Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Xbox - Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath - One Hour In

Having tried and enjoyed Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, I've decided to go ahead and acquire the other titles in the series. The first one I've been able to get my hands on is the Xbox game Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath.

The first two Oddworld games were 2D platformers for the original PlayStation. The last two were 3D Xbox platformers. Stranger's Wrath is the second of the Xbox titles and is not a pure 3D platformer; instead it's a hybrid of 3D platformer and first-person shooter.

This one is not part of the "quintology" story arc started in Abe's Oddysee and continued in Munch's Oddysee. It is instead a side story like Abe's Exoddus, set in the same world as the others. This story has a kind of Western theme, with an Odd spin to it. Birdoids are townsfolk, slugoids are the outlaws, a catoid (who runs on all fours when he really gets moving) is the titular Stranger, and ammunition for the Stranger's gun is made of small animals and large bugs (hence "live" ammo). The Stranger is a bounty hunter, a kind of Oddworld equivalent to Sergio Leone's Man With No Name.

As with Abe's Oddysee gameplay is well-designed and executed, though a little less puzzle-oriented and with a greater focus on combat and shooting. It's pretty easy to get killed, but there's also a pretty short stretch between checkpoints. One aspect that's better than the first game is that one can save at any time. Another difference is that this game includes a life-meter, which the player can replenish by having Stranger beat his chest. There's no hunting for health-packs as there is in many games, and the HUD only appears when it's needed.

One of the more interesting aspects of the game is that it's partly played as a third-person platformer, and partly as a first-person shooter. You can't shoot when in third-person mode, and you can't perform platforming moves in first-person mode. You've got to use both to get through, so neither mode feels tacked-on or unnecesary. The transition between modes is handled extremely well; unlike many platformers which will move the camera angle to the character's view when switching to first-person mode, this one turns the Stranger to match the camera. Similarly, when switching back to third person the player's view angle doesn't change. This may seem like a small thing, but it makes a big difference during gameplay. Not having to rotate the view to aim at the enemy when switching between first and third person makes it worlds easier to handle a fight.

As for the story, I haven't gotten very far into it and haven't seen much. I suspect there are many twists to come as the Stranger moves down the road. But I just don't know yet, so I can't comment on that.

While the presentation is well-produced, there's a certain something that's lacking from it. Namely, the Oddness. The character designs, sounds, and environments in the first game just oozed weirdness from every pixel and both speakers. The Mudokons, Sligs, Scrabs, and other characters seemed misshappen and moved in a bizarre fashion. They spoke in weird voices with inappropriate affect. There's a whole lot less of this ooze in Stranger's Wrath. The voices sound like stereotypical Western characters (which admittedly seems a little weird given the context), and all the characters, including the live ammo, seem like funny talking animals from cartoons. It's far more goofy than Odd, something I wouldn't find out of place in other cartoon-oriented platformers. But it's not what I expect or want from Oddworld.

The humor also falls a bit flat in comparison to Abe's Oddysee. Perhaps we're meant to find the situation of cartoon talking animals filling Western roles and speaking with Western accents funny, but I just didn't. I smiled a bit at some of the jokes, but didn't laugh nearly as often or as loud as I did playing the first game.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath is not as entertaining as the first game in the series, but is still a good platformer and FPS. The gameplay is about as good though different in focus. The real problem is that the game's vibe wasn't Odd enough to please me. I wouldn't pay full price for it, but since it's been out for a while you won't have to.

Grade: B

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