When Stranger’s Wrath HD was announced, many fans of the Oddworld series, including myself, were initially skeptical, knowing how cheap remakes in general sometimes can be. Oddly enough, as time passed by and images of the game were popping-up online, fans started realizing that this remake was going to be different. It simply looked too good to be true. The more information that was released, the more excited people have become. Gamers are smart and they know exactly what they want. Give them something else, especially if it’s related to such a beloved and popular franchise, and they will eat you alive. So what are the odds that Just Add Water got this right? Let’s take a look…
The title originally debuted on the Microsoft Xbox as an exclusive in 2005 and frankly, even though not many things have changed gameplay-wise since, it doesn’t look outdated at all. Quite the contrary.
You take control of Stranger – a bounty hunter who needs to get the world rid of various criminals and Outlaws in order to raise money for a mysterious life-saving operation. As you move through the game you encounter different types of enemies and NPC’s and eventually learn more about what’s going on – either through cutscenes or on your own. Despite the fact that the game’s premise is fairly simple, it’s also to a certain degree very unique. However, how it’s presented as a whole is what matters the most.
Considering this is a HD remake (in other words, a visual upgrade) of the original, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you expected it’s just about the graphics. Truth to be told – it’s not. That’s not to say the game doesn’t look great. It does. With remastered visuals supporting a nice resolution of 720p, you’ll instantly notice a huge difference. More than 80 characters have been remodeled and re-textured. The enemies look better. The in-game menus look better. You look better. Everything feels fresh, as if it was built from the ground up. Textures of various buildings look vibrant and sharp from both near and afar, environments offer enough variety to trigger your curiosity and make you look around and explore them, be it towns, farms, dams, temples or sewers.
Rays of sunlight even penetrate through the windows and highlight the indoors of buildings, properly setting the tone. The only area that could use slightly more work are perhaps shadows, which don’t look always as good as you would expect – primarily on multi-layered objects and surroundings.
Animation is smooth as silk, taking full advantage of 60 fps the game offers. Stranger can walk slowly, but also rapidly pick up speed and dash his way through the surroundings – bumping into objects and characters at will if needed. He climbs ropes quickly like a pro and doesn’t have problems with swimming either – though naturally at a much slower pace, as the water is fairly dense. Jumping or double-jumping on objects for him is second nature and if you ask him politely he will break barrels (some are explosive), boxes and windows as well. One thing that really pleased me was the fact that Stranger stretches himself anytime you’ll leave him inactive. Not to mention he’ll have a tendency to fall off a cliff if you’re close to its edge. It may seem silly, but it’s details like these that can make a difference.
Generally, I haven’t encountered any moments where the motion would look odd. I must stress though that the camera sometimes can’t fully rotate 360° around the main character if you’re standing very near to a wall or building. That can be slightly irritating at times, as you can’t see precisely what you want and have to move away a few steps.
To continue, there are two ways you can control Stranger – either in 1st person (like a regular shooter) or in 3rd person (like an adventure game, where you get to see the whole character). Suffice to say the game is clever enough that you will be using both. In the first moments changing views may seem chaotic, but shortly after learning how to use it becomes second nature and makes perfect sense. You’ll get the hang of it, trust me.
Now that formalities are out of the way, it’s time for the juicy stuff. Finally we’re getting to the main core of this game, which is gameplay. If Stranger’s Wrath HD wasn’t fun to play in the first place, I doubt I would be coming back every now and then for more. There are probably three things about this game that I like the most: freedom, dialogues and ammo.
Freedom in the sense that the world is relatively large, without any loadings times, offering you several options how to approach various situations. Although there is the main storyline to complete, through which you advance by completing different missions (bounty hunting, rescue missions, etc.), you don’t feel like you’re in a cage. It’s up to you what ammo you will use, which enemies you will kill first, what items will you buy and, to a certain degree, where will you go next. There is a good balance between open world-ness and linearity.
Dialogues that are simple, yet funny, come to mind as my second pillar of gameplay. For example – Stranger is talking to one of the Clakkerz, saying, “You should be seeing the wagon train soon.” To that the hillbilly replies back with, “No kidding.Why do you think we’re facing this bridge?“ The game has a sense of humor and isn’t afraid to be even mildly vulgar at times, with expressions like “shut up“, “kick your ass“, “moron“ and a few more colorful jabs. In addition to that, eventhough Stranger is quite lonely in the world, not having anyone he can properly relate to, our beloved bounty hunter occasionally talks to himself. With short phrases like “Need to find a bounty store.“, you’ll always know what’s on his mind and what needs to be done. He may sound a bit grumpy, but don’t let that scare you off.You can use gamespeak to make him talk and engage in a dialogue with some NPC’s as well – although I can’t guarantee the result.
The third thing I find amusing and unique is ammunition. It’s alive! Your signature weapon is a custom-made, semi-automatic crossbow and luckily enough it’s compatible with live animals (critters) that are scattered throughout. Here’s where it gets tricky – you need to think through what ammo to use on your enemies and when. As you progress through the game, enemies become stronger and more aggressive. It’s better to surprise them than be surprised yourself. Good thing you can hide behind walls or in the grass.
To conclude I want to mention some trivialities and titbits, that otherwise may have been overlooked. You can adjust the screen size and save the game at any time you want. Although it saves for you automatically, I recommend using quick saves and maual saves as often as possible. Although there isn’t much music in the game, the audio has been remixed and is overall of very high quality – presented in 5.1 digital surround. Oh, and there are flying bugs in the main menu; try to slap every time they come near you. They are simply too real to ignore. Perfectionism.Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HDis a fantastic remake and a tremendous achievement for the developers. Its premise may be fairly simple, but the enjoyable way it is presented is what makes this game stand out. From polished visuals and funny dialogues, to an interesting western-like world and pristine sound.Live ammo is a signature feature and bonus content in the form of movies and artwork is gratifying. Not to mention tens of trophies you are able to collect. The title isn’t perfect, with some minor issues, but it comes close. It’s a remake out of which others should tout as a fine example of it being done right and it’s a remake that kicks ass! Stranger’s Wrath HD is a crucial title for the Oddworld franchise in the long-term. Being the first in the series of Oddworld HDreleases for this generation of consoles, it was important for it to be flawless. Thankfully this was more or less accomplished and I’m looking forward to seeing what Just Add Water and Oddworld Inhabitants have up their sleeves next.
Overall score: 4.5/5