The Oddworld series has come a long way since its 1997 ‘save em’ up’ shenanigans. Yet, here we are in 2021, tucking into the series’ second remake thus far. While Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty transformed Abe’s first outing into a modern-day experience, its sequel remake, Oddworld: Soulstorm, has a different goal entirely.
The original Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus was apparently rushed, which lead to a game that was distant from what the series’ creator, Lorne Lanning, had envisioned. As a result, Oddworld Inhabitants has created a game that feels distinctly different from its source material. The question is, has it managed to retain its unique identity in the process?
If you’re familiar with the events the proceed Abe’s original outing then you’ll already know what to expect from Soulstorm’s story. However, unlike New ‘n’ Tasty, Soulstorm features some completely different plot beats than Exoddus. Of course, we’ll be keeping potential spoilers here to a minimum, but Soulstorm’s whole plot acts as an excuse to disrupt Abe’s happy-ever-after.
If you’re entirely new to the Oddworld games, here’s a quick recap. Abe is an “employee” at Rupture Farms, a grimy meat factory based in the strange land of Oddworld. After accidentally discovering that he and his colleagues are the ingredients of a “new ‘n’ tasty” Rupture Farms product, Abe decides to escape corporate slavery while bringing his follow Mudokens with him. After managing to initially escape the meat factory and connecting with his native roots, Abe discovers that he has been chosen to save his race while destroying Oddworld’s corrupt capitalist empire.
After Abe and friends are discovered by Rupture Farms’ disgraced CEO, Mullock the Gluckon and his “slig” guards, Soulstorm’s narrative is set in motion. The game’s dramatic intro acts as a tutorial of sorts, one that also provides Abe with some context for his next adventure. After Abe’s new makeshift settlement is burned to the ground, the unlikely protagonist discovers a dying comrade from outside his social circle. The Mudoken explains that “employees” from various factories across Oddworld have fallen ill with a mysterious illness, which could wipe them out if left untreated.
Naturally, it doesn’t take long for Abe to realise that the disease is caused by Oddworld’s number one beverage, Soulstorm brew. Unfortunately for Abe, this means he’ll have to save his brethren from the clutches of capitalism before it’s too late. On top of that, Abe will also have to keep his original Rupture Farms clan safe from harm as they embark on a dangerous tour of Oddworld. So much for a peaceful retirement from corporate slavery, eh?
Upon booting up Soulstorm, it is utterly apparent that this isn’t a mere remake of Abe’s Exoddus. For one, the game completely lacks the series’ iconic main menu, which traditionally looked a bit like a creepy parody of a Looney Tunes intro. Abe’s chipper start screen greeting has been replaced by a rather anxious looking model of the hero, which ultimately sets the tone for the experience ahead.
While the Oddworld series is known for being comically dark, Soulstorm embraces its serious overtones. Unfortunately, this means that while the game has effectively removed the fart humour that drove the original experience, it hasn’t replaced it with an alternative means of comedy. As a result, Soulstorm lacks any sort of comic relief, which in turn makes the narrative and dialogue feel sparse.
Admittedly, Soulstorm makes up for its lack of narrative substance with heaps of style. While the experience still screams “2D platformer”, it is a visual marvel that uses 2.5D elements to add a sense of depth to its environments. If you thought New ‘n’ Tasty’s lick of remastered paint was impressive, then you’ll be blown away by Soulstorm’s scenic, ultra-detailed backdrops. Somehow, Oddworld Inhabitants has managed to create a game that plays like a side-scrolling platformer while looking like a bonafide 3D experience.
Unfortunately, while Soulstorm excels graphically, its mechanics and level design are a mixed bag. As previously mentioned, Soulstorm is very much an Oddworld game through and through. However, its original concept has been tampered with, which makes the whole affair feel uncanny. Sure, the game’s primary loop still involves going from left to right with the option of saving your Mudoken buddies. Yet, rather than complimenting Oddworld’s original concept, Soulstorm’s shiny new mechanics sometimes hamper the experience, making for a somewhat cumbersome escapade.
As a character, Abe has always been soft and squishy. However, in Soulstorm, Abe is consistently granted a means to protect himself. Now equipped with a handy backpack, Abe is able to craft items using components collected across each level. From stun grenades to extremely flammable brew bottles, using Abe’s various offence tactics makes him feel like Oddworld’s take on Macauley Culkin.
Of course, Abe can still possess Sligs, the game’s machine-gunning enemies. However, the process behind successfully hijacking enemy NPCs is more complicated than ever. Abe Oddysee’s proximity-based possession has been replaced by a mini-game of sorts. If you’ve played the likes of Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee, you’ll be familiar with how timed possession orbs work. If not, then the concept essentially makes the player navigate a floating orb towards an enemy before it dissipates.
