Oddworld: Soulstorm

aka: Oddworld: Soulstorm - Enhanced Edition
Moby ID: 161906

PlayStation 5 version

A strange, infuriatingly twisted, yet ultimately soulful brew

The Good
* 2.9D level design makes Oddworld feel more immersive and real.

  • Amazing cutscenes, animation, and voice acting, with a compelling storyline that will make you want to see the game all the way through despite its difficulty.

  • A systems-heavy game that allows for greater player creativity when solving puzzles compared to previous games.

    The Bad
    * A more "video-gamey" experience than the series typically offers, particularly in regards to controls, HUD, and the crafting system.

  • A few bugs and glitches can ruin otherwise successful runs

  • Brutally difficult and downright unfair at times, particularly in regards to its checkpoint system.

    The Bottom Line
    First teased in 2015, Oddworld Soulstorm, the sequel to Oddworld Abe’s Oddysee New N’ Tasty, has finally landed on PlayStation consoles and PC. While the first game was a semi-faithful remake of the original with a few modernizations and tweaks, Soulstorm is a completely redesigned and reimagined experience in the vein of last year’s Final Fantasy VII remake. It’s effectively a new game, a chance to re-do the story from Abe’s Exoddus that is now the “official” second game in the proposed Oddworld Quintology, and the first wholly new Oddworld title since 2005 (wow, has it been a long time!).

    Soulstorm picks up after the events of New ’n Tasty, after Abe successfully rescued all Mudokons from Rupture Farms. On the hunt for Abe is Molluck the Glukon, the formerly disgraced CEO of Rupture Farms who has become the laughingstock of Oddworld for blaming the destruction of his factory on Abe, who is now seen as a myth. After the caves where his tribe are hiding get attacked by the Glukkons, Abe and his tribe set out on an epic journey to locate a new home. Along the way, Abe is tasked with searching for “The Keeper”, an ancient mystical Mudokon who guards the secret history of the Mudokons. At the center of all of this is the mysterious Soulstorm Brew, an addictive beverage that may be the key behind everything.

    Oddworld creator and the voice behind many of the game's characters, Lorne Lanning, claims that much of the game’s design is what was originally intended for Abe’s Exoddus, but time and hardware constrains forced Oddworld Inhabitants to pump out a very familiar sequel. Yet Soulstorm is at times such a heavily modernized game that it’s difficult to imagine that all of this was something they had wanted to do back in 1998. Unlike the minimalistc original, Soulstorm is a game with a full HUD, regenerating health, and achievements for each stage. It’s a much more “gamey” experience than New ’n Tasty, which may not sit so well with some longtime series fans.

    Cinematic platformers such as the Oddworld games are usually built around a standard set of conventions. The platforming is something a regular person could theoretically pull off, and there’s a weight to every action. Yet it isn’t long before Soulstorm introduces it’s first major shakeup to the genre. While you’ll still engage in the typical climbing, sprinting, and short jumps typical of its predecessors, Soulstorm now grants Abe the ability to double jump. Later levels require you make massive leaps of faith and use your double jump to land on far-off platforms. It’s a huge shift from the more grounded platforming typical of the genre, and while this makes the controls smoother for players unfamiliar with cinematic platformers, it also takes away some of the feeling of Abe being a slightly above-average joe protagonist against a massive corporation.

    Soulstorm introduces the Quarma system, which keeps track of the number of Mudokons you’ve rescued as well as the number of Sligs you’ve killed in each stage. Unlike the first game which gave you the good ending based on a flat number of Mudokons rescued, you’re required to rescue at least 80 percent of each stage’s Mudokons to earn the game’s true ending. You can choose to play the game lethally or non-lethally, and while Oddworld Inhabitants claims that it is possible to play the entire game without killing any Sligs, there were a few moments where killing one or multiple almost seemed inevitable to get past certain puzzles. I generally tried to play the pacifist, but certain sections were so irritatingly difficult with this approach that I ultimately had to resort to violence. Thankfully, this doesn’t seem to affect the Quarma score to get the best ending since only the number of Mudokons rescued actually matters, but unlike Abe’s Odyssee it could make for a more interesting challenge on repeat playthroughs since that game didn’t give you many options in how you could take care of the enemy Sligs.. Nevertheless, violent players are going to have a much, much easier time of things than pure pacifists.

