Oddworld Stranger's Wrath Updated Hands-On
We've been to Oddworld and back after having spent a few hours with Inhabitants' latest wacky game. Check out our new impressions inside.
Oddworld Inhabitants' latest and arguably strangest trip back to its own bizarre realm of Oddworld is nearing completion, and we were lucky enough to spend a few hours with a recent build of Stranger's Wrath to get a feel for the way the final product will turn out. We can now say we're quite looking forward to late January, which is when the game will ship, because the Inhabitants have crafted a compelling and unique action offering that's big on gameplay variety and that trademark Oddworld charm.
We've taken a number of looks at Stranger's Wrath in the past and examined all the basics that make this quirky new game tick. If you're too lazy to click, here's a primer: You're Stranger, a mysterious figure from the wilds of Oddworld who brings in the unlawful for fun and profit. You can play the game both as a first-person shooter, with Halo-style controls, and as a third-person platformer, with the standard array of spin punches, double jumps, and other moves that have defined the genre. The first-person mode is especially amusing because you'll load your double crossbow with "live ammo" rather than with bolts. This "live ammo" consists of projectiles that are actually living critters, all of whom inflict different amounts and kinds of damage. You'll make your living by bringing in bad guys, and you'll get even more money for doing so if you manage to bag them alive, which adds an interesting strategic layer to the game's combat.
We've played several hours of the game from the beginning, so we've gotten a feel for the way it will proceed. Basically, you'll make your way through the outlands of Oddworld, which are full of unsavory characters that are all gunning for Stranger, and you'll eventually arrive at a new town. The town's bounty store will present to you any outstanding warrants, and you'll head outside of town to bring in the crooks to subsequently collect your reward. Once you've finished all the available jobs, you'll begin your search for the next town. Of course, there's more storyline involved than this, and Oddworld Inhabitants is promising some big twists later on down the line that will resonate with longtime fans of the series. However, at least in the early hours, the game establishes a rhythm that's easy to grasp.
Stranger's Wrath is essentially a linear game, but you'll have some degree of freedom in choosing which bounties to pursue. So in some cases, there will be a couple of bad guys to go after, and you can hunt whichever one you'd prefer. Although for the most part, you'll finish one area and then be shepherded by the story and the game environment to the next one. But despite the general point-A-to-point-B structure, Stranger's Wrath does a good job of feeling open-ended due to several different factors. For one, the towns that you'll visit feel lively thanks to the many villagers wandering around, all of whom you can talk to at any time, and the number of shops and other buildings you can go inside. For another, we've noticed that the game very rarely pauses to load, so you'll cover massive distances, both in and out of towns, seamlessly.
Oddworld Inhabitants seems to have struck an excellent balance between first-person shooting and third-person melee and platforming in Stranger's Wrath. Transitioning between the two perspectives is as easy as clicking the thumbstick, and the switch occurs immediately. Consequently, you're free to use both types of gameplay to approach a given situation in whatever manner you'd like, all without the game's interface getting in the way.
Wanted Dead or Alive
We've found the shooting action to be especially satisfying, and the live ammo types are a lot of fun and all behave in completely different ways. The chippunk works well as a way to lure enemies over so you can take them out stealthily and without blowing your cover. Our favorite reason to use the chippunk, however, is because of the crazy one-liners it likes to spit out. The thudslug is a great way to knock a bad guy silly so you can capture him alive for greater bounty money. We've found the fuzzle to be useful both as a direct projectile and as a land mine of sorts. Either way, watching a bad guy run around frantically while the little varmint is chomping away at him is hilarious.
We've also been impressed so far by the variety of bad guys Stranger has to bring in to reinforce his cash flow. You won't just be fighting a series of generic boss fights; instead, each of the named bounties we've tracked down so far has had a different set of mechanics attached to it. For instance, Jo' Mamma sits at the top of a platform while protected by guards with guns on her level as well as by guards on the ground below. Your live ammo does little damage to her, but you can beat her to a pulp with your fists. The trick is getting to her, because the platform is only accessible via an electrified wire that you must cross hand over hand. This means you'll have to find a way to shut down the power before you grab the wire, of course.
It seems like some of the bounties will even involve scripted plot events. For instance, one bounty talks about an outlaw who's rumored to be preparing to bust his brother out of the town jail. As soon as you accept this job, the game cuts to a scripted cinematic that shows the start of this very jailbreak, and then you're thrown into the mix to stop the villain and his gang of crooks from making off with the incarcerated baddie. This sequence was quite hectic, but it was also quite unique compared to the other missions we've seen so far. This is mainly because it has you fighting inside a town rather than out in the wild, with frightened villagers running every which way while you try to shoot down the no-good outlaws.
The Oddworld series has always been known for its strong, bizarre production values, so you'd never mistake one of its games for any other franchise. Accordingly, Stranger's Wrath maintains this tradition while beefing up the underlying technology considerably. The art design is just as wacky as ever, and the new engine allows for some impressively long draw distances (which you can explore with Stranger's binoculars), detailed models and animation, and the tasteful use of light blooming and other effects that enhance the overall atmosphere.
The game has a consistent aesthetic that really gives it a coherent Wild West feel, from the dust blowing around the town streets to the critters romping around in the undergrowth. Most of what we'd seen previously was set in the same arid desert wastes, so we were pleased to see that you'll be hitting plenty of other diverse environments as well, from the dank sewers underneath one town to some ethereal abandoned ruins up on a hill. We even found a fortune-telling machine in one store that showed us scenes from later on in the game. So from the looks of things, we figure Stranger's got plenty of work ahead of him.
Stranger's Wrath represents a new direction for Oddworld Inhabitants, which previously focused on more slowly paced games that were heavier on puzzle-solving and didn't emphasize so much shooting. As such, Stranger's Wrath is a radical departure from the existing series, but it's been entertaining enough so far that fans of the series, as well as fans of all action games in general, should find a great mix of gameplay and personality here. Look for Oddworld Stranger's Wrath to hit stores in late January, and check out a smattering of new gameplay movies and a
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