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The GoodHmmm... Oddworld... 3D gameplay... what's this, a paradox? The Oddworld games are 2D platforming perfection!
But, imagine for a moment, if it was in 3D. If you could do all that odding(tm) in a world, that has the extra dimension of spatial depth added... crazy, huh? Scary even!
Well, you know what, in 2001, the leap to 3D already happened! It's just that the majority of us was left out of it for a long time, XBox exclusivity and all. A PC port is very nice to have decades later. So, how does it fare?
For starters, I didn't spot the flaws that usually plagued early 3D platforming. The pathfinding of the AI works well, no NPC gets stuck. The controls function as they should and the camera view doesn't get in the way. No polygon clipping problems. There are big outdoor environments with a large enough line of sight. And man, these graphics look great for a 2001 era game! Yes, it looks more kitsch and colorful compared to the dark gritty look that the 2D ones had, but I digress, I have good impressions to start with.
Oddworld Munch's Oddysee is a fully fledged 3D platformer. Of course the 2D ones are way superior and always will be, but this one it's not too shabby in its 3D-ness at all.
Other specific things that I can highlight:
-The mudokons can now defend themselves! You can lead groups of them into battle against their foes. More so, they can be upgraded with native weapons. While it was a big deal in the previous titles that Abe and the mudokons are defenseless and fragile, it makes sense that they are getting their act together by now. I like that idea. Munch also can command fuzzles, those inoccent looking little fuzballs, to shred foes apart.
-Munch balances out Abe nicely. Abe can't swim, while Munch moves clumsy on land but gets in his element in water. Abe as usual can possess creatures, but with Munch now we can take over machinery aswell! Oh, and abe farts, while Munch burps.
-Speaking of which, there is water in Oddworld now, and things to do in water.
-Tossing, haha. The mudokons following you get cowardly at places. But now, with Abe we have the ability to pick them up one by one, carry, and toss them anywhere, against their will! Even into deathtraps. Don't worry, they'll do just fine, muhaha! You can help Munch too by carrying him with Abe on land, and throwing him over places where a jump would be hard for Munch.
-The various upgrades available from vending machines. They may be no Soulstorm Brew-level of awesome, but powerups are always welcome.
-The FMV cutscenes... well, they look nice. The humour turned way too Pixar-esque for my taste though. And I have spoiled the story to myself from YT ages ago.
-The levels I can remember are the mudokon fortress, the meep herding, the micro-brewery, and the last three levels in the Vykkers' Labs. The last levels almost started to stand out from the rest in good way...
The BadUnfortunately, after the good start, after the main novelties are shown off and the tutorial levels are over, things slowly go downhill. Or better put, things don't really go anywhere! Let me explain. The game progresses like this: one or two short nature level, then one or two short industrial level. And are ridiculously easy. Okay I thought it's a warm up. Then comes another samey-looking short nature level, then another samey-looking industrial level. New elements are still being introduced, but not much in the way of spicing things up. Then another familiar nature level, then another familiar industrial level... Rinse and repeat to almost to the end of the game. And all the time, there is no real challenge, no risk, just tasks that quickly turn into finicky chores. As if the whole game is made of tutorial levels. And when the levels do get longer eventually, they do not get harder, just have more of the samey chores to do. IT'S BORING! It got so dull I almost gave up.
Here is what contributes to the dullness:
-Almost all the nature areas, and the industrial areas, look and feel the same in the two type. Same textures, same look, same... almost everything!
-The background music is non-existent! There is some vague ambient droning... sometimes, and also I could hear that this "music" reacted to some events. When it was going, that is (it cut off many times, although that may be a bug). And it was the same stuff for the WHOLE GAME! Jeez. (Wait a minute. The trailers and some of the in-game cutscenes have this wacky techno tune, which is not great, but at least memorable. One single tune. Why couldn't we have more of that type in-game, level themes or a set of them to change things up, huh?)
-All the creatures have now invisible health bars. That might be not such a problem. Except it's waaay too generous! Everybody takes a ton of damage before dropping dead. It's one thing that the visceral fearing for your life and the sudden gory deaths are gone (for worse or better?). But the gameplay became very very lose along with it. You don't have to be careful, and also the enemies take ages to be killed. In fact, you can be showered by bullets or bounce from one exploding mine into the other and do just fine without a scratch. It feels wrong. (I can think that this was done so that attacking mudokon/fuzzle mobs don't bite the dust quickly, but it could have been tweaked better in ways.)
