Date: March, 1997 Author: Ken Brown Source: Computer Gaming World, Issue 152, pp. 48-49
What’s Eating Him?
Abe’s Oddysee Is A Dazzling Adventure In The Tolkien Tradition
GAME STILL IN DEVELOPMENT
Developer: Offworld Inhabitants
Publisher: GT Interactive
Target Release: November, ’97
In an age when most computer games either have a “2” in the title or bear a striking resemblance to earlier successes, it’s refreshing to see something different. While the makers of this game, Offworld Entertainment, haven’t reinvented the wheel, they certainly did away with most of the elements common in other action/adventure games. There are no keys or crystals to pick up, you aren’t controlling an armed soldier hellbent on destruction, and there isn’t even an inventory per se. Instead, the game focuses on an original story, interesting characters, and puzzles that logically “fit” in the environment. The mechanics are similar to Broderbund’s side-scrolling PRINCE OF PERSIA II or Psygnosis’ SHADOW OF THE BEAST, but the story and execution are decidedly different.
ABE’S ODDYSEE is the story of Aboman, the forlorn gollum-like protagonist under the player’s command. Aboman is far from hero caliber, appearing rather homely and weak, whose stitched lips symbolize his enslavement by the Magog Cartel. As a Mudokon, Abe was getting along okay on a diet of meat dishes like Paramite Pies and Scrab Cakes, but when he saw a poster advertising new Mudokon Pops, that did it. Suddenly Abe had a mission: save his fellow creatures from extinction by destroying the cartel and its evil leader. So off he goes, one pissed Mudokon with a major axe to grind.
The world in which Abe lives is a splendidly designed and rendered 3D environment, thanks to Silicon Graphics Indigo 2 Extremes running Alias software. It was originally rendered in 1024 x 769 in 24 bit (16 million colors), so that the developers could save the environments for future games in the series (four are planned). Since today’s PCs can’t quickly process that much data, Offworld reduced the pixel depth to 640 x 480 x 8 bit color, and they apply a real-time interpolation algorithm to the game to enhance resolution. The result is a beautiful, MYST-quality visual experience through which you can actually move very quickly.
The character movements have also been carefully crafted. The sprites in ABE’S ODDYSEE are composed of approximately 18 animated frames per movement—comparable to good cartoons. The movements look realistic on a Sony PlayStation, but on the PC the game will likely require a good graphic accelerator to move briskly.
GAMESPEAK: GIMMICK OR GESTALT?
Offworld devised a clever way to get to know your character: an interface called Gamespeak lets you control Abe’s speech. While he blinks at you from the screen, a list of options appear around him with their control keys so you can make him talk. Gamespeak teaches you how to make Abe whistle, chant, and say “Stay,” “I don’t know,” “Okay,” and “Follow me.” He can also express anger, issue a respctable Bronx cheer, and fart at will. These cues function as a kind of inventory, since they can trigger other characters’ actions.
Once you’ve played with Gamespeak, you’re ready for the adventure. The action consists primarily of side-scrolling maneuvers across bridges, ledges and other terrain. Abe’s movements include: walk, sneak, run, jump, roll, hoist, crouch, and running jump. Abe can also use primitive elevators, throw items, set explosives and do other kinds of crafty things. Pretty soon, you’ll run across a creature that wants to kill you.
The most common enemies are sligs, a sort of foul-tempered guard with a big gun, and scrabs, bizarre, ugly creatures that trounce their victims and stamp on them. Sligs are susceptible to Abe’s mind-control chant, which subjugates the little thugs to your control. Since the slig carries a machine gun, this comes in very handy as you direct the slig back to his buddies and burp several rounds into them.
The other common villians, scrabs, aren’t susceptible to mind control, which presents a tougher challenge. You can elude a scrab by distracting it with food, or you can agitate scrabs to trigger a fight. Scrab duels are to the death, which makes your life a little easier.
Other puzzles require you to hang from ledges, hide in shadows, or set explosives. Most of the puzzles are consistent with the game universe, but taken together they connote adventure in the classic fantasy tradition, a Tolkienesque journey in a strange land populated by evil creatures.
Another Tolkien similarity can be found in Abe’s discovery of a loyal companion, a strange two-legged beast known as Elum. Elum isn’t very intelligent and he can’t communicate, but he serves various purposes as Abe’s ride and trusty decoy. Abe controls Elum with his audio cues, such as “Follow me” or “Stay,” and when riding Elum he’s under your control. Elum figures in a number of puzzles, and he’s not immune to mistakes—Abe can blow him up just like the rest of the characters–so you’ll have to be careful (after you blow him up once or twice for grins).
As you know, Abe’s Oddysee is a side-scrolling affair, which is a design with know limitations. To add variety, Offworld threw in some z-axis twists. The first is a series of pendulums that swing forward and back and serve to block Abe’s movement. It creates an effective puzzle while suggesting that all of the action isn’t under glass.
The second is more elaborate. It consists of a sort of vacuum tube that transports your character to another place. When Abe hops on an inlet, he sometimes pops up on another screen, and other times he reappears on the same screen in the background. When this happens, Abe’s size is perspective-corrected, and his audio cues are subdued since he’s talking from “a distance.” Offworld made these “boom tubes” an integral part of the game design, so that Abe’s passage through them isn’t just for convenience.
Offworld has also put some thought into players’ fondness for save games. You can save the game anytime you choose. You may not need to save, though, since ODDYSEE automatically restores your character after you die. This is graphically depicted by a flock of birds that swarm to the reincarnation point and morph into Abe.
ABE’S ODDYSEE is an impressive first title from Offworld. Game publisher GT Interactive liked it so much that they invested in a 5O percent stake in the company. GT also plans to do a multi-million dollar marketing campaign for ABE, so you expect to see a lot more of it. Keep in mind, though, that the game was designed for the PlayStation and the PC, so trying to control Abe with the keyboard may prove a chore. In the meantime, this is one odyssey we’ll be following very closely as it nears completion.
Conspiracy theorist alert: Ziff-Davis’ parent company, Softbank, has a stake in GT Interactive, which owns half of Offworld Inhabitants. I know that no one within Ziff-Davis or Softbank compelled us to cover this game, since it was my idea to write about it, so you can blame me if you don’t like it.—K. Brown