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Review

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD Review

2011 goes out with a bang.

HD remakes have been extremely popular over the last couple of years. Free from the technical constraints of the previous generation of consoles, developers can optimise a classic so it can be released as intended, which not only pleases fans but introduces the game to a whole new audience who missed it the first time. This brings us to Just Add Water’s latest title, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD.

Originally released on the Xbox back in 2005, the game tells the story of a bounty hunter named Stranger. Despite seeming like a relatively chilled out chap, Stranger is desperately need of an operation, although initially we aren’t told why. The Doc, being the only person who can perform said operation, has decided he will need 20,000 bucks before he even gets changed into his scrubs, leaving Stranger to ponder where to get that sort of money.


Release the chipmunk!
It’s an interesting story, albeit one that starts off relatively slowly. Stranger isn’t much of a talker but numerous cutscenes drive the narrative forward until, quite shockingly, there is a heck of a twist that not only speeds up the pace of the story but changes the way the game is played. It’s compelling stuff.

For the most part, the game is all about taking on bounty assignments and bringing in the main target dead or alive. This involves getting to a certain location, picking off the subordinates before reaching the boss for a big ol’ fight. Every enemy you come across can either be stunned and restrained or killed. Dead enemies will give you less moolah but it’s easier to kill rather than stun, so it’s down to the player to decide how to tackle things.

Rather unusually, the game is a hybrid of first person shooter and third person action adventure. To traverse the environment at speed it’s best to switch to the third person view, as after a few seconds of running Stranger will burst into a gallop (of sorts). In this view there are also two handy melee attacks, as well as the ability to jump to and from various platforms.

When the fighting starts you’ll definitely want to switch to first person mode, which is done seamlessly by clicking the right stick. It’s in this mode where the genius of Stranger’s Wrath starts to shine through. For the entire game you only have access to one weapon, a crossbow, but instead of firing bolts it uses ‘Live Ammo’, and it’s this that really sets this game apart.

The Live Ammo consists of various creatures that you must hunt in the wild to replenish your supplies. You can equip two pieces at a time and it adds a dimension to combat that I’ve never come across before, allowing you to approach fights in various ways.

Let me give you an example: there’s a large group of Wolvark ahead, outnumbering you ten to one. Now, one way to do this would be to equip the Zappfly, which sends out an electrical jolt and stuns the enemy, and the Bolamite Spiders, which wrap up enemies in webbing and render them helpless for a short time. The idea would be to sneak from cover to cover, firing a Bolamite at an enemy and then stunning it with the Zappfly. Easy bounty.

Those who prefer the more direct approach can equip the Stingbees, which are bees fired rapidly like a machinegun, and Thudslugs, which are powerful enough to knock an enemy back. This time instead of sneaking about you can charge in, using the Thudslugs to knock the enemy back and then unleashing the Stingbees. There’s a much higher risk of killing the enemy but hey, it’s effective.

This is but a small selection of what the Live Ammo has to offer, with the full list comprising of such goodies as noisy chipmunks, skunks that make an enemy vomit and exploding bats. I can’t stress this enough; Live Ammo is an unmitigated joy to use. After playing so many shooters this year, Stranger’s Wrath is a breath of fresh air and I defy anyone not to smile after setting a successful Fuzzle trap.

There are also a number of upgrades that can be bought from every town’s general store, plus the black market if you can find it (and the relevant password to enter). It’s not just the Live Ammo that can be upgraded, but Stranger himself with various bits of armour.

The game also forgoes any sort of health pick-up, instead allowing Stranger to “shake it off”. This means that, when injured, pressing the triangle button will see Stranger smack his chest in a manly fashion, thus shaking off any damaging and refilling his health bar. The only limitation to this is that it drains Stranger’s stamina bar, and if that’s empty you have to wait for it to refill. Luckily, stamina can be upgraded, because there will be times where quick healing is essential.


The boss fights are well designed.
Earlier on, I briefly touched on the premise of the game, which is to bounty the boss characters, but what I didn’t mention was just how varied these fights are. Each boss has their own unique personality, weapons and minions, as well as an environmental advantage that must be overcome. JAW should be congratulated on these battles, because they are a fitting pay-off after fighting your way past dozens of enemies.

A couple of HD remakes this year have been a touch disappointing when it comes to the visuals, but luckily Stranger’s Wrath doesn’t fall into this category. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it’s the best of the bunch. Whilst Stranger looks fantastic, it’s the western themed environments that really shine through, with lush greenery, bustling towns and war-torn cities. It’s hard to believe this is a game that’s nearly seven years old; such is the work that JAW has put into it. It sounds great too.

As much as it pains me to say, the game does have a couple of niggles. For starters, the camera in third person mode moves far too slowly, which can be very noticeable during a few of the boss fights as you are left desperately trying to see where attacks are coming from. Occasionally the game would also stutter for a few seconds, although oddly enough not during the more heated battles scenes but when Stranger was simply running through an empty area.

My biggest issue, though, has to be the random difficulty spikes. Whilst never a walk in the park, playing and completing the game on normal difficulty is most certainly achievable. However, there were times about halfway through where the difficulty level didn’t just ramp up; it took an elevator to the top floor. After that it would be fine for a couple of hours, before again hitting this wall of frustration. For example the second-to-last boss was an absolute nightmare that caused me no end of trouble and a fair few restarts, yet the final boss was the easiest in the entire game.