-Dying. Furthermore to the previous point, even if the mudokons/fuzzles, or even Abe or Munch dies, it's not much of consequence! You can just resurrect any buddy at the nearest resurrection totem. Death? Oh, no big deal! Just pay some spooce and everybody is fine! Pfft. And of course it's not aknowledged in the cutscenes. The bad ending would be quite different then.
-Spooce collecting. Like in other 3D platformers, there is a collectible called spooce shrub. They function as a form of currency. You need a sum to open a door, activate a thing and such. It also restricts Abe's possession abilities (aren't the chant suppressors already supposed to do that?). Abe now needs spooce for some reason to chant up a possession orb. Okay, I wouldn't find spooce collecting a problem, except it can turn into a big waste of time, looking for them, or chanting above one to grow back.
-The foes and traps have lost their kick. For the most of the game, the enemies are the usual sligs, and it's not very pleasing to see them go from a serious, deadly threat, to puny annoyance. There are new types of sligs introduced here, and I say all of it is just cosmetic difference. The most common kind of slig now is the clubber that has a weak melee attack. The rest have machine guns... and their shots are just as weak as the club attack, WTF!? Scrabs and paramites run around in herds and don't even resemble behaving like they used to. Even explosions barely make a sound and dent.
The thing is, some of these were almost redeemed in the last three levels. New environment, new saddistic creatures that are very quick to gut you with their four knives... but then the gameplay suddenly ends without any climax. What?
I have some less crucial annoyances and nitpicks:
-Remember when I said that the camera view doesn't get in the way? Well, later it does! At certain places the camera is made to lock to a defined place or path. The devs may have wanted to help, but in practice, it's more often that I can't see where am I going or jumping. And if it's at ladders, it gets finicky with the directions.
-When you have a possessed creatue and press the chant button again, the creature promptly expoldes and you are returned into Abe's body. Oh, how many times I pressed it by accident, and lost a creature that was so much work and spooce get captured. Ugh! (I think there might be a fix to this, like, if you had to hold the chant button for seconds to trigger the return. Wait, wasn't it just like that. In. The. Previous. Games...)
-That obnoxious smartass mudokon shamman. That teleports to you at the start of each level, to tell you the objectives. If he's so well informed then why doesn't he come with us? (Better yet, why not being able to use the gamespeak ability to get information out of the local NPCs instead? How's that for a more appropriately odd idea?)
-The game is called MUNCH'S Oddysee, isn't it? Well that's misleading. Abe pretty much steals the show. He is now famous, cheered by mudokons, hated by the industrial faction. Munch is more of a sidekick to help Abe advancing on the levels. On the last level you don't even have Munch. (Enuff said, Abe is more handy and has more charm anyway.)
The Bottom LineWell, what shall I say. I am a fan of Oddworld. Being able to experience the unreachable "pie in the sky" sequel after such a long wait? oh boy, so much hype! Munch's Oddysee was supposed to expand Oddworld in ambitious and exciting ways. I was willing to accept that it's gonna be different than the previous installments in the franchise, as long as it lets me have a cool trip to Oddworld once more.
So, did it live up to? Did it disappoint? Eh... kind of both. Things did go wrong, but not the way I would have expected. On one hand the new additions are nice, the 3D engine is functional, and the spirit is unmistakably Oddworld. On the other hand, the once sharp gameplay design had many downgrades, and not necessarily just because of the new engine. And the levels are less creative, art wise and more.
It's not a bad game. Just mediocre. Which is still kind of a blemish coming from Oddworld Inhabitants. It makes the mediocrity painful. Like as if it got trimmed back by a commitee in order to get a "kid-friendly" product like, let's say, a Spyro 4 of the time.
Allright, I am more disappointed than not. But no hard feelings. Even if a tad bit restricted, unpolished, un...finished(?), I can see the potential it had. A great game could have been made out of it. Or, the next one could be great with a lot of polish. Except... where is the rest of the promised quintology? Or where is Munch's Exoddus?