Oddworld Inhabitants, developers of a story-rich franchise and world starting in 1997 had disappeared for a while with favorite characters such as Abe, The Stranger, and Munch. I, myself was a big fan of the franchise and excited to be playing their new remake of the second game This was thought of as both a breath of fresh air for the franchise and a potential comeback for future sequels continuing Abe’s legendary journey to save his people. There is definitely love put into the story and characters of Oddworld: Soulstorm but the game still falls short in a few key gameplay features.
Once starting the game, Oddworld: Soulstorm does a great job reminding players of what occurred in the previous game. Abe has freed the Mudokon race from an evil corporation run by Glukkons. They use Mudokons not only as slave labor, but Abe eventually discovered they are also the main ingredient for their food products. Chaos ensues as they revolt and escape. Glukkons track down the escapees in this new sequel and Abe goes out to save them yet again from another factory making Soulstorm Brew out of them, another product from their farms. As you can imagine, this game has some dark tones and humor along with a real struggle for freedom and choice.
One of the best aspects of the Oddworld franchise is its environment and world-building. Story is everything and Oddworld: Soulstorm does not disappoint. Thanks to next-gen systems, animation, and expressive emotions give weight to the struggle these small, frail Mudokons are experiencing. Along with great voice acting and cinematic camera work, this can very much be a television show or movie franchise. Oddworld Inhabitants systems OddCam and OddWalk give an extraordinary 2.9-D action platformer experience and show an incredible environment that looks desolate, abandoned, and lived in, yet beautiful and detailed.
As much as story and environment are an important component of a video game for immersion, the gameplay is what matters most. If a game is not fun to play, it simply does not work. Soulstorm has a lot to work on for gameplay to be enjoyable. Game mechanics such as throwing objects are a little rough and clunky. Even though it shows you the trajectory of what you’re throwing, it can sometimes miss or interact in unexpected ways. One example is the first item obtained, the water bottle. You’re meant to throw it into a fire to extinguish it, yet it can either miss, delay effect, or do nothing at all even if you hit it directly.
Some situations require speed or stealth to progress while using any items made available to the player. Unfortunately, response time to throw an item or evade an enemy feels varied, especially when an enemy cone of vision can be unclear or misrepresented at times. There have been more than enough situations where I became frustrated because an enemy has seen me even though I was well off his vision. Luckily with so many deaths coming your way, the game is extremely generous with checkpoints. It almost feels as if the learning curve and difficulty were expected so Oddworld Inhabitants throws players a bone.
Soulstorm is an action platformer with a bit of stealth. Each area just as you arrive at a checkpoint is another puzzle to solve before moving on to the next. This experience gets repetitive, especially when you’re failing constantly before you either get lucky with your approach or the game decides to register your actions correctly. One example worth mentioning is jumping from platform to platform. Players can sneak and jump down or over to another platform to stay quiet, but there are times when it will act as if you aren’t in stealth mode and alert your enemies. Another example is when jumping to ledges and grabbing them is supposed to happen automatically, yet I have fallen to my death or back in enemy hands because he did not register the action. Gameplay should not be this frustrating or unpredictable.
The crafting system in Soulstorm was something to look forward to and may leave players with mixed feelings. For a good duration of the game, it doesn’t make much use of it even if you consistently collect all of the supplies strewn about every level. There are many resources to acquire yet not quite enough to make what you would like unless you are required to use them to progress a particular puzzle section. This felt like the crafting system was implemented simply just to allow you to say you crafted something only then to never need it unless level designers had a use for it. What reinforced this feeling, even more, was the fact that your entire inventory is reset once you begin a new level. I eventually ignored collecting trashcans and lockers and still completed each level without the help of a craftable item.
One important theme to Abe’s quest was saving his fellow Mudokons. Unless you are a completionist or aiming to get one of four endings (two being good endings), there is no reason or penalty to save or ignore his friends. Saving others can also raise your prayer meter and raise your Quarma (karma) score at the end of each level but players can get by without that. The only time I saved Mudokons was to progress to certain areas that required more than a pair of hands. It is disappointing that the biggest factor in the emotional attachment to this revolution and survival is diminished by limited gameplay features.
Players can complete this game well within 15 hours if all goes smoothly through 15 levels plus 2 bonus levels depending on their Quarma score. Most would probably do so for the story advancement and character development which is still the best part of the game. Cutscenes are long and full of great story beats and mystery, leaving it open for sequels to come. This wonderful world Oddworld Inhabitants have made is still extraordinary, but playing through this remake might be a bit frustrating.
If you think you can tolerate it, try it, if only for the story. PS5 owners, at game launch, can receive this game for free and that is a great value, well worth a try. This can bring some well-deserved interest back into the Oddworld…well world. I would not recommend this game at a full retail price and encourage those to wait for sales. I hope Inhabitants can learn from Soulstorm’s flaws and can bring back the epic platformer that amazed many in the ’90s.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Oddworld: Soulstorm for the PlayStation 5 provided by Oddworld Inhabitants.