Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is the fourth game in the Oddworld series. It also marks a complete 180 degree turn in the series when compared to Abe’s two games and the last game, Munch’s Oddysee, a launch game for the Xbox. This time around you take the role of a creature simply known as “Stranger”, a bounty hunter with some unknown problem that he requires surgery for. Instead of using your wits like you did in the other Oddworld games, this time you use your brawn and brains to get through the game. Played both from a third and first-person view, the game brings new life to the action genre and to the Oddworld series itself.
This game certainly is pretty, although you will find as you go along that the game gets more beautiful. The seamless feeling of switching between third and first-person (by pushing in the right analog stick) is amazing to behold. The framerate rarely falters in this game (it pops up, but rarely), which is an amazing thing in itself since you have both the third and first-person views to play with.
Stranger is a bounty hunter and the first 2/3 of the game will be spent collecting bounties. Each character in the game outside of the Clackers (the chicken-like people in the towns) is well drawn and animated. When you face off against the bounty bosses, they can be very cool in how they move and the way they attack you.
The environments are also well done. There is a town that is full of dust blowing around and it all looks rather nice. You don’t really see any weather effects until later in the game, but the rest of the environment is exquisite. When you first set your eyes on water you will be awed by how good it looks. Same goes for the rather huge scale of the levels outside of the towns.
There is a bit of draw-in that you will notice, but given how beautiful the game is this is easily forgivable. You will probably notice the draw-in more toward the end of the game when major graphics are being pushed. The big plus to all of this is that the game loads on the fly for the most part. There are certain sections where you will have a loading screen (usually after a CGI cutscene), but they are few and far between. To say the graphics in this game are really phenomenal would be an understatement.
Music is almost non-existent in the game or is very soft in the background. Towards the end of the game the music becomes a bit louder as the action gets heavier. The sound for the most part is great, especially the sounds of the live ammo (something I’ll get into later), explosions and general environmental sounds. The voices on the other hand are pretty good, but they sound very grainy outside of the Stranger and the bounties. The Clackers are the biggest problem from the audio department. They have a Southern drawl, but you can also hear the low bitrate and poor sound quality coming from the audio.
All of the voices were done by creator Lorne Lanning and the rest of Oddworld Inhabitant’s workers. The Stranger’s voice is very much like a cross between Clint Eastwood and Jesse Ventura (he has the sound of Eastwood, but the grammar of Ventura). In many ways Stranger is a lot like the Man With No Name from the Sergio Leone movies that Eastwood starred in and I think Lorne Lanning used that as a stepping stone. The bosses also have some nice lines and even the underlings have some funny lines, most of which you have to use the binoculars to hear.
Control for the most part is very good. Since Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is played both from the third and first-person, the controls are slightly different depending on which POV you are in. During the exploration parts of the game you will probably find yourself in third-person mode. Controls are simple and there’s even a tutorial as you go through the first section of the game. The left analog stick moves Stranger while the right analog stick moves the camera. The black button will put the camera behind Stranger. The R trigger will make Stranger do a head butt and the L trigger will make Stranger spin around. The X button is used to suck up enemies (alive or dead), the Y button lets you heal yourself (but with a caveat) and the A button lets you jump (hit it again to double-jump). You will find if you move Stranger in a direction for a bit he will go down on all fours and run quickly as well.
In first-person mode (which you go into simply by clicking in the right analog stick) the controls are much like Halo. Left analog stick moves you, right analog stick aims the crossbow. X button still is used to suck up enemies, but you will go into third-person mode when you do this. The R trigger will fire the live ammo on the right side of your double-barreled crossbow, the L trigger will fire the live ammo on the left side. The d-pad will allow you to choose the live ammo you want to use and which side you wish to set it on. You can also still jump with the A button and the black button will allow you to use binoculars (if you purchased them).
Overall the controls are good, but much like any other third-person game the camera can give you quite a problem. There are times where the camera will be stuck, but the times this happens are few and far between. The other minus is that there is no lock-on button that I know of in order to lock onto a target. This becomes especially detrimental the farther into the game you get because there will be more enemies in your close vicinity than earlier in the game and you can get overwhelmed quite easily.
I really like this game, probably moreso than any of the other Oddworld games so far. It is a drastic change from the others because you no longer rely on Gamespeak. Instead you rely on your trusty crossbow and the overall power of Stranger. The crossbow in and of itself is a wonder to behold. Stranger relies on live ammo to load his crossbow with. Each ammo type has different sets of powers and uses. Here they are:
- Zappflies: this is your basic and unlimited ammo, meaning you don’t have to catch them in the wild. When charged up these allow you to stun enemies and it also opens up a lot of the locked doors in the game. They aren’t the most powerful ammo, but they certainly do their job. The only problem is that it takes a few seconds for them to charge up their electricity.
- Bolamites: these are used to ensnare the enemies in a spider web, making them easier to capture alive with your vacuum. It is impossible to ensnare bosses though, but against the rest of the enemies, these work well. These also have an upgrade later in the game that makes them web enemies up more often.
