GMR: Retro Active: Oddworld [2005]

Date: February 2005

Author: Jeremy Parish

Source: GMR, Issue 25, pp. 114-115

RETROACTIVE
IT’S A WORLD OF REVOLUTION, A WORLD OF FEAR—IT’S AN ODDWORLD AFTER ALL

STRANGER AND STRANGER
LORNE LANNING AND A HISTORY OF ODDWORLD

Everyone loves a good Western—the chases, the gunfights, the steely eyed gazes at the horizon. But Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath promises to be a Western populated by grotesque lizardmen who use ammunition that isn’t merely live, it’s actually living. But history says that in Oddworld, quirkiness is matched by excellence…and these three games prove it.


ABE’S ODDYSEE
A PERSONALITY-PACKED BEGINNING

PS1 | 1997

At the time of its debut, Abe’s Oddysee was like nothing anyone had ever played. Although the action obviously took after Prince of Persia, the overall atmosphere, personality, and story of the game were truly unique.

“I think what sets [our games] apart is our attempt at meticulous attention to detail and artistry while also trying to be innovative with storytelling and character emotion during gameplay,” creator Lorne Lanning says. “We wanted to bring more of what we saw happening in European graphic novels, that sense of detail, into CG and videogames. We wanted grittier textures and more dramatic lighting.”

The game’s story is equally sophisticated. Players take control of an escaped slave trying to prevent his kin from becoming the main course of the profit-driven glukkons. Lanning believes the political overtones (inspired by the plight of South African diamond miners) help set Oddworld above most other games. “Our series is definitely a reflection of personal views, and that is something we need to see more of today,” he says.

With its emotional and intellectual appeal and its classy 2D graphics, Abe’s Oddysee is remarkably durable. Unlike most PlayStation games of its era, it still feels fresh and engaging today. Which just goes to show that some things will always be fun (like dropping sligs into a meat grinder, for instance). And it helps that Abe is such an earnest, likable guy. As Lanning says, “Things that have a lot of heart have the potential for deeper, lasting impressions.”

NOW… Timeless action, and still beautiful SOLID 8/10

THEN… Charming, challenging, and charismatic SPLENDID 9/10


ABE’S EXODDUS
MORE OF THE SAME?

PS1 | 1999

While Abe’s Oddysee was a pleasant surprise for most gamers, Exoddus largely came off as underwhelming. The problem? It’s almost exactly the same game as the first, from graphics and sound to puzzles and enemies.

Despite these similarities, Lanning was quick to stress that it was to be considered a side story rather than a chapter in the overall Oddworld quintology. “It was always the intent to have derivative titles spawned off of a quintology title,” he says. “Exoddus was a way to flesh out more of the universe while also taking what we learned from the new engine development.”

Fortunately, beyond the initial sense of déjà vu, it became obvious that Exoddus is every bit as solid and addictive as the original—and as a result it holds up nearly as well.

NOW… Still good, still a bit familiar REPEAT 7/10

THEN… Good stuff, if a bit familiar REDUX 8/10


MUNCH’S ODDYSEE
ABE HITS A 3D, BUT STILL ODD, WORLD

XB | 2001

Munch’s Oddysee was a bold attempt to take the Oddworld series into 3D, and it ultimately achieved what might best be called mixed results. Although the adventure is visually dazzling, the puzzles are more often repetitive than clever. The game also suffers from an awkward camera system and that bane of 3D adventures, endless item collection.

The move to 3D was further complicated by the middevelopment switch from PS2 to Xbox, a decision Lanning attributes to the fact that Microsoft’s machine offered “a more fluid plaintbrush to create with.” He also blames overambitiousness for Munch’s troubles: “I wanted to achieve something so badly that I was not realistic in the process.”

That being said, in its best moments the game is clever indeed, making full use of both heroes and requiring an impressive degree of cooperation between Abe and newcomer Munch, reminiscent of Blizzard’s Lost Vikings. Although it hasn’t aged as well as its peers, Munch is still a perfectly respectable member of the Oddworld family.

NOW… A little too clumsy for its own good IFFY 6/10

THEN… Oddworld in 3D with a few new flaws SPIFFY 8/10


[UNDERDOG APPEAL]

WHY GO ARNLOD WHEN GILLIGAN WILL DO?

Abe’s Oddysee debuted right at the cusp of gamers’ fascination with cool characters—Lara Croft and Cloud Strife were the big names in 1997. Mudokon savior Abe, on the other hand, is a far cry from the “tough fighters—big weapons” school of character design: a spindly janitor whose mouth has been sewn shut by his (very literal) corporate masters, and whose only defense through most of his adventure is quick thinking and the ability to possess enemies from afar.

Lanning indicates that this was a deliberate choice. “Underdogs are more interesting heroes,” he says. “We don’t care about the greatest soldier who isn’t facing an overwhelming threat, we care about him when he’s facing impossible odds.”

It’s hard to imagine a bigger underdog than Abe, but Munch (of Munch’s Oddysee) certainly did his best to compete: As the last surviving member of a race of aquatic creatures endagered by overconsumption, he is forced to take to a wheelchair to cross land in order to rescue the world’s last can of his own caviar and repopulate his kind. Pretty grim stuff for a flagship launch title of an aggressively mainstream console—but very much in the spirit of Oddworld.