Released in 2005 on the original Xbox, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath is one of the titles that's forever on my pile of shame. With each remaster and port, I told myself "I will complete it this time!" To no avail, of course. The night, however, is darkest right before dawn. When I nearly dropped all illusions and was about to admit my crushing defeat, I unexpectedly was commissioned to review Stranger’s Wrath HD – the latest version released on Switch. Fifteen years after the Stranger's debut, I finally met him. And guess what? I wasn't disappointed. Although the port has been created by following the path of least resistance, the game simply remains relevant.
On the first page, we'll take a look at what sort of a game Stranger's Wrath is. On the second, we shall consider the technical condition of the remaster. If you're not interested in how this game plays, but you're rather curious about how the Switch conversion turned out, you might go straight there.
Stranger's Wrath HD:
- an HD reissue of the successful game from 2005;
- another production set in the Oddworld universe, best known from Abe's Odyssey;
- A hybrid of first-person shooter and TPP action game;
- a space western – perhaps the quirkiest blend of genres ever.
An odd west
- A well-designed world with fascinating diversity;
- Interesting story with unexpected plot twists;
- The absence of modern "fillers" such as collectibles or side activities – the game is completely focused on core mechanics;
- An exciting shooter based on unconventional mechanics;
- Pretty solid visuals.
- You can't play in portable mode;
- Aiming in first-person is inaccurate;
- Irritating Y-axis of the camera in TPP.
While most of the games in the Oddworld universe are... let's call them "funky" platformers, Stranger's Wrath is unique – both within the series and the video games in general. We play as the titular Stranger, a bounty hunter traversing the backcountry in search of job – mostly contracts for all sorts of monstrosities.
Despite being of an alien race (this time, not Mudokons, like the heroes of previous games), the appearance of the Stranger is clearly evocative with tough guys from westerns. The same goes for locations, at least in the first chapters of the game – it offers us a unique version of the Wild West, filtered through Oddworld's collection of strange lands, unusual fauna and flora, and unique races. Suffice it to say that the most normal characters we can encounter here are anthropomorphic chickens.
Also, the plot initially presents us a few western clichés, just to offer a few 180 turns later. The Stranger is a charismatic cool guy who does his job without uttering redundant words. He delivers the worst scum (dead or alive) and is mainly interested in cash prizes. His goal is survival: he needs money to pay for a mysterious surgery. Simple and obvious, maybe even formulaic? I can guarantee you that a thought like that will not occur to you once the game starts revealing its twists.
Dead or alive. Better alive, but I won't complain.
These, initially simple, plot premises are perfectly in tune with gameplay – in the day of AAA games offering dozens of side activities and squeezing collectibles even to the tiniest indie games, a title with clear objectives is breath of fresh air. The gameplay loop in Stranger's Wrath is clearly defined at the beginning of the game, and follows the established framework for most of the time. We accept an order for a criminal. We track them down, in the meantime completing simple platformer levels, and fighting minor enemies. We find the targets, and have to defeat them in spectacular duels. After winning, we return to the city to claim the reward and start a new order.
That's it. No side quests, no collectible items shining at you in corners. "Licking the walls" will get you to the cell with additional gold or bonus ammunition – in the best case. Fans of maxing games out can try to catch all the enemies alive, which brings much greater rewards, but also significantly raises the level of challenge.
I don't have words to describe how well this approach works, against the backdrop of modern solutions. A well-defined task, no distractions or fillers, nothing but a clean, condensed substance of what the game wants to be! And Stranger's adventures also have something interesting in mechanical terms. In the game, we observe events from two perspectives, and we can smoothly transition between them – the third and first person, that is.
I mostly used the former in platformer elements, and when climbing ladders, lines, or jumping over large gaps. Levels mostly have the structure of large corridors, so even though there are no markers or arrows guiding to the target, it's hard to get lost, and the excellent location design effectively nullifies any potential for frustration with failed leaps and such. A nice diversity for shooting.
The developers of Worms will be proud
And shooting makes up creme de la creme of Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD. The stranger doesn't tolerate firearms and so in the game, we use a crossbow, which instead of bolts uses... rodents and worms. I'm dead serious. I will add that Oddworld's insects are a decent substitute for led: wasps are the default ammo, spiders can be used to tranquilize enemies, and exploding bats can explode.
During the game we constantly can constantly choose from an array of various bugs, on top of that, we can have two types of ammunition equipped at the same time (and use left and right triggers to fire them), which allows a lot of experimentation. For example, we can produce a combined attack: use baits (squirrels) on enemies, and mine the area with traps that behave like land piranhas. One of my favorite combinations, though, was the skunk, able to paralyze multiple enemies, with the exploding bats. There are a lot of combinations, but there are also traps (which you can activate on purpose or otherwise), and stealth mechanics. If we run out of ammunition, it's enough to go look for a hive or some other web.
The broad range of available options makes combat captivating. Especially with bosses who often require more than sheer firepower – we have to resort to different methods, especially if we want to catch them alive. In different situations, different types of weapons are used: sometimes it's more profitable to methodically destroy enemies one by one, at other times, it's better to just jump into the thick of things. I truly felt an urge to go back to the game, even though the game is quite difficult for today's standards; if you're not careful in a "gunfight," the HP can be depleted in an instant.
What's next for Oddworld?
In recent years, about the only thing fans of the Oddworld universe could hope for were ports of older installments. This year, however, they're in for a treat – they day of Oddworld: Soulstorm's release is finally upon us. The game should be a direct continuation of Oddworld: New N'Tasty and be partially based on the plot and solutions from Abe's Exodus, while also offering a lot of completely new ideas. Currently, the game has been announced exclusively for PC.