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Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: EA Games
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Platformer


Graphics & Sound:

There’s been a trickle of western themed games over the past few years, but none have really done the concept any justice. Some, like the recent Red Dead Revolver and Dead Man’s Hand, tried their hardest, but fell short of the mark. This is part of what makes Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath such a surprise entry. It’s not a “true” western, but manages to do things that other games completely missed the wagon on, making it one of the more authentic western experiences to come along.

With a western theme comes the obvious western look. While the game is a true technical marvel with few load times, its the style that really helps to set the game apart from other action games. The look is more Eastwood than Wayne, translating into dark, gritty environments. Towns are rundown and connected by barren wastelands. It’s no ideal vacation spot, but it’s still nice to look at. Smooth animation and a sharp looking main character help to really push the game into the upper echelon of Xbox games. Fans of the Oddworld series shouldn’t worry themselves with the game’s new look. Even with the western spin, the game is still clearly based on Oddworld – complete with mobile-home wagon trains and “live” ammo that moves and even talks back to you.

If there’s one flaw in presentation, it is sound. Voice work is very weak in terms of performance and recording quality. Other than Stranger, every voice sounds the same. Every chicken-person you come across sounds just like the previous one. The same goes for every outlaw you meet. In addition to all sounding the same, the recordings are low quality and sound very muffled, leading to missed story and mission objectives. This makes turning on the subtitles a necessity.


Gameplay:

Oddworld games have always been about giving players something a little different than what they expect to get. The original game in the Oddworld series looked like a platformer, but concentrated more on the puzzle elements. Stranger’s Wrath is no different, combining elements of 3D platformers with those of an FPS. The combination sounds odd, but so did the idea of mixing peanut butter and chocolate.

You are the Stranger, a bounty hunter with a mysterious past, essentially making him Oddworld’s answer to Star Wars’ Boba Fett. As the story progresses, you eventually learn that Stranger is in need of a mysterious life-saving surgery that, unfortunately, costs 20,000 bucks – money he doesn’t have. This sets up the game’s main premises, capturing bad guys and collecting the prices on their heads. The story is generally good, and includes a nice twist that changes at least part of the game’s feel.

Structure is set up to offer some freedom while at the same time keeping the pacing clearly in a level-based environment. Missions take place in towns that serve as hubs. Bounties are taken out in each town and lead you to different areas in the vicinity. Once all of the bounties in the area are collected, you move on to the next. The larger the town, the more complex the bounties become, allowing for level-based pacing.

Bounties can be collected whether the target is dead or alive. Bringing in a live target nets you considerably more money than a dead one, so it’s usually in your best interest to keep them alive. Live bounties are, of course, much harder than dead ones and require more strategic thinking.

Towns also serve as areas to upgrade Stranger, which can be purchased at the general store. Which upgrades you can buy depend solely on where you are in the story and can help out greatly. The downside is that the money spent on upgrades comes from the same pot as the operation money, once again making live bounties more desirable than dead ones. Upgrades include new armor and faster reload times for your bow. You can also buy ammo or items that help you trap new ammo.

Yeah, you heard that right. One of the more unique twists to the game is that Stranger literally uses “live” ammo to trap outlaws. Your standard shots are zap beetles, which are lightning bugs with a little zap. As you adventure through the wilds of Oddworld, you also come across smack-talking chipmunks, silk-spinning spiders that can wrap up foes, and other assorted animals. You’re limited in the number of critters you can hold at a time, but new ones are usually easy to come by if you know where to look.

Outside of the single-player mode, Stranger’s Wrath offers very little replay value. Once you complete the main game, there’s really no reason to replay the game other than to challenge yourself and try to bring in every bounty alive. Some unlockable items or a multiplayer mode would have gone a long way.


Difficulty:

There are no health packs or power-ups in the game. Instead, Stranger can self heal by literally “shaking it off.” As you would expect, this allows you to enter most encounters with full health. The tradeoff is that shaking off damage drains a stamina meter, limiting the number of times you can heal in succession. Also, enemies tend to dish out a lot of damage, serving as sort of a balance to the “unlimited health” concept. There is a tendency to overcompensate at times, leading to areas where you are simply too swamped down by enemies or led into cheap fights.

Game Mechanics:

The combination of action game and platformer seems like an awkward one. Though many games have tried to work some sort of FPS-style control into action games, the results are usually a tangled mess. Stranger’s Wrath takes an entirely different approach by giving players two control schemes. Each schemes overlap, guaranteeing that they flow seamlessly into one another. When in third-person mode, which is where Stranger does most of his jumping and running, the right analog stick controls movement while the left handles the camera. Clicking down on the right stick brings the game into FPS mode. Movement is still handled by the right stick, but the left controls aiming. The same goes for the triggers. Each trigger is linked to a different attack in both modes; the only difference is that in FPS mode, the attacks are ranged while in third-person they’re melee.

Switching play modes changes the tempo of the game slightly. When in third-person, you’re literally playing an action/platformer, bringing a very fast-paced game with it. While in FPS mode, the game speed slows down just a bit. The overall product is very impressive and works great. There is some learning involved with getting a hang of the system, especially when you want to start bashing a close enemy with fists instead of wasting ammo, but with practice you’ll find yourself quickly switching between the two in even the most intense situations.

Given the game’s unique blend of FPS and platforming, there’s something here for just about every action fan. Even with the game’s decided change in focus, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is another strong entry on the Xbox’s growing lineup of top rate titles.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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