Moolah. Stranger is gruff and likeable, with in-game dialog that is sparse enough that the player doesn't get tired of constant one-liners. The Oddworld games have always had intricate worlds filled with compelling characters, and this game is no exception. Each "boss" bounty is different and interesting, with many different villains inspired by classic western character types. In this way, Stranger's Wrath might prompt memories of Red Dead Redemption; both use many of the great things about westerns to tell a great video game story.
The controls feel fantastic on a DualShock, and the extra shoulder buttons make melee combat from first person even better than the original. This is an interesting aspect of Stranger's Wrath that few games have attempted: switching between first- and third-person, and knowing which to use, is an integral part of gameplay. It can initially take some practice to get the hang of shooting from first-person and capturing bounties in third-person, but it will quickly become second nature (har har). Each critter has its own specific use, allowing multiple approaches to any situation. Stealth tactics are essential (at least on Hard difficulty) because Stranger can't take a lot of hits. He can, however, "shake off" any damage he's received as long as he has enough Stamina (a regenerating bar effected by melee and falls from ledges) and the player can find a safe spot. There are weapons for killing as well as incapacitating enemies, and all of them are fun to use. Many classic FPS guns are represented, like the Oddworld versions of machine guns and grenade launchers, as well as some new varieties. Fuzzles are furry little bundles of torment, and can be set as traps or fired directly at enemies to distract and damage them. Bolamites wrap enemies in a web so they can be captured, and Stunks release noxious gas to incapacitate several enemies at a time. Each mission calls for different tactics, and each one is a blast to play.
Outside of combat, Stranger controls well. His third-person gallop is a clever fast travel mechanic, and fits well with both the Western and Oddworld themes. It helps to communicate the beastly nature that still lurks just under the civilized exterior of the world.
I have just a couple of minor issues with the game, none of which are the fault of developer Just Add Water Games. The onscreen map could really use some sort of indicator for outlines of buildings and the like, but it's not a game breaker. I also wish the subtitles were displayed for all dialog, rather than just the cut scenes. Stranger speaks in a Clint Eastwood grumble, while the Clakkerz (yes, with a "z") in the towns speak loudly, so it's tricky to get the volume right and catch all the dialog.
Speaking of which, the voice acting is spot-on. It's an interesting touch that all the Clakkerz - male or female - seem to have the same voice actor, and by the same token all the bandits sound virtually identical to each other. Rather than detracting from the quality of the game, I find it a charming touch. The only sound I don't care for is Stranger's grunt while jumping; every other sound perfectly suits its situation. I especially like the "WHUMP" of the cannonball-like Thudslugs and the sound of a Bolamite wrapping a bandit in a web.
This all adds up to a very satisfying game experience. I'm glad they didn't try to shoehorn multiplayer or any unnecessary modes into the game. I enjoyed my time in the Stranger's shoes even more this time. It's a beautiful revival of a fantastic game, and at $15 it's a no-brainer.