Oddworld: SoulstormApril 6th, 2020
PlatformPC (Epic Games Store), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4
Back in the 90s, video games were very different from what they are today. While some genres evolved with the advent of the 3D era, others kind of faded into obscurity for no other reason than the fact that developers didn't manage to adapt the formula of these genres to the new generation of gaming without taking away what made them so special. Among these genres that did not make the jump are the adventure-platform-puzzle games in the vein of classics like Another World and Flashback, both heavily inspired by the original Prince of Persia. In many ways, Oddworld: Abe's Odyssey and Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, released in the late 90s, were the natural continuation of the genre, preserving what made these games great and pushing the genre forward with new mechanics.
Oddworld: Soulstorm, the new entry in the series, could mark the rebirth of this almost forgotten genre. The reimagining of the second entry in the Oddworld series not only looks amazing, but it also plays great despite some minor issues here and there, so it definitely has the potential of bringing a new generation of fans who never had the chance to experience the classics.
Oddworld: Soulstorm picks up exactly where Oddworld: Abe's Odyssey and its remake New 'n' Tasty ended. After having saved 300 Mudokons from the RuptureFarms meat grinders, Abe now finds himself entangled in a revolution that he unwillingly started, having to face the Glukkons enslavers head-on. Meanwhile, the Glukkons have created an addictive drink called Soulstorm Brew, designed to keep the poor Mudokons docile and enslaved, making Abe's job even more difficult.
While Abe and his fellow Mudokons can be quite funny, with their weird appearance and antics, their story takes some dark turns at times. While this isn't exactly unexpected, considering slavery is among the game's main themes, it can still hit surprisingly hard. The narration style used to tell this story is also spot-on, combining big cinematic sequences and more intimate moments seamlessly integrated into the gameplay. When a rather big story development is hidden in a seemingly unremarkable discovery, you know you are experiencing something great.
While the story in Oddworld: Soulstorm is definitely good, it's the gameplay that shines the most, despite a few issues here and there.
Oddworld: Soulstorm doesn't play all that differently from the original Abe's Odyssey and Abe's Exoddus. Controlling Abe, players have to traverse over 10 different stages filled with enemies, traps, puzzles, and Mudokons to rescue. The adventure-platform-puzzle roots of the series are in full force in Soulstorm, as Abe has almost non-existent offensive options, so players will have to navigate around danger by jumping on platforms and using any resource at their disposal, including a variety of items that also work as ingredients for crafting, one of the biggest mechanical change introduced in this reimagining.
While the platforming-puzzle experience hasn't changed a whole lot, it feels better than ever in Oddworld: Soulstorm. The introduction of a double-jump has made navigating the stages much smoother, preventing tons of missed jumps and unwarranted deaths. The small tweaks made to Abe's movement are more welcome than they may seem at first glance since the game is actually quite challenging, and frustration is always behind the corner.
Oddworld Inhabitants was certainly aware of its game's high-challenge level, as it included tons of checkpoints throughout the stages to prevent too much progress from getting lost upon death. But it's with the checkpoint system that some of the game's issues start emerging, as they happen to record the exact moment they are activated, so if an enemy is following you, or if any danger is threatening Abe, you may risk getting stuck into a death loop that may force you to start over from the beginning. It rarely happens, to be honest, but it does happen: I activated one of the checkpoints while I was throwing an item by mistake, and every time I respawned, I ended up losing this item.
Such a checkpoint system was needed not only because of the game's high challenge level but also for the sheer size of the 17 stages: it can take well over an hour to complete the biggest ones for the first time, and that's without discovering all of its secrets and saving all the Mudokons. This is hardly an issue, on the contrary, as it is clear from the get-go that a lot of care has been put into the complex level design, which features puzzles that are all extremely varied, and enemy encounters that can be won in different ways. As already mentioned, Abe's offensive options are quite limited, and the only way he has to actually kill the Sligs is by possessing them via the Chant ability. This ability, however, cannot be used at all times, so you may have to resort to items to take enemies down in certain sequences or just try to slip past them unnoticed. It's during these stealth sequences that the game's excellent design truly shines, as there are multiple viable and satisfying ways to complete stealth sequences.
Playing the game stealthily, and avoiding killing as many Sligs as possible, also ties with one of the Oddworld: Soulstorm gameplay mechanics, the Quarma system. This system keeps track of how Abe behaved throughout the stages, such as how many Mudokons have been saved, how many have died, and how many Sligs have been killed. Reaching a positive Quarma in all stages is extremely important, as the game's final two stages and true ending are unlocked only after it has been achieved in all prior stages. Even if positive Quarma has been achieved for all stages, players have plenty of reasons to return to completed stages, as an in-game achievement system keeps track of optional objectives such as the total number of looted trash bins, discovered secret areas, total saved Mudokons, and so on.
Another area where Oddworld: Soulstorm truly shines is its presentation. All locations look great, seamlessly flowing from wilderness to industrialized areas, so much that they almost feel natural. This is also thanks to the amazing camera work used in the game, which highlights all the twists and turns of each location in a very cinematic way without taking control away from the player. The same amount of care has been placed into character models, which all look extremely personable, detailed, and hard to forget. Performance is also solid on PlayStation 5, running at smooth 60 frames per second with little to no drops, outside of areas where the frame rate drops to 30 for no real reason. This is likely a bug that will be fixed with future updates.
The PlayStation 5 version of the game also supports the DualSense Haptic Feedback and Adaptive Triggers. Haptic Feedback is used to simulate Abe's walking, searching lockers and trash bins, gunfire, and so on, while Adaptive Triggers are only used for activating the Chant ability. Not the best implementation of these features, to be honest, but they are still somewhat new and no game so far outside of Astro's Playroom managed to make them feel essential to the experience.
Even with its issues, Oddworld: Soulstorm is, without a doubt, one of the best games released this year. Despite some weirdness in the checkpoint system, a few bugs, and a difficulty level that may be too high for some, there is no denying that the long wait has been well worth it, as the game is clearly a product of love that all fans of the series and of 2D platform games in general will like.
If you add that the game is included with the PlayStation Plus subscription on console, there really is no reason for you to skip it.
PlayStation 5 version tested (review code provided by the publisher).
With an excellent stage and puzzle design, an engaging story that takes some unexpectedly dark turns, and a great presentation, Oddworld: Soulstorm is as good as the first entries in the series if not even better thanks to some new gameplay mechanics. The high challenge level and some other issues here and there may put off some players, but don't let them stop you, even if you just have a passing interest in the series, or the genre as a whole: a game like Oddworld: Soulstorm hasn't been released in a very long time.
- Great presentation
- Engaging story with multiple endings
- Excellent stage and puzzle design
- Huge amount of content
- High challenge level...
- ... that can put off some less-experienced players
- The checkpoint system and some other bugs and glitches can be a little annoying.