When I reviewed Oddworld New ‘N’ Tasty last year, I said it felt like a world that was fully realised. Its characters, world, and setting all felt like they were at their best, and it felt as though it had finally got to spread its wings and become the game it was meant to be. I’d like to retract that statement because that was before I got to play its sequel, Oddworld Soulstorm.
It’s been a bumpy road for the Oddworld games. Originally, there were plans for a “quintology” of games spearheaded by studio head Lorne Lanning, starting with Abe’s Odyssey. Sadly it never came to pass, but with the release of New ‘N’ Tasty, a remake of the 1997 original, it was another chance and a fresh start for the series. Now, the developers have taken the sequel Abe’s Exoddus and given it something far more than a simple remake. Calling this game a remake would frankly be an insult. Using the original as a blueprint, Soulstorm reimagines the game into essentially a whole new game, but does it in stellar fashion; even if it is a bit rough around the edges at times.
The plot is a rather bleak one, it draws influences from very real issues like greed, slavery and oppression and makes no attempt to hide it. Following on directly from New ‘N’ Tasty you continue the journey as Abe, the kind but bumbling hero of this story. We last saw him when he managed to free his fellow Mudokuns from slavery and simultaneously destroy Rupture Farms. Now, he has become something of a messiah figure to his people, giving them hopes of freedom from the greed and tyrannical grip of their corporate slavers. Despite the rather dark story, it’s laced with a satirical and twisted sense of humour that helps to break up the more poignant and serious moments, managing to balance these two aspects of its story very effectively; But what makes Soulstorm’s story and characters so engaging is its brilliant presentation.
The roughly 15-20 hour story is primarily told through cutscenes and in-game cinematics which are good enough to be its own animated film. The level of detail and fidelity of the characters is incredible. Character performances are more expressive, engaging, and believable than we have ever seen them. Even small changes like eye movement are animated with such care and attention to detail that goes a long way in giving Abe and the rest of the character’s personality; It makes each cutscene riveting to watch, which, along with some great voice acting, just married all the elements together beautifully.
The world has also had some major improvements, with environments and settings more visually impressive than ever before. Dubbed by the studio as “2.9D”, the game uses full 3D environments to create levels that feel massive in scale whilst still retaining the feeling of the originals. Rather than simply moving left or right, clever camera work and depth is used to pan in and around the environments as you play, moving around structures or zooming away to long shots to show the epic scale of the world. It also plays well into the story. Having scripted moments feels far more impactful thanks to the clever ways the camera adapts and moves through the world with you, all whilst still maintaining the same tried and true 2.5D controls of the remake and original games. They make for a grander and more robust story, and a deeper and more immersive world, with depth and nuance that showcases the same charm and style the series is known for. Seriously, no other game looks and sounds like Oddworld.
Along with the presentation and story, the gameplay has also evolved, although not with quite as much polish. Refining its familiar core mechanics while adding brand new additions, Soulstorm feels more distinct a game than before. Anyone who has played an Oddworld game will feel right at home immediately. Levels are mostly linear and require you to make use of a combination of stealth, puzzle-solving, and platforming as well as Abe’s ability to possess enemies. Letting you use Sligs with weapons to clear out enemies, trigger certain traps or reach new areas you couldn’t before. It sounds simple on the surface, but these all combine in a great fashion that makes for some challenging encounters across the game’s fifteen levels.
Along with refinements to the existing gameplay, there have been a few new additions and changes. Crafting makes its way into Oddworld, with players able to scavenge for items that they can use to make an arsenal of tools that have a variety of uses. Items like smoke bombs or bouncy candies and tape can make sneaking past or dealing with enemies more varied and gives a few more options on how to deal with situations than in previous entries.
This expanded toolset helps set Soulstorm apart from its predecessors and for the most part, it gives a bit more variety and choice in how to interact with the world. Though it’s a bit of a slow start till it gets to that point, having gotten about a third into the game before I felt like it was being used more effectively.
All this is used to save your fellow Mudokens, which play just as vital a role in the story and gameplay as they have before. Making sure to protect your followers becomes your main priority pretty quickly, hiding them from danger whilst you clear the path will almost become second nature. Though this time around, you can arm them with some of your items, making a little less of a burden than before. Though saving them isn’t just out of kindness, as to get the games best endings and additional levels, you’ll need to save at least 80% of the Mudokens on nearly every level. Thankfully, there is a level select so you can go back and redo levels to improve your score, but this also raises one of the games more frustrating issues.
Whilst a lot has been done to expand and modernise the game, some aspects are unchanged or simply feel out of date. For one, some levels are WAY too long, taking around 50 minutes to an hour to complete some of them, and due to their linear nature, you can forget about going back if you miss something. You miss a secret or some followers, you start all over again. What makes this worse is the surprising lack of polish in some areas. The platforming is better than it has been before, but there were plenty of times where jumping to ledges or areas was either too finicky or just downright irritating. Not to mention the other issues like enemies getting stuck facing one way, making progressing impossible or Abe getting stuck in a wall.
The number of times I reloaded a checkpoint due to some of these issues was frankly ridiculous, and having to reload whole levels a few times made it hard to play at times. As a result, the usually rewarding nature of the game’s challenge ended up just being infuriating at times, especially when reloading a section multiple times. That said, when it worked it worked very well and was a great experience. But when these issues arose, it immediately put a damper on the whole experience, and made passing what would be a 50 minutes level take nearly two hours does tend to do that.
Issues aside, Oddworld: Soulstorm is a step in the right direction for the studio and the series. The game is more expanded in nearly every aspect, with a more detailed and engaging story that’s stellar cutscenes and animations are the best in the series. Whilst it could have used some more time for polish and its gameplay is spotty at times, the overall experience was an enjoyable one.
With Soulstorm now out in the world, the hopes for the quintology seem more than mere fantasy. I hope that’s true, as I and many others hope that we may finally get to see this story fully realised.
This game was reviewed on PC.