- Format: PSN
- Unleashed: December 21st (EU), December 27th (NA)
- Publisher: Oddworld Inhabitants
- Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants/Just Add Water
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.oddworld.com/?page_id=778
Is it a first person shooter? Perhaps a third person platformer? Surely it must be an action RPG of sorts? We’ve had five years to think about it, and the answer is still “yes” to all. This high-definition remake of Stranger’s Wrath stands proudly on an outlandish hill of its own and continues to live up to the Oddworld name by being, quite fittingly, odd.
The dusty stage is set by a fur-faced bounty hunter known as Stranger; he’s got survival on his mind and an awesome hat on his head. For reasons unknown, Stranger is desperate for an outrageously expensive medical operation, and tracking down wanted criminals is the only way to scrape up that much moolah. Given this uncreative income solution, one might assume the gameplay hits a single note: shooting outlaws. However, that would be glimpsing only a single piece of this irregularly-shaped puzzle.
At first glance, Stranger’s Wrath resembles something like Jak & Daxter, albeit with a heftier jump. You’ll do some light platforming here and there, but it’s only a matter of time until the bad guys show up. While smacking them around with a torrent of punches is a viable option, taking the sneaky route can also pay off; either way, a mini-map that shows enemy movement is indispensable for letting you know what the odds are. Once you’ve wrapped your head around this, try clicking the right analogue stick.
Just as you’ve shifted paragraphs in this review, the game’s genre changes before your very eyes. In your hands is a strange crossbow; what’s more, you’re looking at it from Stranger’s eyes. Enter a surprisingly comprehensive first person shooter that rarely rewards trigger-happy mindlessness. Stranger isn’t much for guns and bullets, so your ammo will be of the living variety: bizarre little critters can be hunted and plopped into your crossbow, one for each shoulder button. Anything but ordinary, the arsenal includes spiky balls of teeth that latch onto unsuspecting prey, spiders with neutralizing webs, and rapid-fire bees that sting with a righteous fury.
Using both third and first person modes in conjunction, along with the particular abilities they have to offer, is key to taking out even the most imposing cluster of cronies. Big, varied environments offer plenty of opportunity for stealth and shootouts, rewarding – even requiring – clever tactics. Mashing the triangle button drains stamina in return for health, which will keep you on your toes and ducking for cover. The unconventional controls take some getting used to, but the fun hybrid Stranger’s Wrath presents is worth the effort.
You’ll head into a neon-lit bounty store to accept missions, each of which are concluded with a boss fight that may or may not be a drawn out battle of frustration. They (and any other foe) can be captured dead or alive for some extra change, which can in turn be spent on upgrades and ammo at the local shops. Bounties will send you all over the quasi-open world (sometimes without much direction), but given a long enough stretch, Stranger will break into a dash that cuts travel time in half. This familiar pattern of seeking out new bounties and towns continues late into the game; then the plot takes a sharp, unexpectedly interesting turn.
Before that point, the story holds very little with which to be interested. Aside from a few well-produced cutscenes, it consists mainly of random gates that need opening, bounties that need hunting, and obnoxious voice work that tends to repeat ad nauseum. Far more engrossing is the peculiar land you’ll be exploring. Chicken people and deformed chipmunk ammo alike live in barren canyons and along verdant riverbanks, always fearing the monstrous outlaws that lurk nearby. The art design is simultaneous earthy and alien; complimented by beautifully reworked graphics, a frame rate of silk, and sharp textures. It’s easy to forget that this was once a game that ran on the original Xbox. The music is almost non-existent and we ran into numerous audio stutters, but your ears probably gave up after the chicken people started squawking regardless. Although a day one patch is promised to fix the stuttering, it is impossible to turn off the chicken voices.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath was already a fine product, but this updated version sold at a budget price is a regular steal. Putting up with some irritating design decisions will make a few sequences feel unfair, but you’ll still get in a meaty number of enjoyable hours before you reach the end. If you love Stranger’s Wrath to death but lifting your old clunker of an Xbox out of storage is giving you back problems, this is the version to own; alternatively, if you’ve never touched an Oddworld game in your life, this is a great standalone game. Just keep an open mind and prepare yourself for a severe dose of weird; you’re playing Stranger’s Wrath now.