Pros

  • Looks stunning and sounds fantastic
  • Live Ammo is beyond brilliant
  • 10 hours plus of gameplay
  • Well-designed boss battles

Cons

  • Sluggish third person camera
  • The game stutters sometimes
  • Random difficulty spikes

There’s no doubt about it, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD is punching well above its £9.99 price bracket. The production values coupled with over ten hours of quality gameplay mean the game would easily be worth £40 if stuck on the shelf of your local retailer.

Frustrating difficulty spikes aside, Stranger’s Wrath had me hooked throughout. If TSA did half marks, this would be a well deserved 9.5.

Score: 9/10

37 Comments
  1. tonycawley
    Pint! Pint!
    Since: Feb 2009

    So it should be a 9.5? Shouldn’t that be rounded up to a 10? Or is it actually a 9.3 which would’ve got rounded up to 9.5 were there a half point scale? Lol, silly comment tony!

    Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 16:04.
  2. Mike
    Member
    Since: Oct 2008

    Great review, will definitely pick this up when I get my £35 PSN card through the post. I loved the original Oddworld games – can’t beat Abe!

    Follow me!

    Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 16:04.
    • kjkg
      Member
      Since: Apr 2010

      Just have to decide what the other £25 goes towards. Tough decisions ahead Mike!

      Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 16:06.
      • Mike
        Member
        Since: Oct 2008

        I know, right?! And technically I’ll be getting it for free as I only paid £25 for the card ^.^

        Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 16:21.
  3. kjkg
    Member
    Since: Apr 2010

    Nice, been wanting to see how this fared. Will probably pick it up over the holidays.

    Am I imagining that they were going to do an HD release of the two abe adventures. I know they are classics on the PSN but wondered if they are going to get the HD magic brush on them?

    Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 16:06.
    • Mike
      Member
      Since: Oct 2008

      If they are, my money is already in their bank account!

      Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 16:25.
  4. tonycawley
    Pint! Pint!
    Since: Feb 2009

    Oh, and BTW, crossbows don’t fire bows, that’d be strange, they fire bolts or arrows. I ask, is there no bloody proofreading in this place? Fnar Fnar.

    Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 16:08.
    • Mike
      Member
      Since: Oct 2008

      Lol, you are a hoot tony ;)

      Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 16:26.
    • freezebug2
      Member
      Since: Dec 2008

      Indeed, jeez you could have an eye out using bows. :-P

      Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 17:44.
    • Klart
      Member
      Since: Jun 2010

      They don’t even fire crosses.

      I’ll get me coat.

      Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 17:56.
  5. Bodachi
    Member
    Since: Jan 2010

    Will pick this up, one of my favourite games on Xbox. Completed it at least a couple of times. Might go for the platinum for this.

    Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 16:31.
    • Dan Lee
      Common like the rest of us.
      Since: Jun 2010

      A plat should be pretty easy. I got 60% of the trophies without even trying.

      Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 16:41.
      • Jakster123x
        Member
        Since: Aug 2011

        Ah, that’s good to know but my main hope was for the game to be good and it sounds totally awesome. Love Oddworld.

        Oh, btw, is it possible to play the whole game in 3rd person? I’m not planning on doing it, just curious ;)

        Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 17:11.
      • Dan Lee
        Common like the rest of us.
        Since: Jun 2010

        Not 100%, as there are times where you need to shoot things to power them up. Plus some of the bosses would be impossible.

        Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 17:13.
  6. Origami Killer
    Member
    Since: May 2010

    If TSA did half marks, they would probably be the best in the world…

    Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 16:53.
  7. philbert8
    The Frankie Boyle Of TSA
    Since: Sep 2010

    It was and is a great game, in places, but I remember the “difficulty spikes” were what made me give up on the Xbox version and never want to go back. I’m just a bit shit at games, so I’m sure everyone else will love it.

    Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 17:23.
    • Dan Lee
      Common like the rest of us.
      Since: Jun 2010

      There are difficulty levels now, so you could whack it on easy

      Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 17:29.
      • philbert8
        The Frankie Boyle Of TSA
        Since: Sep 2010

        You have no idea how bad I am.

        Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 17:37.
  8. Tuffcub
    On the naughty step.
    Since: Dec 2008

    Looks like im getting this then.

    Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 17:26.
  9. Burgess_101
    Member
    Since: May 2009

    I would get this as I love Abe but I just dont think I have time at the moment plus I would probably be terrible games like this bring out the worst in me.

    Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 18:04.
    • scavenga
      Member
      Since: Jul 2009

      Haven’t got time to play this either, but I’m going to buy it nonetheless – in a vain attempt to inspire them to remake and update certain other titles, ahem

      Comment posted on 21/12/2011 at 06:19.
  10. justboy
    Member
    Since: Jul 2010

    I’m surprised this has scored so well. I remeber playing it on my brothers xbox back in the day. Managed to complete it, but felt a bit underwhelmed at the time.
    Though at such a cheap price I’m seriously tempted to give it another go!

    Comment posted on 20/12/2011 at 18:06.

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