Oddworld – it's not just a creative name for a franchise, it’s a symbol of addictive gameplay. For the past 8 years, gamers have been captivated with the strange cast of characters, simple yet engaging platforming puzzles and heavy dose of quirky humor that Abe's Exoddus and Munch's Oddysee provided. So you can just imagine the hesitation fans had when it was announced that the latest Oddworld title would be completely different from its predecessors. Fortunately these worries are unfounded, because this is perhaps the most enjoyable Oddworld game to date. Prepare to leave your Mudokan friends behind, because we're traveling to a wild frontier with Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath.
Yep, you heard me right…you're not going to see any of the "familiar" characters or locations from the first two games. Instead, this Oddworld title introduces players to Stranger, a feline-like bounty hunter. Although he’s good at what he does, he’s not tracking down outlaws to reduce crime. Shortly after starting, you discover that Stranger needs a life saving operation, one with a very high price tag – twenty thousand bucks, to be exact. Naturally, he doesn’t have anywhere near that kind of money on him, so he has to take bounty contracts from the citizens of border towns: flighty, nervous “chickens” known as Clackers. While he doesn’t like the idea of being dependent on these whimpering cowards, he’d rather do a couple of jobs than push up daisies.
Fortunately, Stranger has more than enough abilities and talents to take on even the deadliest of fugitive gangs. Thanks to his radar, he can check on where each target is, sizing up how he wants to take them down. Stranger can walk quietly in, or accelerate to a loping sprint on all fours, which he can use to charge through obstacles. He also has a decent double jump which helps carry him over large gaps, giving him an added tactic to take on his bounties. While these give him a large advantage over the gangs, Stranger’s bound to take some amount of damage sometime. Luckily, he’s tough enough to shake off any wounds he gets, thanks to his regenerating stamina meter. As long as he has some amount of stamina, he’ll be able to restore his health to full strength.
Once he comes up on an opponent, he can lay out most enemies with punches or headbutts, even triggering a spinning attack to incapacitate thugs. Once their down, Stranger can claim the bounty on them with a vacuum like device, turning them in at the Bounty Store later for a reward. While you have the option to take them “dead or alive”, you receive much more of a reward for live bounties than dead ones (although live bounties are much harder to capture). Luckily, you don’t have to get up close and personal to take your mark out. The Stranger has a crossbow that he can use to shoot enemies.
Here is where the game also diverges wildly from previous Oddworld titles, because once you take out the crossbow, you enter first person shooter mode. However, don’t expect BFG’s or other weaponry that you’ll pick up. Instead, Stranger uses what’s known as “Live Ammo”: insects and other wilderness creatures that can be shot at enemies. Initially, you have things known as Zappflies, electrified bugs that don’t pack a strong punch unless they’re charged up. However, they come in unlimited quantities, and you’ll need them to stun the other “ammo” creatures. This means that you’ll actively have to hunt down stockpiles of “bullets,” but since they’re pretty abundant in the wild, you shouldn’t really ever run out. Fortunately, all of these creatures have their own strange abilities that help you in your bounty collection. For instance, you can use skunks to make thugs violently ill, rendering them incapable of fighting. You can fire explosive bats at sentries that detonate on contact. Stranger can also combine the effects of these creatures to distract and capture targets. For example, he can hurl the trash-talking chipmunks, which annoy and divert guards from their posts, only to web them up with spiders.
Visually, Stranger’s Wrath is a gorgeous title. Character models are large and sharply defined, with plenty of hilarious animations. This is an Oddworld title, after all, and Wrath doesn’t disappoint. Punching a Clacker, for instance, sends them flapping and running around in a circle as if their heads were cut off (chicken pun intended). Stranger’s shaking off of damage resembles a wet dog, which is both humorous and indicative of his resilience to damage. Much more than the character animations, however, is the overall tone of the game. Practically channeling Sergio Leone himself, just about every single facet of Stranger’s Wrath evokes a Western movie. With a solid framerate, beautiful cutscenes and all-encompassing theme, Wrath is one of the best looking titles on the Xbox.
Most of the sound in Stranger’s Wrath is presented as well as the graphics. Music sounds like it’s been cut from a Hollywood western, with plenty of guitar twangs. While you can tell when a major fight is coming when a shift in the music occurs, the atmosphere created by the music is very nice. Sound effects are carried off just as nicely. Case in point: most of the ammo has a unique sound effect when it’s loaded or when it’s fired. If you listen to the Chippunk trash talk (“My brotha! What are you doin’, my brotha?), you’ll probably won’t help but laugh a couple of times. The one downside with the sound is that the voices, while humorlessly acted, can sometimes be hard to understand. Combine that with the fact that the each race in the game seems to have the same voice, whether they’re male or female, and you sometimes have trouble understanding characters. Stranger can sometimes be the largest culprit of this, thanks to his gruff, growling voice.
Gameplay is easy to pick up and quite addictive. However, that leads to a number of minor issues that Stranger’s Wrath doesn’t fully address. For one, thanks to the engaging play, you’ll be able to fly through the 15 hour game in seemingly no time at all. Without unlockable features or additional difficulty levels, there isn’t really a reason to replay the title once you’ve beaten it. (Although you’ll probably replay it for either the humor or to screw around with the ammo.) Second, while the player has the option to play in either 3rd or 1st person viewpoints at any time they want is somewhat appealing, each one has their own problems. First Person doesn’t allow you to perform actions like capturing bounties, nor does it let you jump or physically attack enemies easily. Third Person, on the other hand, doesn’t give you nearly enough attacks or even your effective abilities. Third, while the game allows you the option to stealthily take out foes or go in guns blazing, the game actually winds up being much more of a run and gun situation, where you draw away a sentry or two, take them out and bag them for a bounty apart from their compatriots, and repeat around the next group. This stuttering play is somewhat interruptive to truly smooth play.
However, these issues aside, it’s not enough to completely overshadow what is an incredible title. Humorous play, engaging action and an interesting plotline coupled with creative game mechanics combine to make a title that worthily upholds the Oddworld franchise. If any players have stayed away from the series because of the puzzle elements, they really should try Stranger’s Wrath. Its unorthodox departure from its predecessor’s formula may just get them interested in the other titles.