Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath

Don’t be put off by the shitty title. Don’t be put off by the association with Abe’s Odyssee and all them games if they weren’t your bag back in the day. Don’t be put off by the fact that this is a very lazy port of an old Xbox game (the original Xbox too, not the Xbox 360) (LOL it’s huuuge etc). Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is the kind of game that must have spawned a parallel universe; “what if Stranger’s Wrath got the recognition and sales it deserved?”

In this parallel universe, games would not be confined by “genre”. They’d have a variety of ways to play; first person, third person, RTS style, beat ’em up, massively multi player, single player, and all interchangeable on the fly at the touch of a button. In the parallel universe, character and plot would mean as much to the developers as graphics, and there would plenty of surprises for the player to find if they can be bothered, but the player wouldn’t be penalised for not seeking them out. They may have the odd nasty difficulty spike and an occasional bitch of a boss to take down, but they’d be worth persevering with.

Alas, we’re not in that fictional universe, we’re in this one. We’re stuck with endless repeat cycles of “Shoot Foreigners” FPS games and “It Worked Last Year” racing games and “Plays Like WoW But Looks Fuck All Like It Honest” MMORPGS. Each and every game series (with the possible exception of GTA) has one “genre” and one only, and they stick to it like glue. Stranger’s Wrath showed that this was bollocks.

Stranger’s Wrath, at it’s core, has some systems which the player can use and exploit. You can play in first person, armed with a dual-firing crossbow that shoots live creatures as ammo; or you can play in third person, which swaps the trigger functions from firing your crossbow to punching or headbutting people. You can switch between these views and game modes at the press of a button, at any time. So you learn to run in third person (cos you go a bit faster), run straight up to the first baddie you come across, beat the fuck out of him, run and hide to get out of the way of the other enemies, then run back in first person, firing all the way.

Where this gets a bit more interesting is the tall grass. If you see any tall grass, you can run into it in either view and you’ll be hidden from view by the baddies; a simple stealth system (cos when you’re in there, the baddies will eventually come looking for you).  This becomes vital when mixed in with the health system. You get a health bar and a stamina bar. Health goes down when you’re shot or punched by the baddies; stamina goes down when you fall from big heights or take environmental damage. You can also drain your stamina and fill your health bar at the touch of a button. Mix this in with the tactics listed above, and when you’ve gone back into the fray in FPS mode and taken a few hits, you can then run into tall grass (so you’re invisible), heal very quickly, and then run back out firing all the way.

Once you get used to these systems, you start to experiment. You go into a fight in FPS mode, take a few baddies out, and when your health is dangerously low, switch to third person and leg it back to safety to heal and go again. Or you can attract the baddies to you while you’re in cover, and then pick them off one by one from the grass. There’s loads of different tactics you can try for any given confrontation, but as suggested above, you can just choose to run in and punch / shoot the fuck out of everything. A billion ways of doing it, using either first or third person modes, and it’s always your choice.

As mentioned above, the game also has a story. No spoilers here, but when you get past the half way mark, the main plot twist is revealed, and it’s a belter. It also has decent characters; Stranger himself is a gruff bastard, a bit mean, until you realise why, and then his character makes sense. The townspeople (townschickens, really) you interact with get some cracking one-liners, the baddies throw some funny insults at you (and the townschickens too, if you piss them off; my current fave is “get away from me, you stinky turd!”), and the bosses get some decent taunts in as well.

There’s also the odd secret to find. Nothing too major, but there is one involving a not-so-secret temple and a not-so-secret and very valuable idol which is pretty damn hilarious.

It’s not without its flaws. The PC version is a fairly shitty port of the orginal Xbox game. How shitty? OK, the game doesn’t ask you if you’d like to set the game resolution to 1024 x 768 or 1280 x 720 or whatever. It asks if you’d like a low, medium or high resolution. Although, if you’re one of the 1% of people who religiously reads the readme files for everything, then you’ll learn that you can change a line in a config file if you’d like to set your own resolution. Also, you need to name your save game. Not usually a problem. On the original Xbox, you’d do this with an onscreen keyboard and move the cursor round with the stick. On the PC port? Same thing, but with the cursor keys. You know, the cursor keys that are on a keyboard. A keyboard with the alphabet on it.

There’s also a couple of difficulty spikes, and one particularly nasty one. One which I could never do on the Xbox, not after a year of trying. So let’s hope the PC port has accidentally made that one easier 😀

Stranger’s Wrath is on Steam now, and it is a little bit pricey (£12), and it lacks polish, and it pretty much demands a pad to play it with. Having said all that, if you’re one of them people who bemoans the lack of originality in games these days, you know, someone like me, then I can heartily recommend it. I think you’ll be surprised, in a good way.

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