Action video game by Ubi Soft Entertainment for the Xbox
Oddworld has just gotten Stranger. This new chapter in the Oddworld series puts you into the role of the Stranger, a mysterious bounty hunter who tracks down outlaws for money. With first- and third-person action and shooting, award-winning visuals and … see full wiki
Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath was developed by Oddworld Inhabitants and published by Electronic Arts. Oddworld is the team responsible for Abe's Oddysee and Munch's Oddysee. Recently, the company was dissolved and the president, Lorne Lanning, intends to make the studio into an entertainment studio and not a game studio. This venture might serve them well.
The story of Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath is dark and gloomy. You play Stranger, a dog/person/thing with no name other than that. You arrive to clean up the town and the various places in the vicinity, taking on challenges for moolah (the standard monetary notation in all Oddworld games). As you progress, the story is fleshed out. Apparently you need an operation, but it isn't clear what or why until later in the game. Attitudes and moralities change as well as motivations. Perhaps your character is not the mercenary we thought he was?
While this game is vaguely set in the same universe as previous Oddworld games, fans of the series will have to be happy with brief cameos. Otherwise, the characters are all new ranging from odd duck people to characters impossible to describe. Many of them are just things. Regardless, no matter how weird the characters are, it's obvious the designers wanted to make a spaghetti western (for those who don't know, this term applies to 60's and 70's westerns made on the cheap in Italy) and the main character is not so subtly modeled after Clint Eastwood. This theme works very well with the mercenary for hire story. While not original, Oddworld has put a decidedly original spin on a classic concept.
Gameplay is where the Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath is a head-scratcher. To say it is a first person shooter would ignore the 3rd person aspects of the game. And both of those terms don't convey some of the platform characteristics. And this is where the game loses me. I have no problem with a blending of genres, but the problem here is that it doesn't do any of the genres very well. It's an adequate first person shooter (You are the eyes of the character and where you look is where you aim), a decent 3rd person actioner (you are behind the character controlling him) and a mediocre platformer (a little bit of jumping around and hitting switches).
Without getting ahead of myself, the main focus of the game is the first person shooter aspects. You have a crossbow and can load it up with any 2 combinations of ammo. And this ammo is live in every sense of the word. Instead of using bullets, you hunt your ammo - little critters you grab and load. Then fire them for a different effect depending on the species. This is the cool part of the game. Oddworld has outdone themselves by making some of this stuff truly wacky and dark. Some of the ammo explodes, some knock your opponent over, and some are used as bait, while others may detonate. Many animals were harmed in the making of this game.
You also have the requisite health meter which depletes as you take damage. In addition, you also have a stamina bar which is used to heal yourself via "shaking it off". When you heal, you lose stamina. But the stamina recharges over time. This eliminates the need for health power-ups in the field which can often feel strange in other games ("Look, I found a first aid kit in this battlefield on mars!").
In town, you can take your moolah and purchase upgrades from the General Store. You can buy stamina upgrades, armor, more rounds, bigger cartridges for holding more rounds, etc. Pretty common stuff, though the amount of upgrades is plentiful and of course, sometime strange.
When you capture or subdue an enemy, you press and hold the Y button to suck them up into your bad guy holder thing. Very much like Ghostbusters. The problem is that if you do this in 1st person, you switch to 3rd person and then it doesn't switch you back. I found this highly annoying. Since I prefer 1st person, to suddenly switch to 3rd person in the middle of battle and have to switch back manually was highly annoying and the cause of many a death. This is where the game falters by forcing you to choose on mode or another for no good reason.
Additionally, the melee attacks of 3rd person (Spin around or pounce) are only effective and available in the mode. Some would say this is a positive; I would disagree because you are forced to use them at times which means forcing to play in a different mode. The point of games is to be fun and if I'm forced to switch into a view I don't like, the game fails in that regard.
The Ai in Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath is decent, but not great. Enemies have some rudimentary tactics and defenses and the bosses are suitably difficult. Since you have the ability to hide in tall grass, the AI can't see you. But once they do, they open fire. However, and this is a problem with most AI in games, once you hide back in that same spot, suddenly they can't see you anymore and don't bother searching the place they just saw you run in to. Kind of lame. As a matter of note, since you are a lone gunman, there is no friendly AI to assist you.
Overall, the game is enjoyable. The action gets fast and furious especially as you buy upgrades. It runs a good length, but not too long. It's basically a run 'n gun so if you are expecting lots of puzzles and character interaction, you'll be disappointed. It's a very linear game so it offers limited replay value.
As with all Oddworld games, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath succeeds on all graphical fronts. The animations of your character are fantastic. The different modes of animation (from run to walk) are smooth. The flowing jacket behind you is a wonderful touch.
As a sign of the ultimate focus of the company, the pre-rendered cutscenes rival anything from Pixar. Truly a joy to behold, they are an example of animation near-perfection. This is good since this is the avenue that the company has moved from game developer into.
The environments as well are lush and populated with detailed textures. Being a western, the palette is somewhat muted with browns and reds, but individual blades of grass are defined and there is plenty of ambient activity to give the world a distinct flavor. Not quite the Wild West of Hollywood, but not that far off either.
One of the most entertaining things of the game is watching the interaction of the ammo loaded onto your crossbow. Since the ammo consists of live critters, they wiggle and move, blink, talk to you. And being up close, they are highly detailed. There is something strangely cruel and yet funny about these dirty, beat-up critters sitting in a crossbow waiting to be launched.
This is another mixed bag. The music is good, if not great. It is subtle and there isn't much in the way of catchy riffs. Consisting of mostly old western type music, it doesn't stand out, but does the job, changing tempo when bad guys are around and increasing even more when you are pitted against a boss.
The president of the company, Lorne Lanning, has always done the voices for the Oddworld Series. I'm not sure if it's ego or because he doesn't want to pay actors, but he has been the voice of Abe, Munch, and now everyone in Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath. While Mr. Lanning is not bad, he isn't great either. All the voices have a cartoony sound and basically sound the same except with sound processing. Changing the pitch of the voice doesn't change the other attributes that make voices unique. Ah well, I'm being picky. Mr. Lanning does an adequate job and since it's his world, he knows how they should sound better than anyone else. Of course, he's helped along with decent writing which can make even the worst actors sound good. As a player, the voice-acting is not atrocious and shouldn't be a sticking point.
Unfortunately, there is no multiplayer. Even the most basic FPS's have a multiplayer mode and this could have been a lot of fun shooting critters at your friends. But alas, Oddworld chose to dedicate resources to the single player mode only.
Parents Should know...
The game is full of cartoon violence. There's no sex or drugs (or rock n roll) so the T for Teen rating is appropriate.
A worthy entrance into the Oddworld franchise, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath is the closing chapter of an interesting world. It will be a shame to see it go, but it went out on a fairly high, if somewhat flawed note.
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Action video game by Ubi Soft Entertainment for the Xbox
A video game
Action, Rating: E - (Everyone), 1 player, published by: Sony
The classic 1981 arcade game and its initial incarnations.