- Chippunk: these are annoyance ammo. If you want the enemies to all congregate in a certain spot you fire a Chippunk at the area you want them to go. Let’s say there is a machine with a boulder that you can fire a Zappfly with from far away and have the boulder drop. You fire a Chippunk under the boulder and then fire the Zappfly and you’ll take care of all your troubles. Granted, the enemies may be dead and worth less in bounty money, but it’s an easy way to get rid of a lot of enemies at once. These also have an upgrade later in the game.
- Fuzzles: they may sound all cute, but they are mean little SOBs. These can be used as traps for enemies (you fire one at the ground and if an enemy comes by the Fuzzle will attack and stay on the enemy for a while so you can capture them) or fired directly at an enemy and watch the Fuzzle eat and distract them. These also have an upgrade later in the game.
- Thudslugs: these are hard-shelled ammo. They shoot at a fast velocity and their hard outer shell will knock an enemy down and stun them for a short time. These also have an upgrade later in the game.
- Boombats: these are self-explanatory given their name. They are basically living bombs. You can shoot them at an enemy and watch them run around and be destroyed. Their best application is at taking out snipers in little holes well above Stranger’s reach. These also have an upgrade later in the game.
- Stunks: these are much like skunks from our world. You fire them and their noxious spray will actually make enemies puke their guts out. These have a good radius hit, so you can hit a bunch of enemies at once if they are close together. These also have an upgrade later in the game.
- Stingbees: these are basically the machine-gun type of ammo. You’ll have a lot of them when you pick them up and they are nice homing missiles that fire at a high rate. These also have an upgrade later in the game.
Of course the thing with the live ammo is that you have to hunt them and replenish them or you will run out of ammo (Zappfiles notwithstanding). The ammo is certainly plentiful, but some are far more plentiful and easy to find than others. Each time Stranger comes upon the ammo the first time you’ll hear a short word about them from Stranger, so it’s a nice introduction. Now onto the story.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is a game about bounties, but really the bounties only take up about 2/3 of the game. Early on in the game you find out that Stranger has a serious problem that the local doctor can cure him of with surgery. Of course the Doc wants to be paid in order to do the procedure: $20,000. Stranger doesn’t have close to that amount of cash, so he has to take up bounty hunting, his given trade anyway, in order to inch toward that goal. He visits the local Bounty stores to pick a bounty and goes to the General stores to buy upgrades for different things. Each bounty has two prices on their heads, one for being brought back alive (the bigger of the two) and one for being brought back dead. Obviously you will want to bring the bounty back alive in order to maximize your profits, but you will find that to be a bit more difficult than you would hope.
Each bounty sets up a mini-quest in the game that happens outside of the town Stranger is currently visiting. You go through a bunch of lesser enemies, sometimes during sections where Stranger is far outnumbered and the situation seems dire. Eventually you reach the boss of the area and have to figure out how to take them out of the battle alive. The middle bounties of the game are the hardest ones to overcome and take alive, but the beginning and end ones can be pretty easy to figure out. Bolamites are useless against the bosses because they will just shrug it off. The key to bringing the bounty back alive is to deplete their stamina bar (below their health bar) before you deplete their health bar. If you deplete the latter before the stamina bar, the bounty is dead.
Stranger himself has a stamina bar as well. Stranger is also able to heal himself by holding down the Y button. This depletes the stamina bar, but raises Stranger’s health bar. This may make the game sound easy, but the stamina bar doesn’t recharge very fast (unless you buy the upgrades as you go through the game) and even the lesser enemies can do a good bit of damage to Stranger with just one shot. To be perfectly honest, this game is very hard and you have to figure out strategies when you are faced with a bounty that has tons of lesser enemies around him and are holed up in an enclosed space. Stranger is better off in the open where he can pick people off or you can plan ahead of time, but in close-quarters battles against an overwhelming army the game can seem rather difficult. Nevermind that taking a bounty alive is more difficult than taking them dead, so the danger is much higher in order to maximize your profits.
At about 2/3 of the way through (although you will think the game would be done since all the bounties are taken) you figure out what Stranger’s operation entails and the story starts to entwine itself with the previous Oddworld games on a level I won’t discuss because it is worth it to play the game through at least to this point. It is quite a twist, but it is foreshadowed effectively if you bother to take the clues. The rest of the game brings the intensity up quite a few notches and starts to blow you away with the graphics. The graphics were great before, but the final third is a sight to see. You get new weapons and new armor and a much bigger target than the bounties ever were. You should be good at first-person by the time you reach the twist, because you’ll find yourself in it often during the last sections of the game.
Overall this was a surprisingly fun game, but I could see people getting bored with the bounties and not holding on for that final third of the game where everything comes together.
This game will run you about 15 hours in order to beat, although it could take longer depending on how frustrated you get or how much strategy you plan. As I said just above, some people may be turned off by the bounty section of the game, but if you can push through the bounties to the last part of the game your jaw will drop.
Is it worth it to play through the game again? Probably not, unless you want to go through the game again using different tactics. This is a very fun game though, so at least go through it once.