Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD Review
I will admit that I didn’t like direction the Oddworld series took after the first couple of installments on the PlayStation. What debuted as a beautifully drawn, highly imaginative puzzle-based adventure became a standard, ho-hum action platformer. But I have to admit, this high-definition overhaul of Stranger’s Wrath has a boatload of charm and really kept me playing. It has a few problems, but none of them are critical.
The visual presentation is pretty damn good; there’s a lot of rich luster and color quality, and the animations are quite attractive. It’s a combination of sharp detail and a set of visuals that don’t take themselves too seriously. In fact, the entire production doesn’t take itself seriously, which is one of its primary appeals. This HD gloss really does the game justice and Just Add Water created an enticing atmosphere that is both immersive and effective. That’s a solid accomplishment.
The sound is more of a mixed bag, as the effects aren’t as pronounced as I would’ve liked, and the soundtrack – while decent in regards to orchestral and composition quality – gets a little repetitive. The voices are hit or miss as well, so there will be times during your quest when you’ll go, “damn, the audio is fantastic” and other times when you’ll shake your head and say, “coulda done that better.” It’s just a little uneven. Still, there’s enough variety to keep your speakers entertained.
If you never played the game on the Xbox, here’s a quick story explanation: you play as Stranger, a bounty hunter who is in desperate need of some mystery operation that will save his life. We’re not really sure what’s wrong with him, but we know he needs money. And how do bounty hunters get money? Well, that’s self-explanatory, so Stranger sets out to track down criminals all across Oddworld. The missions aren’t too inspired but they are fun, and the plot has an unexpected twist…
Personally, I enjoy twists in most any storyline, provided the twist is revealed to us in a timely and eye-raising manner. The surprise in Stranger’s Wrath is implemented very well and I’ll leave it at that. As for the gameplay, you’re looking at a blend of different mechanics. The basic control is essentially third-person, which is normal, but parts of the game require the use of a first-person shooter element, which is decent enough (if a tad bit loose, which can get frustrating).
In general, control is competent without being overly precise. The combat can feel a little clunky, the aiming can feel a little slippery, and the platforming aspects can feel a little stunted. But as you can see, all such drawbacks are indeed “little.” It’s like having an assembly of minor eccentricities that, at worst, are irritating. At best, you barely notice them and they have a very limited impact on your enjoyment. But for review purposes, I can’t very well ignore the shortcomings.
The diversity of the gameplay is what will keep you interested, as Stranger has a very bizarre arsenal and the ability to approach enemies in a variety of ways. You even have the option to go stealthy; i.e., set traps and hide in the shadows. You can aim from afar with your trusty crossbow (for which there are different types of ammo), or you can simply run in, ready to get up-close-and-personal with the roving baddies. The action doesn’t get boring and it isn’t too repetitive. It’s more fun than anything.
Bounties spread across the world will have you exploring different landscapes and facing different foes. Things can sort of drag on if you’re having trouble with a particularly tough bounty, and the plot pacing can be erratic as well. Many will also say the individual gameplay elements don’t add up to a top-quality production, and maybe they have a point. But once again, we have a game that epitomizes the well-known phrase— “Greater than the sum of its parts.”
I had some trouble in places that tested my patience, but I never really felt shortchanged. The game can be very hard at times, but if I died, I didn’t blame it on a programming or design issue. The camera isn’t bad at all and that control, once you master it, won’t leave you hung out to try. You just take the bad with the good, immerse yourself in a very cool environment, and have fun experimenting with Stranger’s considerable skill sets. And remember, that twist is pretty impressive.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD is a chance for PlayStation fans to check out the high-def rebirth of a solid Xbox title. There’s a lot of fun to be had; the diversity of the gameplay is a bonus, the world is nicely designed, the bounties are almost always entertaining, and the control is competent. Nothing about this game is particularly amazing but nothing is especially bad, either. If you can ignore some of the aforementioned eccentricities, you should have a very good time.
The Good: Colorful, engaging world. Diverse gameplay that encourages experimentation. Good story with a surprising twist. Fun factor remains high throughout. Blend of different mechanics works out well.
The Bad: Uneven sound. Minor control issues. Each gameplay element feels slightly unrefined. Missions can be repetitive.
The Ugly: “Every flaw is slight…I just wish there were fewer slight flaws.”
12/29/2011 Ben Dutka