January 6, 2012

Review – Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — Brad Johnson @ 3:51 pm

Oddworld Strangers Wrath HD
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is the tale of the eponymous Stranger, a bounty hunter afflicted by a mysterious illness and distaste for traditional firearms. Maybe the latter condition makes him sound like sort of a softy, until you realize that his alternative to traditional ammunition is strapping live animals to a crossbow and lobbing them toward enemies at high speeds (and presumably to their deaths).

The game involves claiming bounties on “them outlaws”, a task that can be accomplished A) by sucking their unconscious bodies into some kind of… thing… or, B) by murdering them horribly and sucking their corpses into the same kind of…thing…

To this end, Stranger employs an eclectic mix of tricks that, in a lesser game, might not fit together. Primarily, the bounty hunter is able to switch between the first and third person perspectives, granting him some different abilities tied to those modes.

Oddworld Strangers Wrath HD
In third person, Stranger will break out into a four-legged run that can smash obstacles and enemies, and he’s able to employ some quick melee attacks for crowd control. Though it may immediately seem like a mode used chiefly for navigation and platforming, the sprint and melee attacks can be critical for defeating enemies and escaping dangerous situations if the player learns to smoothly coordinate the two modes.

In first person, Stranger wields a double-barrelled crossbow loaded with an assortment of critters in the place of traditional ammunition; animals and insects that create different effects when fired. These can be employed to create traps, incapacitate, delay, or simply annihilate enemies—and, in an unexpectedly obvious twist, ammo must be hunted rather than collected.

Requiring that small colonies of critters be zapped with an infinite supply of electric flies, it’s not a complex or time consuming element of the game, hardly more complicated than a standard pickup—but it creates an interesting layer of challenge in many of the game’s scenarios. Ammo capacity is fairly low, making it entirely possible that the player will run out of an important ammo type during a skirmish, requiring that he then scour the battlefield and quickly zap and scoop up critters right in the middle of the firefight.

Oddworld Strangers Wrath HD
Especially refreshing is how much Stranger’s Wrath teaches the player about its own mechanics without resorting to hand-holding. Though there’s a fairly comprehensive opening tutorial, once the game is rolling the player is largely left to his own devices—and it works, with a comfortable learning curve even as the missions pile on increasingly difficult enemies that require particular tactics to defeat.

Experimentation and combining the right kinds of firepower in the double-barrelled crossbow can yield some interesting results and significantly speed up the pace of combat. It’s not merely a matter of the ammo best suited to the job, but also the ammo you can spare; though an enemy-ensnaring spider is easily the cleanest way to subdue lesser enemies, it’s not the most efficient—as spiders can be hard to find, and might best be employed for higher level bad guys. Combining more plentiful (if messier) ammo can be used to down foes just as quickly, allowing rarer ammo types to be conserved.

As a byproduct, the pacing of any battle can vary wildly. A methodical, stealth oriented approach can disintegrate quickly into a spray-and-pray shootout and back again, simply by virtue of the ammunition equipped.

As the battles become more and more demanding, Stranger’s Wrath requires quicker thinking and a better understanding of enemy weaknesses. It’s not long before enemy types with opposing weakpoints begin to travel together, requiring that the player employ limber tactics to dispatch them.

Later levels stack more interesting environmental scenarios with an exponentially increasing number of dangerous enemies, and it can be punishing—but finding the right groove, switching to all the right ammo and shooting at all the right times is invigorating.

Oddworld Strangers Wrath HD

Missions are capped by boss encounters, and this is where things get a little messy. Bosses, understandably, cannot be felled with the same simplicity of their rank and file goons; one can’t expect to launch a single skunk-bomb at a boss and bounty him while he’s puking.

One of the few communication failures of the game is that it’s never quite made clear that bosses can be subdued, without lethal force, by draining their stamina bars rather than their life bars. Players are likely to capture the early bosses alive without much difficulty, but find that later bosses seem to respond only to lethal damage—when in fact what’s required is careful observation regarding which weapons drain which bars.

Perhaps the boss strategy is obscure by design. The first instinct of any gamer is going to be to fixate on the life bar of a boss, and the difficulty to discerning a non-lethal strategy for bosses does add an element of challenge that demands a break from such traditional FPS thinking—making it difficult to write this one up as a flaw.

Stranger’s true flaws are few and mostly technical. The HD upgrade has been handled nicely, though there remains some of the visual harshness and darkness characteristic of titles from the previous generation of consoles. Additionally, some audio flops see some dialogue clipped awkwardly—especially when Stranger dashes through an occupied town, while the soundtrack often can’t decide exactly which track it would like to play.

Meanwhile, the art and production values have stood the test of time. The slow-speaking Stranger makes every line fun to listen to, operating alongside a cast of fun characters and illustrated with fluid, satisfying animation.

The title drips with humor and personality, with even the cartoonish weaponized critters offering quips before being flung into the fray.

What’s more, while many modern games seem to think they have much more of a story than they actually do and spend an inordinate amount of time fixating on a narrative that just isn’t there, Stranger’s Wrath knows exactly how much time its story warrants and doesn’t waste a second more. It’s a tight, straightforward tale, and there’s a lesson to be learned there about knowing what kind of property you have on your hands.

Stranger’s Wrath, like a lot of HD updates, isn’t going to offer much for existing fans of the title and probably won’t warrant a revisit, but it’s a perfect opportunity for those who missed the game on its first pass. The game has withstood the ravages of time well, which is no small feat in an medium that moves so quickly, and holds up better than some other, higher profile titles to see the HD upgrade.

Just Add Water

Oddworld Inhabitants

PlayStation 3 (PlayStation Network), PC (PlayStation Network Reviewed)


Release Date
December 27, 2011


*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

1 Comment »

  1. Great review! I’ll give this a try next month. Finally got my PS3 back from repairs so I’ll make the most of that.

    Comment by EdEN — January 7, 2012 @ 11:50 pm

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