    As in the first game, Abe can chant to open doors and possess Sligs, although in Soulstorm, Abe’s chanting takes the form of a golden ball which can be moved around the screen for a limited time. When possessing a Slig, you can fire its weapons, kill it instantly, or un-possess it to stun it. Some areas require you to possess and stun multiple enemies to give Abe enough of a window of opportunity to pass. A new addition to Soulstorm are flying Sligs, which are super annoying in most situations but can also be possessed and flown through labyrinths to hit far off switches.

    Soulstorm’s puzzle solving puts a greater emphasis on inventory management and systems-based gameplay than previous games. The Soulstorm Brew is flammable and can be used to propgate fires, which can be used to burn wooden structures. Water bottles can be used to put out fires. This also extends to Soulstorm’s new crafting system. As you progress through each stage, you’ll collect various items from trashcans, lockers, dumpsters, and even Sligs’ pockets. You can then combine these into various weapons such as explosives and mines or utility items such as smokescreens and antidotes. For example, you can create Bouncy Rock Candies by combining them with rubber bands, which will knock out any Slig in one hit when thrown. Tape can be used to subdue individual Sligs, or combined with a Bouncy Rock Candy to create a ranged weapon that non-lethally takes out a Slig. You won’t have any of these crafting recipes at the start of the game, but you’ll earn them as you progress throughout. You can also purchase items from vending machines, and while these are sometimes free, other times you’ll need to use the game’s currency, moolah, to purchase these items. Youll also need moolah to get past certain doors, but as long as you thoroughly check everything you’ll almost always have more than enough to purchase everything you could want, so feel free to spend as much as you want on crafting better items.

    While Abe’s Oddysee largely consisted of small, self-contained puzzle rooms, Soustorm’s Mudokon rescues are often stretched out over the course of a stage. Many times, I had to collect a large group of Mudokons, lead them through an extended gauntlet of traps and sligs, then open the portal for them. While you’ll still be able to find self-contained side areas, most of them aren’t as deviously hidden as in Abe’s Oddysee. Most secret areas are only slightly off the beaten path in generally obvious locations. This might be a relief for those who want to rescue as many Mudokons as possible on their first run but a bit disappointing for those who appreciated the earlier titles’ demand for careful exploration. At least the game keeps track of the state of the captive Mudokons in each stage on the HUD, so you’ll know if you’ve missed some as you progress through each level. There were a couple of stages which were inconsistent with the order of the Mudokons shown on the HUD, so there were times when I thought I had missed a few only to find them much further in the stage, but for the most part the game keeps this HUD element straightforward.

    The new addition that’s sure to be the most divisive are the tower defense sections. Yes, you read that correctly. Certain levels contain hundreds of Mudokons that will need to be protected on a climb towards their freedom from Sligs which spawn in randomly on each level You can place traps and followers around each arena before pulling a lever, at which point Sligs begin spawning in the arena. You must subdue or kill all Sligs while ensuring a minimum number of casualties, while also keeping any followers you have inside the arena alive. It’s a lot to say the least, and while the new double jumping makes maneuvering around these arenas much easier, relying on your followers to do your dirty work for you is a bit flaky to say the least. Your best bet is to place them right behind to a spawn point and give them Fizzy Pop to throw at enemies, but sometimes they will take too long to throw it or run back to you after taking out one Slig. You’ll have to endure a lot of frustration in trying to get the AI to defend itself while not dying.

    There are also occasional on-rails shooter sections, where you’re required to knock out or kill Sligs in the background by shooting your weapons out of a cannon before they shoot towards your Mudokons. These are just as frustrating since Sligs open fire on you well before you can get a clear shot on them, though these bits are usually so short that the pain is somewhat lessened.

