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.[drop2] 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.[drop] 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.
- Looks stunning and sounds fantastic
- Live Ammo is beyond brilliant
- 10 hours plus of gameplay
- Well-designed boss battles
- 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.