I've always been an avid follower of the Xbox and its titles since its launch a few years ago. Whenever a game was announced, it was always good news, especially with the lack of titles to be released with the debut of Microsoft's console so I was quite excited and curious when the statement was made for the development and release of a title named; Oddworld Inhabitants: Munch's Odyssey. Being one of the rare few titles to be released around the launch date of the Xbox, my choices of games weren't too vast as to what I could play. So with my curiosity peaked and my new Xbox waiting, I fired up the game and began playing as the strange creature many come to know as Munch. Months and years have passed since that fateful day and many have come to realize the potential the first Oddworld title had but never managed to completely achieve. This time, Oddworld is back under the publishing hands of EA Games and better then ever.
The game starts off with an opening pre-rendered cutscene, the quality and effort put into it is just breathtaking. The first thing that came to my mind was how close it was to being Pixar like material and the same goes to say for the rest of the game’s pre-rendered cutscenes. After watching the game’s main character, Stranger, capture himself a bounty the player is thrusted directly into play. The game starts off with a tutorial, helping you learn the ropes quickly to be able to survive on your own as a mean, badass bounty hunter. One of the neat aspects you'll learn rapidly is how to switch between 1st and 3rd person views. This is a great option to be able to rely on when getting in sticky situations requiring a more direct 1st person approach or vice-versa. The game's tutorial is well pieced together and very useful for beginners to the 3D platformer genre and seems to flow naturally together with the game as if it was a normal level! Little of the story is known when you first start off playing with the main goal of nabbing bounties for moolah from your local Bounty Shop. Later on in the game, little by little the player gets to learn more about the main character and his seeming need for an operation. From there, the game starts to pick up and more of the story is discovered. I won’t say much more of the game’s plot as to not ruin the nice surprises it holds in store for those patient and skilled enough to get through about 15 hours of playing time. The length of the game will vary a lot, depending on the difficulty level and skill of the player. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is no kid’s game, even though it might seem that way at first. A lot of patience is required when playing this game; strategy and stealth are a must too. Even though there’s a 1st person perspective, don’t let it fool you into thinking about utilizing no brains, guns-a-blazing as it’ll get you killed faster then you can kill anyone, especially in the later levels. For some, this might be the source of great frustration, but I found it to be a great touch which separates it from the majority of the other child oriented platformers. To help with the difficulty is the choice of being able to switch from one perspective to another with relative ease, which can help plan your strategy. Both views have their advantages and disadvantages too! For example, when in 3rd person, Stranger can run around faster but is harder to control but can ram into enemies, temporarily knocking them out and allowing you to capture them with your “Ghostbusters” reminiscent device. Essentially, the majority of the Gameplay is based on knocking out bad guys and sucking them up and then beating down the head honcho you’ve been sent to collect and bringing them back to town for moolah, the game’s currency. In turn, you can spend the change you’ve collected on “upgrades” ranging from ammunition, bigger pouches to store your “bullets” to binoculars and “armor”. The game’s weaponry is very limited but very creative. While in 3rd person mode, Stranger is restricted to two basic melee attacks but when in 1st person, you’ll find yourself equipped with a crossbow capable of stocking and firing two different kinds of “live ammo”. This is where the game gets even stranger. Your crossbow can fire multiple different kinds of bugs which are scattered across the land. At first you are given an unlimited supply of “Surge” bugs, these creatures electrify themselves and are perfect to be used when knocking out enemies or activating switches. As you progress through the Oddworld, various bugs will appear which you will be able to capture and use. These creatures vary from bees, which can be shot like a machine gun in rapid fire to chipmunks that create a ruckus and attract your foes when fired at the ground. When combined and used properly, the live ammo is a perfect and fresh approach for disposing of the baddies. Heed the warning though, with the surge bug aside, your ammo supply isn’t infinite. The game incorporates hunting for the little fuzzy or scaly creatures very well and can become a welcomed break from stalking and capturing bounties and helps add longevity to the Gameplay. Optionally, if you don’t wish to collect ammo yourself, the General Store features the ability to purchase various forms of