    The problems with these sections are only exacerbated by the checkpoint system. Checkpoints are often placed right at the entrance of each arena, but this is a problem as you will need to spend time searching all of the lockers and placing your followers in their positions before pulling the lever. You can’t save again at the same checkpoint, so after you or your followers inevitably die you’ll need to go through all of the setup and crafting all over again before giiving it another go, or head to another checkpoint then return to the current area. The option to simply save again at a checkpoint is something that desperately needs to be added in future patches, especially since the Quiksave feature from New ’n Tasty has been scrapped this time around. It’s a good thing that you’re not actually required to get all Mudokons in a level for the best ending, or Soulstorm would feel like a virtually impossible experience.

    At least visually, Soulstorm is a mostly-solid looking game. Like the preious remake, it also runs on the Unity engine but with updates for more modern hardware. The textures are solidly detailed if occasionally blurry, and there’s a clean visual language for what can and can’t be interacted with. Levels set in dark caves make excellent use of the game’s dynamic lighting system, including a harrowing chapter where you must avoid monsters who are repulsed only by light. While New n’ Tasty was strictly a 2D game, Soulstorm does much more ambitious things with its camera system to create what the developers term “2.9D”. Levels don’t just simply move left to right on a linear plane, they snake around columns and twist and turn into and out of the background. Stages often consist of multiple layers, where the next part of the stage is visible yet distant in the background, giving a preview of what’s to come. This gives a greater sense of scale and allows Oddworld to feel less like a game world and more like a real place, although throwing or interacting with certain objects not part of the linear plane can be a bit inconsistent.

    The real visual standout are the cutscenes between levels, which honestly have animation rivaling some of the best AAA games out there. Cutscenes are actually FMVs created within the Unity engine, but since they are encoded to run at 60 FPS on PS5, it was impossible to tell that they were not running in realtime on my system. Watching these cutscenes honestly felt like watching a PG-13 film produced by Pixar with how detailed and lifelike the animation is, combined with the excellent, if quirky voice acting. While the first game featured cutscenes primarily narrated by Abe, Soulstorm takes here’s a much more dialogue-heavy approach to the storytelling that draws you in to a much greater extent, with full voices for both your Mudokon companions as well as the villainous Glukkons. It really fleshes out the story in a way that Oddworld never did in the past. This is backed by a surprising commitment to a more serious and epic tone, a conscious shift from Soulstorm’s flatulence-obsessed predecessors. The only blemish is the occasional “Saving Checkpoint” graphic that appears under some of these as they play, and hopefully this is a bug that can be patched soon.

    There are a few technical issues and bugs, mostly due to launch-period teething issues, although these are far less pronounced than other recent games I could name. There are occasional moments where even the mighty PS5 chugs, particularly after some explosions, and the framedrops that occur when hitting checkpoints can be annoying as well, though there’s apparently no plans to fix that due to the nature of the save system. I also noticed some visual issues such as Abe falling endlessly through the level or followers t-posing as they prepare to jump off a platform, but these were mostly rare and can probably be fixed after a few patches. One unfortunate bug happened to me near the end of a stage when all of the Mudokons following me vanished after I died. While I was still able to get the 80 percent completion required for the stage, it was super annoying to miss out on 100 percent because of this random glitch. Other bugs I saw included Abe’s possession getting stuck and the enhanced smokescreen consumables somehow lasting shorter than the basic ones, both of which absolutely should not be the case,

    Oddworld Soulstorm was a real roll-of-the-dice from Oddworld Inhabitants. They could have simply chosen to rebuild Abe’s Exoddus in the new graphical engine, but instead chose to completely redesign and modernize the game from the ground up. The end result is something that will probably shock old-school Oddworld fans, while not being modernized enough for brand new players. It’s an infuriatingly difficult and sometimes patchy experience, that lacks some tuning and polish. Yet it’s also one with a lot of artistic ambition, character, and heart. It’s the kind of game you just don’t see very often in today’s market of bland looter games and annualized sports titles. Even if I ultimately preferred New ’n Tasty over this new direction, I’m still very glad games like this are still getting made.

by krisko6 (813) on April 28th, 2021

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