I’ve got a long history with the Oddworld franchise.
After first finding love with Abe’s journey through both Oddysee and Exoddus way back in the late 1990s, I followed the progress of the Oddworld Inhabitants closely. It was Munch’s Oddysee that just so happened to be the OG Xbox system seller, before moving through the slightly less exciting Stranger’s Wrath and then falling back in love again with the arrival of New ‘n Tasty on Xbox One.
So it was with disappointment that I was immediately locked out of the move back to the mainstream with Oddworld: Soulstorm, if only as the game popped up on PlayStation and PC in the early 2021 months; even if a PS5 purchase was very much in consideration. Perhaps that was for the best though as now that exact same game has come to Xbox, powered by Series X|S and delivered in Enhanced Edition form.
I’ve got to say, the long wait was well worth it. This is a proper return to form for the supremely talented Oddworld Inhabitants team.
Soulstorm kicks off just after the events which played out in New ‘n Tasty – events which changed the life of our humble Mudokon friend forever. This means RuptureFarms is gone – sorry, spoiler alert but if you didn’t know that already, where have you been for the last couple of decades. It sees us joining Abe again, hidden away from harm, happily chatting with a shaman and attempting to find his voice. It’s about then when his Mudokon friends are put under attack, with remnants of SoulStorm Brew setting fire to all around them. From there, an escape happens, Abe stumbles upon old friends and attempts to help his race be taken to safety once again.
Much like how Abe’s initial adventure played out, delving into the story that Oddworld Inhabitants have created isn’t something that a review should run. In fact, all you need to know is that throughout the adventure – and you’re looking at a good 20 hours or so here – it’s delivered with the level of quality you would expect. In fact, even though this very much plays like a standard platformer, albeit with superb camera angles and clever ideas, it’s that narrative that rumbles around in the background; ensuring you are completely immersed.
The tale itself is a more than decent one, but it still manages to pale into insignificance when you put it up against the visuals and the gameplay itself. In a word, the cutscenes which play out are nothing short of breathtaking as scenes are set and immersion is had. But those storytelling moments move neatly into the main action too, with well created 2.9D worlds that just urge you to explore. We knew that Soulstorm would look and feel like an Oddworld title, but have been shocked at just how good it actually is.
Those sentiments pass down to the audio as well. Whilst Abe has always been a funny little fella, he’s not lost any of his humour or wit as the years have progressed. He’s obviously grown up a bit, finding a place in the world as he has done so, but he’s still more than happy to have a little fun. It’s nothing quite like it was back in the day as he’d fart and chuckle away, but it’s still appreciated.
And again, there’s nothing but praise in the way Abe is able to interact with, and command, followers – either in a group or as individuals. There’s still a ton of joy to be found in his chants and possession powers and even though I thought that maybe taking charge of the odd Slig or two may have got tiresome over the course of the years, it’s a real highlight that helps with puzzle solving.
Soulstorm is equally as good in terms of the mechanics which hold it together. Whilst it would be wrong to say it’s perfect – there are a few too many moments when you’ll be left wishing Abe handled just a tad neater – on the whole it’s right up there with some of the finest video games of recent times. Platforming is good, lever pulling is spot on and the need for timing those actions is real. It’s helped that the camera work is nothing short of sensational; the team at Oddworld Inhabitants know how to work with cinematics and constantly push angles and scenarios that you’d find less talented teams hold back from.
It’s helped that the world feels constantly alive. Not only will you find yourself working multiple paths as Abe looks to become the leader we all know he can be, but the stumbling upon of workers in both the fore and backgrounds is a joy. Getting these guys under your command never fails to amuse, nor does it when you begin to work your chanting magic and take control of others to do your bidding. When you then include the likes of a crafting system which is super easy to understand, letting you take the option to navigate certain routes exactly how you wish, then Soulstorm just continues to evolve and delight.
And then you’ve got the replayability which the campaign allows. You see, not only is your time with Abe’s adventure tested by your skills, but it’s all timed too; your gaming prowess up against the clock, with leaderboards showing exactly how you’ve fared against the rest of the world. Alongside that are markers which encourage exploration, the wrecking of objects, your skills in relation to any enemies and more. Platinum, gold, silver and bronze medals are given out for a variety of actions throughout each stage, but it’s possibly the saving of your Mudokon friends which is the most important.
Obviously it goes without saying that rescuing your long lost mates is a staple for any Oddworld title, but here it’s ever more important, mostly as secret hidden levels are made available at the end of Abe’s adventure should you manage to get a certain percentage of friends to safety. When you consider this is also linked to good and bad endings and, well, I’m not sure there’s ever been a single player game so fixated on wanting the player to return over and over again.
On the whole I’ve been drawn in to Oddworld: Soulstorm just like I was back in the day when Abe first burst into our lives. Yet this doesn’t quite pull off the same immediate love which that game allowed. There’s no debate that it’s utterly brilliant, seriously compelling and is able to deliver cinematics and merged gameplay like few others can do, but there are just a couple of bits that hold it back from utter greatness.
There’s the puzzles for one and whilst they follow the original ideas well, aside from a few moments they don’t really build too much on those from before. That’s not a massive problem and we’d have been more than happy to have just played a new story in the same vein as Abe’s Oddysee. After more than 20 years though, perhaps a little more could have been expected. Or maybe that speaks volumes to how good the original games actually were.
Further, and there are still a few little problems in Abe’s movement; problems that see him miss the odd jump or consistently pick scrap from the same locker time and time again. Whilst we’re here on the negative front, I’m not completely sold on the tacked-on addition of the old school Vykkers Labs challenge levels either. Whilst they work as a little distraction from the main event, they do just feel added in for the sake of it, very much as if Oddworld Inhabitants were looking for something to try and complement the story. I’m not sure they are needed.
But these are nitpicks to what is otherwise a stunning return of the Oddworld franchise to Xbox. If you’re looking for a game which is able to wow in the cutscenes, make you laugh during moments of ill and see you frantically run for your life in others, all while still being able to deliver a smattering of humour and satisfaction whenever Abe’s fellow Mudokons are saved, Oddworld: Soulstorm Enhanced Edition is the game you must play.
Oddworld: Soulstorm Enhanced Edition is available from the Xbox Store