live ammo, along with breeding bags. These bags will increase the supply of ammo and help reduce manual hunting of the critters. Of course to do this, you’ll need moolah, which doesn’t always come in large supplies. One way of receiving higher amounts is to collect your bounties and bring them back alive. Live captures are favored over the corpses and is immediately apparent. Additionally, bringing your prey back alive will result in double the moolah you’d normally receive for bringing in a dead one. The problem with this however, becomes obvious in the later portion of the game. The bosses become much more cunning and tricky to capture as you have to wear down their stamina before being able to successfully acquire them. The difficulty in this stems from the relative ease of just disposing of your foes by killing them with the traps Stranger can set. The later boss battles can be very stressful and frustrating when going the path of a live capture. Be prepared to replay certain areas over and over again. Another interesting and very helpful aspect in Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is the ability to restore your health during combat. If you somehow get wounded in the midst of a fight, players can press the “Y” button and Stranger will “shake off” the damage at the expense of stamina which can be regained by capturing foes and letting time pass by. For some strange reason you’ve also forgotten what chore you must accomplish, pressing the “X” button makes Stranger converse with himself and reminding you what it is you should be trying to accomplish. It’s nothing major but helps add to the immense scope of the game.
If had to encapsulate the graphics in Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath in one word, it would definitely have to be the word; stunning. Having remained an Xbox exclusive, the game managed to retain its graphical magic and it truly shows. One of the title’s best graphical features is hands down the pre-rendered cutscenes as I mentioned previously. After the opening one, I was left craving for more and greatly anticipated the time I would come across another. The graphic engine in Oddworld is also superb and helps convey the feeling of an old desolate, western environment depicted in so many classic movies. Stranger himself reminds me of Clint Eastwood in his prime as a western action hero. The detail put into the models is also top-notch. All the characters in the game, from the main, important ones right to the common villagers in the towns, everyone looks outstanding. Stranger looks like a strong, fearless bounty hunter with his hat and poncho, he’d look straight out of a western if it wasn’t for the fur and other animal like qualities he possesses. Players will also notice the smaller details and work put into the landscape. While traveling, random gusts of wind will occur and rise up a small dust storm and blur your vision with dirt when running through the dust clouds or when passing near a fire, the heat rising up from the flames can be seen from up close and reacts like you would see it happen in real life. It’s all the little things put together that help sweeten up the graphical pot of the Oddworld universe.
With all the detail and work put into the other aspects of the game, one can only expect the same effort to be put into the audio department and Oddworld indeed does keep up in the sound aspect of the game. The level of work put into all the sounds in the game really shines. Even members of the development crew did voice recordings instead of going out to hire others. You had to respect the amount of determination and patience given to create Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath. The main character’s voice sounds just right for the role and setting of the game. With Stranger aside, the rest of the game’s characters also sound superb and never repetitive, even with all of the villagers and towns present in the world. Eavesdropping on henchmen also provides some entertainment as they often have witty and quirky banter to verbally toss around at each other while hanging around for you to show. Listening in on their conversations also provides useful information from time to time on objectives at hand. Voice work aside, the game’s ambient sound effects and in-game music are perfectly chosen. Whether it’s the wind howling or your live ammo making fun of you, more specifically the squirrel, the audio is another department which doesn’t fail to deliver and comes together awesomely with the rest of the game’s aspects.
Continuing in the Inhabitants universe, Stranger’s Wrath is the perfect title to redeem the Oddworld series. Not only is it a great sequel, it’s an excellent refresher to the platforming genre. Don’t let it fool you though; the game isn’t very child friendly at all. The later levels become extremely difficult and might require having to be replayed over and over which also helps extend the already lengthy playtime encountered. With excellent graphical effects and cutscenes along with an outstanding amount of voice work, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is one of the rare breed of games that will have you hooked from the beginning right until when the credits start rolling.