Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD PS3 Review
Publisher: Oddworld Inhabitants Developer: Just Add Water Genre: FPS, Action Adventure
Players: 1 Age Rating: 12+ Other console/handheld formats: Vita
It’s a shame that developer Oddworld Inhabitants had to withdraw themselves from the games industry, but that’s exactly what happened in 2005. With games like Abe’s Odyssey and Stranger’s Wrath, they proved to be one of the most unique and creative developers. Fortunately, the Oddworld series has been brought back, thanks to a deal between original developer Oddworld Inhabitants and Yorkshire-based developer Just Add Water. The aforementioned developer was most recently responsible for the full remake of Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey, but before that they also developed HD remasters of Oddworld: Munch’s Odyssey in 2012 and Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath in 2011.
It’s Stranger’s Wrath HD I am reviewing here, which is the most different of all the Oddworld games; original developer Oddworld Inhabitants really did try and do something different with the game. The Mudokons and puzzles that featured in the first three Oddworld games were set aside, and the game took much more of an action approach with its mysterious new hero.
In terms of its setting, with its cowboy hat-wearing lead character, bounties and desert environment, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath obviously takes inspiration from Westerns. Stranger, the titular protagonist of the game, is a hairy creature that couldn’t look any more different from the Mudokon characters that featured in the other Oddworld games. Stranger is a bounty hunter whom is aiming to collect bounties in a bid to raise money (or moolah) for an operation. Being an Oddworld game, Stranger’s Wrath does have a sense of humour, although it also has its dark themes. There’s also a clever twist later on in the story, which I won’t be spoiling here.
Like I said earlier on in this review, Stranger’s Wrath was a considerably different game from previous Oddworld games when it was first released in 2005 on the original Xbox. While there’s still some platforming and the occasional puzzle, the game takes much of its inspiration from the FPS genre. While the likes of Abe could possess his enemies, Stranger has some basic melee manoeuvres for close combat while in third person view, although his main weapon is a deadly crossbow, of which can be loaded with ‘live’ ammo and is fired from a first person perspective.
In Stranger’s Wrath, live ammo actually means that the ammo is alive; the ammo that can be loaded on the crossbow are actually living creatures, which makes for a creative and amusing take on weaponry. There’s 9 different types of ammo, with good examples including the machine-gun like Stingbees, the explosive Boombats, the aggressive Fuzzles, which bite enemies and can also be placed as traps, and the Chippunks, of which lure enemies to the position you have fired them in. There’s certainly a pleasing enough variety in the live ammo, and you can also load two different types on the crossbow at once, giving you a fair bit of room for experimentation. Some of the ammo can also be/is upgraded from certain points in the game, which makes some of these creatures even more useful. Ammo can be hunted, purchased at shops or found in crates located around the level.
As I mentioned, Stranger’s goal is to take on bosses with bounties on their heads, and after beating them, you then return to the bounty store, delivering them dead or alive. Obviously, you earn more moolah if you manage to capture each boss alive as opposed to dead, and even the regular enemies throughout the game can be captured dead or alive, which also adds to your score once you return to the bounty store.
The game can be played with an action approach, but it’s also possible to take the stealthy route. Saying that, the stealth is so basic (your mini map basically tells you if you are hidden or not, and there’s not too many alternate routes to take) and done so poorly that it’s easy to forget about it; the game definitely feels more like it was designed as an action game over anything else.
From the opening tutorial which has you capturing an enemy with a bounty on his head, the game then gives you little pause as you hunt bounty after bounty, making things feel a little repetitive from time to time. Something to break up all of this bounty hunting would have been welcome, although the later sections of the game do have a rather different structure. Still, there is a feeling of repetition, and I could only imagine what the game would have been like if it had been made within the last few years.
There are some good ideas here, although there’s also some nasty difficulty spikes in the game (I played through on the normal difficulty level), with the quick save option proving to be an absolute Godsend. While the quick save feature will guarantee that most will get through the game, it feels rather cheap to use, but, with the amount that the boss fights often throw at you, it also feels necessary. Going back to difficulty levels, these are a new and welcome inclusion in this HD remaster.
The health system in the game is clever and is a spin on the typical recharging health system seen in many other games. As opposed to automatic recharging, the system here sees you holding a button to heal yourself, with Stranger coolly shaking off the damage he has sustained. Holding the button results in a stamina meter depleting and your health meter rising; this is an ingenious exchange of resources. With it being based on interaction, the health system also makes the game more challenging and tactical.
Just Add Water has also assured that Stranger’s Wrath isn’t one of those HD remasters that is lazy and obviously released only as a cash-in; the visuals have been updated to 720p, with increased polygons and enhanced textures, and the game now runs at 60fps. The results are very pleasing for a game which was first released back in 2005.
Other than a couple of the live ammo varieties, I never felt that the game had the charm and appeal of the previous three Oddworld games, and perhaps with other people feeling this way about it, this is one of the reasons that caused the original Xbox release to underperform at retail in the way that it did. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is still a decent game that has flashes of brilliance, and this HD remaster has been handled beautifully, although the repetition and some unnecessary padding does mean that the game isn’t up to the standard of previous games set in the Oddworld universe.