A Fine Macrobrew

HIGH Exceptional production values with outstanding in-engine cinematics.

LOW It’s a franchise still defined by cheap deaths due to finicky controls.

WTF …Where’s my gotdang fart button!?!

I will give Lorne Lanning and the team at Oddworld Inhabitants credit for being the only people on earth who, at no point in the last 25 years, have given up on the Oddworld franchise, and there’s are very few decades-old franchises that have had a weirder path to market than this one.

Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee came out in 1997 and became a cult hit in the early days of the original PlayStation. The sequel, Abe’s Exoddus, came out the next year and was good but shared quite a few similarities to the first. Then the franchise jumped platforms, and Munch’s Oddysee became a launch title on the original Xbox. While it didn’t set the world on fire, it was enough for Microsoft to greenlight a sequel, but development on Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath didn’t go as planned. Microsoft backed out and EA Games stepped in, but the publishing behemoth was so angry with Lanning’s refusal to port the game to PS2 that it received zero marketing when it released in 2005 despite widespread critical acclaim.

That set of circumstances would kill lesser franchises, but Lanning and his team persisted. In 2014, a remake of the first game entitled Oddworld: New ‘n Tasty! came out and kinda shocked everybody when it ended up selling over 3.5 million copies. This gave Oddworld Inhabitants the capital to finally finish their always planned “Oddworld Quintology”, starting with Oddworld: Soulstorm. For those counting at home, this sounds like the fifth game in a stated quintology, but Soulstorm is actually a remake/re-imagining of part II (Exoddus). Furthermore, Munch’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath aren’t actually part of the quintology, so after 25 years and six releases, we aren’t even half finished. Mr. Lanning is quickly veering into George R.R. Martin territory, where one has to actively worry whether the story will finish before the man croaks of old age.

Soulstorm takes place immediately after the events of the first game. Titular hero Abe has just rescued his fellow Mudokon slave laborers from Rupture Farms, and they have essentially been throwing a raging kegger ever since. Mullock, former CEO of Rupture Farms is now out for revenge against the guy who cost him his job. He finds their hideout and attacks, sending Abe on another adventure where he must save more enslaved Mudokons and “find his voice” if he is to become the savior he’s destined to be.

Oddworld has always been a distinct, eclectic universe, and Oddworld Inhabitants have done an outstanding job bringing it to modern hardware. The story is extremely well-told through exceptional-looking cutscenes with expressive characters and strong direction. These scenes do a lot to make Soulstorm feel like a big-time production. While it’s still pretty funny at points, Soulstorm does take itself a bit more seriously than other entries in the series. This feels justified given the quality of the story it’s telling, but longtime fans like myself may miss the more cheeky, glib tone of previous Oddworld games. A perfect example? They took out the fart button Abe formerly used to communicate.

On the PS5 version I played, Soulstorm maintains a 1440p resolution while the framerate is locked at 60FPS, and it looks fantastic. Mechanically it’s a 2D action-platformer happening in a full-rendered 3D environment, and the developers use the camera in interesting ways to show off the beauty and detail of the world they have created. For example, instead of the abrupt screen-by-screen transitions of the first two games, the camera now swings around to new angles to show the player arriving at the next part of a level, and it’s a great effect.

It’s taken me a while to get to how Soulstorm actually plays, but that’s because it’s essentially just like the first two Oddworld games on PlayStation 1 with a few quality-of-life enhancements. With that said, there’s really not much out there like the traditional Oddworld games, so this is a pretty good nostalgia note to hit.

Oddworld has traditionally been a 2D puzzle platformer where Abe’s goal in every level is to save as many Mudokons as possible by freeing them and guiding them to various portals strewn about the level. Unfortunately, Abe and his brethren are pretty darn fragile, so there’s a lot of horrible deaths around deciphering how exactly to maneuver around various platforms or bug creatures with machine guns. Abe has no offensive capabilities, but he can chant to gain control of an enemy or open doors, and he’s more than capable at pulling a lever at an opportune time to befall some sort of misfortune on a foe.

The biggest evolution in the formula is how the game now uses environmental effects and physics to create new challenges. For example, fire will burn flammable things in each level, but water will douse it. It’s definitely less stilted than the old games, mostly due to Abe’s new double-jump, which is useful for correcting mistakes. That’s alleviates many moments that would’ve caused death in the previous titles, but there are still a lot of retries needed due to the controls not quite cooperating in the way one anticipates. It always seems that the player is juuuuuuuuust one or two pixels off where they exactly needed to stand to make the desired affect happen. Climbing up and down platforms remains the same finicky annoyance that it was in 1997, and the stingy splash mechanics on liquids make starting or stopping a fire more meddlesome than it should be.

The amount of Mudokons the player saves over the course of the adventure is tallied, and the true ending can only be achieved by reaching a certain quota in a majority of the levels. The trope of not being able to see the ‘real’ ending unless certain achievements are met is not one I’m a fan of, but getting the ‘good’ ending isn’t too much of an ask here, so I wasn’t quite as bothered with this as I usually am.

Many a videogame enthusiast has decried the loss of the mid-tier single player game, but Oddworld: Soulstorm may be one of the better examples of what that can be in the future. It’s an impressive release, especially considering it was crafted by a team of only around 30 people. There are a few bugs here and there and and the controls aren’t as tight as I would’ve hoped, but this title shows off its huge heart with a well-told story and level design that revitalizes the classic Oddworld formula. While it has taken an obscene amount of time to reach what is ostensibly a remake for part two of a five-part story, I hope Soulstorm does well enough in the market to keep this lovable and truly odd franchise going.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game was developed and published by Oddworld Inhabitants. The game is available on PS4, PS5, and PC via the Epic Store. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on a PS5 with an HDR Certified 4KTV.  An estimated 16 hours of play were devoted to playing the game, and the campaign was completed

Parents: This game has been rated T by the ESRB and it contains Blood, Language, Use of Tobacco, and Violence. Abe does die a lot and in rather horrific ways, but it’s not particularly grotesque. The game may be a bit much for early teens (especially since there’s so many guys getting hammered on Soulstorm brew), but it should be alright for someone 13+.

Colorblind Modes: The game features no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has subtitle options during cutscenes, and the dialogue is presented in thin white font. The text size is not able to be changed. All dialogue and instructions are provided in text, and there are no necessary audio cues. I’d say it’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The game’s controls are not remappable.

Jarrod Johnston
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1 year ago

I will give Lorne Lanning and the team at Oddworld Inhabitants credit for being the only people on earth who, at no point in the last 25 years, have given up on the Oddworld franchise”

So literally no fans have stuck around for every game? The company just kept putting out games that no one played? What a weird insinuation.