Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD – Review

Developer(s): Oddworld Inhabitants, Just Add Water Developments
Platform: PS3
Also on: Xbox, PC
Release Date: Dec 2011

Click Here for Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath trailer

It should come as no surprise to avid readers that I am a big fan of the Oddworld games. Since writing this blog, I’ve already reviewed the first two, and that wasn’t even the first time I’d played them. This is the first time I’ve played Stranger’s Wrath though, and I’ve got to tell you guys, it is different. Not necessarily bad different, not necessarily good different. Just… different.

The Set-Up:
You play as the bounty hunter known only as Stranger in a pseudo-Western Oddworld. Taverns, deserts and outlaws are the order of the day. In order to treat an unknown illness, the Stranger must raise 20 grand to pay his doctor for surgery. There’s only one way to raise that kind of money. So strap on your crossbow and load up on critters, it’s bounty-huntin’ time.

I know, I might as well have written ‘Yeehaw!’ at the end of that. That’s the effect playing this game has on you after a while. Redneck Chickens in dungarees are everywhere in this game, literally squawking stereotypical comments every time you press Square near one. Which you will have to do occasionally to ask for directions. And it’s pretty funny when you occasionally get the response “Why doncha’ kiss my ass Stranger?”

Stranger’s Wrath is nothing like the Abe games. Those games were platformers that involved a lot of puzzle solving, and were set in an earthy steam punk universe. While the Oddworld Inhabitants might insist that this game takes place in the same world, it is clearly on another continent entirely, or at least in a different century. Puzzles are pretty much non-existent, as it is now basically a first-person shooter, with some minor third person platforming segments.

The platforming segments are as standard as they come. They only really exist to link one shoot-out to another. They are always up to scratch, but you’ll never really be blown away by them. Platforming in Stranger’s Wrath is like walking through a door: you hardly ever screw it up, but when you do, you feel pretty stupid. It seems clear that this isn’t the focus of the game at all because the developers give Stranger a kind of gallop/sprint move if you keep moving for long enough. This makes getting from one place to another, when there aren’t many obstacles in the way, a very swift process.

It’s the shoot-outs with your bounties where most of the focus is, and, it has to be said, they’re pretty good. Once you’ve accepted a bounty in the central town, you have to find out where they’re holed up by chatting to the locals, shoot one or two outlaws along the way there and finally, have an impressively melodramatic showdown with whatever thug you happen to be capturing. If you manage to knock your enemies out, you can capture them alive rather than dead. This is generally more difficult to do, but you’ll receive twice as much money at the bounty shop. The bounties vary slightly in appearance, but they are all big, dumb and ugly. There’s just enough variety to keep you going, but only just.

The same goes for the actual gameplay. Each boss will always have back-up, some more than others. Their weapons are quite standard, ranging from rifles and machine guns to shotguns and missile launchers. And while knocking out one or two of them requires a specific set of tactics (Elbows Freely can only be hit when his back is turned), it is a simple case of blasting away for the most part. It is the locations you fight these bad boys that make the biggest difference. One takes place in a water pump factory, with plenty of lethal fans spinning for you or your enemies to fall into. Another takes place on an expansive farm, with multiple buildings to hide in, so it requires a lot of tactics.

Which is what the game boils down to really: Tactics. You really do get out what you put in. Sure, you can go in, blowing up everything in your path, and theoretically this works after a considerable amount of trial and error. However, if you opt to go down this route, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a by-the-numbers shooter. With careful thought, planning and preparation, Wrath becomes a satisfying exercise of luring your prize into a well-set trap and then effortlessly reaping the benefits.

You do this with the use of your handy crossbow. With the exception of the machine guns that blew you to squidgey pieces in the Abe games, firearms are a little misplaced in Oddworld. For this reason, Stranger doesn’t rely on traditional ammo, instead using a bag full of projectile critters and creepy-crawlies to hunt down his prey. It is this particular element that makes Wrath so memorable after all of these years. Until Call of Duty and Animal Crossing receive a very unlikely, but hilarious, crossover, it is doubtful we will ever see this kind of ingenuity in shooters again.

Critters can be bought in stores or captured in the wild. Every critter has its own function. Spiders can be used to temporarily tie enemies up in their web. Chipmunks attract enemy attention, allowing you to lead them into dark corners. And hornets and boom-bats fulfill the roles of machine-guns and grenade launchers respectively. There are many more, 9 altogether, 8 of which can be upgraded throughout the game.

Many of these upgrades are standard, the hornets simply inflict more damage once they’ve been upgraded. But the skunk, which initially causes enemies to vomit (and which I found fairly worthless), can be upgraded to suck all nearby enemies towards it with force. This quickly evolved from my least used weapon to my absolute favourite. There is no feeling quite like seeing 5 of your enemies being yanked from their positions, only to fall off a cliff.

The humor is only vaguely reminiscent of the older Oddworld games, and this is the major problem I had with Stranger’s Wrath. The Abe games, despite their technical limitations, had a very distinctive atmosphere that pretty much carried the series. They did this through use of music and art design. Wrath, despite having significant graphical improvements (especially in the HD version) lacks considerably in charm. It isn’t awful, not by any means, and the locations aren’t exactly ugly. But you definitely get the sense that the developers could have been a bit more creative. Locations are forgettable, the music is only adequate and the characters, for the most part, are only mildly amusing.

This hits hardest when it comes to Stranger, our main character. The major issue here is that, while his story is interesting, his character is not. He sounds for all the world like Kris Kristofferson if the man had never spoken English before. Having a protagonist that needs to pause, on average, once per sentence, gets irritating quickly.
“Gotta…get to town. Get paid”
“You’re uh…comin’ with me!”
“That’s…good to know”.
He isn’t funny, he’s only kind of cool and if it weren’t for one significant plot twist, he would have absolutely no interesting character arcs whatsoever.

And that’s what raises the bar in Wrath. Once you complete about two-thirds of the game, there is a major change in pace, style and even gameplay elements. On the OMG scale, this twist ranks about a 7. It’s no Aeris/Sephiroth moment from Final Fantasy 7, but it’ll raise a few eyebrows. It has no major impact at first, but for the remainder of the game, you tend to view Stranger in a different light. You begin to feel for the guy, just a little bit. This last portion leans a lot closer to what I’d hoped a new Oddworld game would be like and is by far the best section of the game. Those who aren’t fans of the new story, stick with it. It gets really good towards the end of its 8-10 hour campaign.

Overall:
It isn’t quite what we’ve come to expect from Oddworld games, but it holds up. The tactical element put forward by the unusual ammo types sets it a little above most FPS games. However, there are some character and atmosphere issues that will probably irritate players and long time fans of the series. A fairly standard game until the epic final act, which is more fast paced and a lot more involving.

Rating: 7/10

“Where else would ya wanna be, but on a crossbow?” – Chipmunk

Shamelessly Awful Stuff:

  • I’d heard that there was a major twist in Stranger’s Wrath before playing it. Just in case anyone thought the same thing I did: Stranger is not Abe in the future. Even though he looks a little bit like him with a beard.
  • Although some people seem to think he looks like someone else…

  • For those interested, Oddworld are currently working on their 5th title, a real-time strategy game called The Hand of Odd. 
This game is kind of like:
  • Red Dead Redemption…..with aliens. Slapstick aliens.

or

  • Slapping a Lord of the Rings ending onto the end of Back to the Future: Part 3…..no, really, it actually is.
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