Oddworld: Soulstorm Review

Still pretty odd.

An achingly long seven years on from Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, the 2014 remake of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Oddworld: Soulstorm, the 2021 remake of the sequel Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus, is finally here. Like many sequels, Soulstorm is a lot more grown up than what came before it.

Following on from a game I called “a perfect example of someone finding light and hope in utter darkness”, Soulstorm is the logical next step on Abe’s long march to freedom. The farts and giggle are gone, replaced instead by the heavy task of fulfilling Abe’s destiny and his quest to release his people from slavery.

– ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW –

 

Soulstorm, however, is not a traditional remake. After the original Abe’s Oddysee was released, Oddworld Inhabitants was given just nine months to pump out a sequel. Given the terrifyingly short timeframe, they had to take their dream sequel and cut it down drastically to produce something coherent. Abe’s Exoddus was not the game they wanted to release back in 1998. Soulstorm, a ground-up reimagining of Exoddus, is that game.

And they have really taken their time on this one — Oddworld: Soulstorm was announced six years ago this month. This, of course, is a double-edged sword; the protracted development period may have helped them put more into the game, but it has also led to a game that is a little rough around the edges.

But first, let’s come back to the scale of the game. You can tell they took their time with it — Soulstorm is huge. Set across 15+ sprawling levels (you get two bonus levels if you unlock the good ending), Abe’s mission is to once again rescue the hapless Mudokons and lead them out of the clutches of the evil Glukkon overlords.

In order to unlock the good ending, the game demands that you save 80% of the Mudokons in each level, and with nearly 1,400 Mudokons to save across the game, you have your work cut out for you. More-so when you consider just how dense these lovable idiots are. Sure they make you smile with their dialogue, from the story text to the one-liners, but that doesn’t stop you sighing when you see them jump gallantly into the meat grinder because they can’t think for themselves.

This is just one example of the frustrating gameplay Soulstorm has to offer. Combined with a plethora of bugs, it sometimes feels like the game is working against you. I love a good challenge, but I don’t love falling through the level floor three times in an hour. I didn’t like having Abe not being able to jump where I want him to — murderous sacrilege in a platformer. I particularly hated having to repeat a level I saved 100% of the Mudokons on because the game bugged out on me. It knew I had finished the level because my level complete stats were there on the level-select screen, but I still had to spend 40 minutes running through the damn level again, furious at my time being wasted throughout.

At least the game is gorgeous to look at. It’s not beautiful in the sense of sunshine and rainbows, but the level design is a work of art. Similar to the New ‘n’ Tasty and its collection of side-scrolling platform sections connected by tunnels, Soulstorm is a collection of exquisitely detailed “2.9D” platforms that twist and turn into the foreground and background.

Games have come a long way since the 90s. In Soulstorm, if you can see a platform in the background while running around, there’s a good chance that you’ll be walking along it soon enough. It makes the game, and your mission, feel that much more epic as you see the scale of what Abe is up against.

The cutscenes are similarly gorgeous, though it’s a shame that they’re pre-cut footage, rather than in-game animations. Running at 1440p at 60 frames per second on the PS5, it is a joy to behold. And for all the Glukkons, Mudokens and Sligs running around, the commentary on racial superiority is just as poignant as ever. The storytelling, if nothing else, is still totally on point.

Sadly, for all this genius, there are some questionable decisions that development made that really are to its detriment.

First, you wouldn’t know it’s on the PS5 if not for the shape of the controller. The adaptive triggers are supposed to offer extra resistance when Abe is putting in extra work, and feel his heartbeat when he’s stressed and in danger, but it’s hardly noticeable.

Next is the Quarma system. Save 80% of the Mudokons and you’re doing well, but you’re also expected to be a pacifist. With an army of Sligs coming at you with machine guns, flamethrowers and sniper rifles, both on foot and by air, you’re expected not to kill any of them, as this negatively affects your score. These are the guards that kept you under control as a slave, now hunting mercilessly to kill you and re-enslave your kind. I’m just saying that nature gave Abe the ability to psychically explode brains for a reason. It seems a shame not to use it.

What makes this worse is that if you try to turn the other cheek, going stealthy rather than brain-explodey, you’re going to quickly run into problems. I spent half an hour on one level trying to get past an electrified door, scouring the area without killing anyone or anything, which was no mean feat given the rockets and rifles they’re packing. It turns out the door only opens once you murder all the Sligs in the area. Soulstorm might be angling for social commentary, but that’s just a poor design choice.

Again, it’s not all bad — Oddworld Inhabitants giveth with one hand, as they say. We’ve lost the quicksave from New ‘n’ Tasty, but the abundance of checkpoints is warmly received. We may have been hamstrung by being told off for killing Sligs, but this time round, we can tie them up and loot them. Plus, there’s now the option to scavenge bins and lockers, and craft equipment from what you find. From smoke bombs to stun mines, Abe can craft a plethora of tools to help him become the equivalent of a heavily armed, semi-pacificistic Moses.

Some stuff can’t be used, but you may be able to sell it at a vending machine to make some moolah to buy other components. And last but not least, you’re not supposed to kill your oppressors in Soulstorm, but it is encouraging that this time around, you can give your followers a nice hard rock to throw at would-be assailants.

– PAGE CONTINUES BELOW –
Summary
Oddworld: Soulstorm clearly comes from a very passionate, dedicated group of developers. Although it is very rough in places, there are parts of it that really do stick out as excellent examples of both gameplay and storytelling. With more refinement this could have been a shining example of what ground-up remakes could be, but it just falls a little short of the high standards set elsewhere. It’s still charming and funny, just like the Mudokens you’re trying to save, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Good
  • A truly beautiful game to look out, dishing out poignant social commentary
  • The scale, design and feel of the world are all exquisite
  • There are many, many hours of game here
Bad
  • You spend a lot of time dying needlessly
  • It’s going to be too difficult to reach the good ending for a lot of people, even on easy mode
  • The PS5-specific features are entirely forgettable
7

Leave a Reply