As our more loyal readers know we here at the HUD love us some digital distribution and one of the biggest reasons for this is the fact that it allows games that may have flown under the radar of the zeitgeist a second chance. A prime example of the kind of game that needed that treatment is Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath. A fantastically unique take on the FPS, all taking place in a more western tinged version of the twisted and somewhat disturbing Oddworld universe. It’s a pity this was the game that killed the series because by far it is my favourite game in that series. This is why I was so happy when I heard developer Just Add Water had acquired the rights and was remaking the game for the downloadable markets; while it has had some setbacks in release (size limits and policies and such) it’s finally out and we’re going to take a look at it.
First things first we’ll talk about the graphics as it’s really the only part of this game that’s been updated at all. Things have essentially been HDifed, every texture is much crisper and better defined and things just generally look a lot less jaggy than in the original. Best part of this is the fact that it preserves and enhances the trademark Oddworld visual aesthetic. Exactly as you expect from the series, things have a grotesquely innocent and almost tragic look to them that well represents the ideas they’re trying to put forward. The balding, fat, and bulging in all the wrong places chicken people who populate the game’s towns are the perfect abstract visual representation of the ignorant gullible western town folk archetypes it’s trying to evoke. All that said there is the fact that the old geometry is still place, not that you can blame them for it as that shit would be hard to replace, it’s pretty noticeable and as with all games from that generation pretty bad looking.
Of course both the reason the game failed and the reason it’s a cult classic is the gameplay. It’s (mainly) an FPS made in the way they were before they all became the dour “follow-a-man-down-a-corridor fests” they are now and hot damn does it play that way. It’s very much a mix of the two more prevalent types of FPS action of the day, Stealth and Carnage. The game is pretty much all about lying in wait, setting a perfect trap, and then pouncing in and dealing with the back lash it creates. This is reinforced both by the large amounts of enemies they’ll place (walking in set patterns, naturally) and the fact that you can go out to a third person mode for better melee and platforming. Oh yeah there’s also oddly implemented and kinda weird platforming because back then that was just the sort thing you did in games like this. It’s kind of weird actually as this game feels like it stands as testament to both how great it was in the good old days and awesome it is that those days no longer exist. On the one hand the fast paced and very rewarding action is the exact kind of fun I feel is missing from the generally grey FPSes of today. On the other hand though so many of the foibles of the old school exist here; poor pathing and lack of direction, weird and confusing world geometry, and a lot of just insane artifacts of game design we’ve since grown out of and almost become ashamed of as an industry.
The story is pretty neat as well here if only because it was the start of the path that the Oddworld series intended to go down but never got the chance to. The series while already pretty dark was generally more focused on the weak and sympathetic salamander-like Mudokans dealing with tyranny, racism, and corporate slavery through the joys of farting. This game focuses also on racism, tyranny, and boardroom officiated cruelty but everyone seems to be a lot more angry about it. The next game that was supposed to come in the series (The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot) was even darker and would have dealt with themes like the mafia and again slavery and racism (Oddworld is kind of fucked up). It would have been very interesting to see where the series had to go and when reading about what could have been it’s nice to see the roots that shaped the fever dreams that got to be. The basic premise here is that you are the titular stranger who as a bounty hunter must earn a ton of “Moolah” (what they actually call their currency) to get treated for a mysterious ailment. Along the way you help the gawky looking chicken people, murder/capture a ton of dinosaur looking bad guys, and use any sort of small animal you can find as live ammo (yeah forest critters are ammo in this game). It’s an incredibly weird tale and moreover an incredibly weird game and it’s pity they don’t make games like it anymore.
In summation this game is a very solid port of a stellar game but it adds essentially nothing to the experience. While it is nice to have trophies have the visuals look this nice, if you’ve already played through the whole game or honestly if you still own a copy there isn’t really a good reason to grab this version. The visual improvements while certainly very nice don’t really add anything practical to the game and for those who have already played through it the rose tint on how it looked the first time is probably equivalent to how it looks now. That said new comers to the series, game historians looking to learn, or those that only got a rental and never finished out the game should most certainly give the game a look and consider picking it up. So for reminding me how much I miss the Oddworld series, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD gets a 3 out of 5. While the game is definitely solid, the primary audience for this title (Oddworld fans) probably won’t actually gain anything from playing it.