Most games fall into one of two categories: those that are nothing more than clones and those that improve upon what's come before them. GT Interactive's Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee counts among the latter, continuing the tradition of intelligent and enjoyable platform games established by Prince of Persia and Flashback.
You play a slave named Abe, who works at the meat-processing plant Rupture Farms. Abe's a Mudokon, a gangly, orange-eyed, green-skinned creature with a samurai's tuft of hair and the posture of an ape - hardly your typically cute platform hero. The premise is that the factory's owners have found a tasty new treat to whip into production since they ran their last "dish" into extinction. The problem is the new entrée is you. Or more precisely, the Mudokons. When an eavesdropping Abe finds this out, he starts ham-stepping stage left right quick (proving that curiosity can save the cat, too). Your goal, as Abe, is to escape Rupture Farms, liberating as many fellow Mudokons as possible, finding a way to bring down the plant once and for all. Using the limited vocabulary set, Abe must convince the Mudokons to follow him to safety, all the while racing through the factory flipping switches, avoiding obstacles, evading heavily armed guards, and staying alive.
While other games promise a variety of enemies and enemy AI, Oddworld delivers, with creatures such as the Sligs (the aforementioned "heavily armed guards" of Rupture Farms, who are basically slugs with guns on stilts), Paramites (Giger face-hugger-like creatures), Scrabs (essentially four fast-moving legs with a sharp beak), and Slogs (the Sligs' fleshy-headed "dogs"). Each species has its own unique personality, which has to be understood and adapted to if Abe has any hope of surviving. For example, the Paramites get quite vicious if cornered or found in groups but can be distracted if you throw them chunks of meat; the Scrabs fight like Beta fish if you can manage to lead them into the same room; the Sligs can be controlled through Abe's psychic ability, if no mind-control-inhibiting machinery is nearby; and the Scrogs, in turn, can be ordered around by possessed Sligs. The game's developers, Oddworld Inhabitants, refer to the creature AI as A.L.I.V.E. (Alive Life-Forms In a Virtual Environment), and it goes a long way towards making you feel as if you're interacting with an actual world and its inhabitants.
Other variations from the platform norm include the absence of scoring (the goal is just to stay alive and save your friends, not rack up points), life meters (you'll know when you've expired), or extra lives (you simply start back at the beginning of the section you were in after dying). Once you realize that these features are missing, you'll probably begin to wonder why games ever needed them in the first place. Best yet, unlike any number of platformers, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee requires a lot of thought in solving its puzzles, which are well constructed and challenging instead of cheap and frustrating. Abe's really is the ideal platformer (whether you're playing it on the PC or playing the virtually identical PlayStation version), balancing its action and puzzle elements perfectly to make the game intelligent, engaging, and, best yet, fun. And with 25-30 hours of gameplay, there's a lot of meat for you to chew on, whatever kind it may end up being.