Review: Oddworld: Strangers Wrath HD

Review: Oddworld: Strangers Wrath HD

Stranger’s Wrath was always going to be a gamble. It was a game that, in the already established Oddworld franchise, moved solidly away from the familiar Abe character in favour of a brand new protagonist known only as ‘The Stranger’ and as such, upon its original release in 2005, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath went generally underappreciated and flew under a lot of people’s radars. That is hopefully set to change with this shiny new HD port of Stranger’s Wrath which, despite a few issues, is a generally fun romp through a unique world filled with humour.

In Stranger’s Wrath you are cast as the mysterious Stranger, a bizarre creature in a cowboy outfit that speaks like John Wayne and is basically the local go-to guy for hunting outlaws. Stranger’s on a mission to collect as much Moolah as possible for reasons I shan’t reveal; just rest assured he’s absolutely desperate for that cash, and it is your job to ensure he gets it.

Gosh Darn’it Partn’r, Thar’s a Menu!

The bulk of the gameplay in Stranger’s Wrath is concerned around locating, attacking and essentially ‘bagging’ criminals in order to return them to the local bounty store in exchange for the game’s currency, moolah.  In order to do this, Stranger is armed with a strange vacuum that is able to suck up enemies when they’re either living or dead (which state they’re in depends how much cash you gain) as well as also possessing one of the game’s best features, his trusty crossbow.

See, Stranger’s crossbow doesn’t shoot conventional bolts. Instead the crossbow is armed with dual barrels assigned to the relevant shoulder buttons and on each of these barrels you can equip a separate kind of ‘live ammo’, which is literally what it says on the tin. Yep, Stranger’s ammo is completely in the land of the living and consists of stunning the local critters that live happily in Stranger’s world before jamming them into your gun barrel and shooting them at your enemies. I’m sure there’s an argument for animal and bug rights there somewhere but Stranger really doesn’t care in the slightest as he’s too busy shooting the other strange creatures of the world in their bodily appendages with swarms of angry bees.

The different types of live ammo vary greatly in effect and generally you’ll have to routinely switch between different types in order to deal with different swarms of enemies.  Thankfully this is done on the fly by pressing the d-pad, pausing the action and allowing you to quickly assign an ammo type to a gun barrel by pressing left or right respectively. The ammo types themselves range from the aforementioned angry bees to strange ‘chippunks’ which emit curses and general insults in the direction of your enemies, causing them to become enraged and stomp towards the cussing little creature is and promptly stomp on it. This is generally exceptionally handy as you’ll probably be hiding in a nearby bush, patiently waiting to shoot them while they’re distracted. Other ammo types also include skunks that make enemies puke, giant bugs that do lots of damage and even bats that explode. Oddworld is a strange place.

The bulk of this live ammo action takes place in a first person perspective, but Stranger’s Wrath allows you to switch between third and first person perspectives on the fly, giving a sense of extra depth and control to your proceedings. For example, while first-person action is perfect for the gun fights, it is generally better to use Stranger in third person during the town missions and platforming sections as it is more difficult to use the first person perspective.  Of course you can just use the first person perspective if you really want to; you’ll be missing out on Stranger’s bad ass cowboy outfit and fast-paced, on-all-fours run if you do though.

Light Up Their Lives With Electric Bugs!

The shooting mechanics and general gameplay are where some frustrations will start to arise with Stranger’s Wrath. Shooting doesn’t feel as tight as a lot of modern gamers will be used to (no iron sights), and combat in third person can be a bit hit-and-miss and generally underwhelms.  There’s also excessively high difficulty spikes that will be routinely thrown into the mix without warning; one minute you’ll be blasting your way happily through enemies, then the next minute you’re lying in a pool of your own guts and vital bodily fluids. It’s an unforgiving game that even on normal difficulty will challenge you often; just be prepared to be frustrated a few times as you keep completing sections over and over again.

In addition, many may feel as some of the missions are somewhat repetitive. It gets better as the game goes on but the title generally consists of kill/stun minions, bag minions, get to boss, kill/stun/bag boss, go to bounty store, get money, buy upgrades. This continues for at least about ten plus missions over a number of different towns, so it can feel as if you’re doing the same thing multiple times. Thankfully new additions to your live ammo arsenal and some different locales help to ramp up the challenge and keep things interesting enough to keep you playing. They’re also broken up by platforming sections every so often as well as a lengthy section in a rowing boat, so there’s a good bit of variation to keep you slogging away here.

My other gripe with the title lies in that it has somewhat of an identity crisis. The game starts as a sort of spoof on Western movies, but a change around halfway through the narrative turns the game from searching for outlaws into a quest of retribution, revenge and general war. It just feels as if the first section of the game is irrelevant to the second part as everything you’ve gained in terms of money becomes useless and is never referenced again. It makes sense in the way that the storyline pans out, but the gameplay itself will annoy because you feel like you’ve locked up a load of outlaws for no apparent reason other than to kill a few hours before the main part of the story kicks off. I can’t say any more than that without totally spoiling the biggest twist in the game’s narrative, so you’ll have to make do with my cryptic words for now.

Grr.

That’s not to say that Stanger’s isn’t fun, as it is. It’s a unique game with unique mechanics and it should be applauded for doing something different. If you can get over some difficult sections and learn to embrace the title’s different style, it is an excellent, underappreciated title that was worthy of an HD remake.   There’s a lot of interesting locales to explore, a few secrets to find, ridiculous amounts of bad guys to bag and return to the bounty store, as well as a whole host of hilariously voiced characters. My favourite are the ‘Clackers’ who are weird chicken-men with overly sarcastic personalities.

Ah, but I am yet to touch upon the shiny new coat of paint that comes along with an HD remake. I played Stranger’s Wrath many years ago when it came out on the original Xbox and the visuals honestly looked grainy and blurry as was the style back then. In comparison, Stranger’s Wrath HD looks absolutely superb – the textures and general sense of polish has been ramped up to such a level that the game almost – but not quite – makes you forget that you’re playing a last generation title.

The world of Stranger’s Wrath is a vibrant place filled with beautiful locales and much improved character models over the original game. I walked into a forested area at one point and was amazed by the change a bit of HD can do; instead of being greeted with jagged edged bushes I was greeted with a sprawling wood with lush foliage and a bright sun shining through the trees, bringing an Oddworld game to life like never before.

It’s a shame therefore that the voice acting in game hasn’t been improved over the original. It’s regularly hard to hear what Stranger says as the music can be too loud and some of the subtitles actually don’t match what he says anyway.  It’s not a game with the most in-depth narrative in the world, but it would have been nice to have some improvements thrown into the sound mix as well to improve the overall package of the game. Lip-syncing can also be distinctly off, leaving a lot of flapping gums merrily swaying away when a character isn’t actually speaking at that moment in time. I’ll forgive it since the game is from five years ago, but it would have been nice to see these aspects tidied up a bit.

The Verdict

A game that was relatively underappreciated at its initial release date, Stranger’s Wrath HD is an excellent upscaling of the original title which brings with a few annoying niggles but is still a good old-fashioned fun romp through an interesting world. Sadly you can’t fart in people’s faces like Abe could, but you can headbutt them. That’s what’s important, right?

Score: 8/10

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