If you haven't played a lot of Oddworld Inhabitant's first game, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee, the transition from the original title to the next game in the line, Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, may at first appear subtler than it actually is. Yet even though the Exoddus gameplay is essentially more of the same, it's more of a good thing, and the modifications are excellent.
We've gone through the whole "Exoddus is not a sequel but rather an offshoot of the first game" rigmarole about 50 times by now. So, just know that Abe, the absinthe-skinned main character known as a Mudokon in the first game, is back in this title and is still trying to foil the plans of The Man, or the Glukkons for the sake of Oddworld Inhabitant's well-spun fiction.
The storyline is layers deep, but perhaps the most noteworthy feature of the Oddworld games is the gamespeak function. While some people may have a tough time conceptualizing how to get through an entire game without a weapon, those who've played Oddysee know that you bank on your ability to communicate, rather than terminate. And the old "shoot first; ask questions later" doesn't get you anywhere in Exoddus either. In addition to the reappearance of the somewhat simple roster of commands you had in the first gam - Hello, Follow Me, Work, etc. - your duty is now more complicated, as the Mudokons (that's your race) get angry, crazy, blitzed on Soulstorm Brew (a wicked but addictive concoction of Mudokon tears and bones), and so forth, and you've got to talk them down frequently and systematically with the use of a whole handful of new commands. Naturally, as a friendly fart can't always solve more advanced communications conundrums, the developers have now given you the ability to apologize, slap unruly Mudokons into submission, and lead the blind.
Along the same premise as the first game, the Mudokons you're trying to rescue in Exoddus are much more complex than the original assembly. Besides the occasional drunk, blind, or just generally resistant creature, they all emote like mood rings, showing red skin when angry and an off-color greenish yellow and pale tone when sick. You have to find healing rings from Shaman Mudokons and apologize and shoulder-pat to make angry ones happy again so they'll follow you to safety. And blind Mudokons have a tendency to walk into drills and off of ledges if you don't guide them properly with verbal cues. On a positive note, you can use their blindness to your benefit. For example, if a blind Mudokon is on the level below you, notably the one with the lever you need to pull but can't get to, you can stand on the side of the screen you want the blind guy to walk toward, prompt him to follow you, and then tell him to "work" in order to turn the crank or pull the lever that allows you access to another level. Another excellent function is being able to guide more than one Mudokon at a time. In the first game, you had to rescue one Mudokon, then come back and get the other one. In Exoddus, you have an "All o' ya" command that captures the attention of anyone present. At points, you'll have a gaggle trailing behind you - sneaking, running, or jumping into the bird teleporters.
But perhaps even better than the hammed-up gamespeak is the fact that the developers fixed what could easily be called the number one problem with the first game: the inability to save the game wherever you wanted. Not only was Abe's Oddysee a tough game, you spent a lot of time redoing what you'd done because of the need to learn the hard way. Many of the puzzles in the original required some testing before you made it through, and when you have to go all the way back to the beginning of the path each time you fail, it's hard to stay inspired to push forward. In Exoddus, you have an incredibly welcomed quick-save option that allows you to quickly save your progress, anywhere in the game as many times as you want. And when you're ready to quit playing, you simply save to the memory card instead of a quick save, and you're set. This introduces an interesting dilemma, as the quick save certainly makes Exoddus seem easier, in a sense, but the game itself is actually even more difficult than the first one - it's just that now you finally have hope. And just when you think hope's lost, something wonderful like an invisibility power-up appears when you free Mudokon spirits.
Graphically, Abe's Exoddus is the same 2D visual wonder, much like the original or, moreover, Interplay's Heart of Darkness. Yet the graphics seem much more brilliant, as there are more environments with greater diversity in design. And the cutscenes are not only gorgeous, they're entertaining and (can I say it?) funny. No, really. Besides that, the game is quite large, and the environments are expansive. You'll have to rescue the spirits of Mudokons past; battle the typical, yet enhanced cast of Sligs, Scrabs, and the excruciatingly annoying Fleeches (long live the quick save), among others; as well as roll through the mines in mine carts and such. And sound-wise, you really can't get much better without being downright distracting. The voices of all the characters are incredible, and the effects, from getting blown up by a mine to the echoey sound of falling to your death, really can't be beat.
Abe's Exoddus also has a two-player mode. While the Exoddus mainstay is clearly the single-player game, the two-player co-op mode does have charm, as you and another player take turns working your way through. When you die, your partner picks up where you left off and so forth. A bit of advice? Pick a crummy partner, and you might have some fun with this. Otherwise, the waiting game just doesn't parallel the egocentric fun of keeping this title to yourself. In all, Abe's Exoddus is a great example of how a game can stay true to its conceptual pursuit while still improving upon the original, all while keeping its soul intact. If you loved the first one, you'll like this game more. If you didn't play the first one, you can start here. If you hated the first one, it's likely because of the lack of save points, so you should definitely consider giving this series another try.