In complete contrast to the original Oddworld games, Soulstorm has a pretty elaborate on-screen HUD, consisting of a health and chant meter. While the HUD can be turned off via the settings, it sometimes feels like monitoring it is part of the experience. This has both its pros and cons, as while being able to monitor Abe’s “health” helps prevent unexpected deaths, it detracts from the original game’s mortality based horror and anxiety.
Mechanically, even the original Oddworld games could be described as monotonous. However, Soulstorm seems to have inadvertently added more monotony through its new gameplay elements. While using items within environmental situations can lead to satisfying results, the game feels a bit rinse-and-repeat at times. Having to scavenge every trash can and locker in the game for crafting components is also a bit of a pain.
When you consider the fact that the original Oddworld games lacked any sort of menu system or HUD, Soulstorm’s approach is a little strange. Soulstorm’s suspenseful sense of immersion is often disrupted by the game’s insistence on navigating menus and crafting. Having said that, as a whole, Soulstorm’s arsenal of items does also enhance the experience, especially when it comes to tactical player choice. Again, while Abe is largely still defenceless, being able to work a chaotic scenario to your advantage feels like something a seasoned version of the character would do, especially after enduring the events of Rupture Farms.
Somehow, Abe has also gained the ability to double jump since his time in capitalist confinement. While platforming fans will likely appreciate what this brings to Soulstorm, the ability completely changes the game’s flow. The original game’s demanded that players climb structures with care and ease to prevent an unfortunate occupational hazard. However, in Soulstorm, falling to your death can be prevented by using a double jump to your advantage.
Again, this will probably appeal to platforming avids. Yet, for me, at least, the mechanic effectively removes Soulstorm from its original genre while firmly placing it into the action-platforming realm. While games like Another World, Flashback and, of course, Abe’s Oddysee used to stand out within the industry as “cinematic platformers”, it seems like the genre has now been effectively retired.
It’s worth mentioning that while Abe’s double jump feels a little odd, the rest of Soulstorm’s movement mechanics feel like they’ve naturally evolved. While some tweaks have been made to suit modern gamepads, the transition feels relatively seamless. It’s actually surprisingly easy to accidentally play the game like the original, which considering the level design relies on double jumping, will wield some undesirable results.
Thankfully, Abe’s gabby “game speak” abilities are still prominent in Soulstorm. If you’re planning on saving all 1300 of the game’s Mudokens, you’ll have to introduce yourself to them using the D-Pad while issuing appropriate commands. Carefully navigating Mudokens through Soulstorm’s treacherous levels as if they’re freaky looking Lemmings is intrinsic to the experience at hand.
Soulstorm gets off to a weak start in terms of level design while redeeming itself later in the game. The intro segments of the game feel drawn out, with the game’s vast vertically being used as a means to pad levels out. Levels are also littered with secret areas and collectables, as well as hidden Mudokens. When levels aren’t elongated just for the hell of it, they prove to be elaborate setpieces that can be replayed and experimented with.
If you’re something of a perfectionist, you’ll be glad to know that each level in Soulstorm can be revisited upon its completion at any time. This means that the player can return to save Mudoken’s who have been killed or left behind. Being able to level select is sure to help a lot of players sleep at night. Soulstorm’s impressive number of Mudokons and collectables make it the most replayable Oddworld game yet. Essentially, this means players will have an excuse to enjoy the game’s gorgeous visuals over and over again.
Other than some minor glitches, Soulstorm appears to be a relatively smooth experience. Some of the game’s biggest annoyances can be found with the enemy AI, which will randomly decide to break the rules of play from time to time. In theory, Abe should be able to use things like smoke to evade the enemy’s line of sight. However, from time to time, you’ll find that sligs somehow manage to spot Abe’s blue little butt no matter what you do. Thanks to the game’s quick save checkpoint system, being unjustly killed doesn’t feel half as bad as it would in the original game.
While Soulstorm does have a dedicated list of accessibility settings, it lacks some features included in other games. In-game effects like strobing and camera shake can be adjusted within the accessibility menu. At the same time, standard settings like audio adjustment aspects and subtitles can also be found within their respective menus. However, the game’s HUD can only be toggled on and off, rather than being increased and decreased in size. There also doesn’t seem to be any colourblind accessibility options, which are being included more and more in modern games.
Should you buy Oddworld: Soulstorm?
If you’re looking for a new Oddworld experience, then Soulstorm will likely scratch that itch. However, Soulstorm is far from being the 1997 sequel you might know and love. While a lot of what makes Oddworld wonderfully “odd” is still intact, Soulstorm’s experimental nature is almost a detriment. Nevertheless, being able to step into a new Oddworld experience in 2021 is something to behold. Soulstorm might be a little rough around the edges, but hopefully, the game serves as an experiment to determine the best direction for a brand new Oddworld quintology.
Oddworld: Soulstorm was provided for review by the publisher. This review of Oddworld: Soulstorm was conducted on PC.
Oddworld: Soulstorm is available now on PS4, PS5 and PC via the Epic Games Store.
Featured Image Credit: Oddworld Inhabitants