Review of Oddworld: Stranger’s WrathPosted on February 24th, 2005 No comments
When Amit, at damnedmachines.com, declared that he enjoyed Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath more than Halo 2, I was skeptical to say the least. I went ahead and read his review and was intrigued by what was written. I HAD to rent this one.
So I did.
First, I’d like to provide a little background on this latest Oddworld game. (Anyone who’s seen the Discovery Channel documentary on the Xbox will remember this.) Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath was originally being developed to be published by Microsoft Games. Ed Fries (liaison between MS and its developers) eventually told Lorne Lanning (Creative Director for Oddworld Inhabitants) he lacked direction and wanted to do too many things at once. This culminated in Microsoft dropping Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath. I suppose they were still smarting over the poor quality of Munch’s Odyssee, which was an Xbox launch title, and notable for the symbolism of converting developers of one of the Sony Playstation’s best known games over to the Microsoft camp. Well, to make a long story short, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath got picked up and published by the company where all good games go to die, Electronic Arts. Only… this game didn’t die.
Playing OSW brought mixed feelings at first. My initial reaction was, “Oh, this is kind of different.”
This isn’t your standard FPS where you get a bunch of weapons and somewhere near the end you pick up “die uber rocket”. In OSW, You play a bounty hunter (who resembles any western character played by Clint Eastwood) armed with one weapon, a crossbow, and a whole mess of ammo types, which come in the form of cute little creatures. You can have two types of critters loaded at a time, one on each trigger, double-barrel fashion. There’s big beetles, skunks, bees, and my favorite, a trash-talking squirrel called a “Chippunk.” He would sit there on my crossbow shooting his mouth off. “My brothah. What’s up, my brothah?” “Do you got someone that needs talkin’ to?” Nice. Some critters were more powerful than others, but there always seemed to be a good place to use each kind of ammo.
Which also illustrates the great design in this game. Enemy and terrain placement was done in such a way that certain areas would be much easier if you used a certain type of ammunition. In most cases, they also gave you more reloads of that ammunition as well. Notably, it also seemed like there was more than one approach in several missions. You could rush in, stingbees blazing, or maybe you’d like to opt for a stealthy approach and lure enemies with a chippunk to an area that you had trapped earlier.
On the downside, in the first half of the game some of the areas were a little repetitive. Initially, I was excited and having fun. After several hours of catching outlaws, I was beginning to get a little bored with the game. I was seeing the same enemies over and over again, and the only thing keeping things fresh was a steady stream of new critters to use in my crossbow.
Just when I thought I couldn’t handle it anymore… the game delivered. Big time. The game switched gears completely, and I was left sitting there, saying, I’m glad I persisted and kept playing, because this is awesome. The plot became deeper and the gameplay was refreshed and changed in significant ways. In short, Microsoft should be kicking themselves for letting this one go.
Control-wise, the 3rd person and 1st person views worked well together. Like all 3rd person games, however, there was definite camera weirdness. Most 3rd person games will zoom the camera toward the character to keep the camera within the game’s geometry. Bad things can happen if a camera starts moving through terrain willy-nilly. It just looks bad. One of the problems with this approach is that if the character is standing close to a wall, and you turn to look out, away from the wall, the character will take up the whole view, anyway. In Oddworld, if I was standing right next to a wall, the camera would NOT allow me to look away from the wall. When the camera hit a solid object, it just stopped. There were points that was annoying, but thankfully, most of the levels were designed in such a way that this type of thing very rarely impacted gameplay at key times.
The scenery in OSW is nothing short of beautiful. It is really well done, and I place it at the same level as some of the vistas seen in Halo 2. Overall, however, I’d have to say that graphics in OSW are better than Halo 2 in almost every department.
A few closing remarks: Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is amazing. It is fresh, has new gameplay ideas, an unpredictable non-cliche plot, and pushes the limits of what it means to be a “first-person shooter”. In fact, to lump it with all the other FPS games does a great disservice to the developers of OSW. This game really deserves a brand new genre, that I shall hereafter call “FTPSAA” (First- Third- Person Shooter Action Adventure).
As far as how it stacks up against Halo 2? Well, it’s not even fair. Comparing OSW to Halo 1 is more of a fair fight. Halo 1 stretched the concepts of what makes a FPS. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath completely breaks the mold. If this had something besides just a single-player campaign, and wasn’t published by EA (who I am currently boycotting), then I would probably own this game.
In fairness to Halo 2, I feel like Halo 2 is the well polished sequel, like Return of the Jedi. OSW is like the edgy, cult film that did everything right.