A fistful of critters.
Over the eight or so years of Oddworld's history, we've seen some pretty funky characters like Mudokans and Gabbits traveling through even funkier lands. We've saved our comrades from Glukkon overlords and rescued our ancestor's remains from becoming the Next Big Thing in energy drinks. We thought we had seen it all, and by the end of the disappointing Munch's Oddysee, we thought we had seen enough.
Then a stranger rode into the office, armed with…bees and squirrels?! That's right, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath eschews the platforming and puzzle-solving antics of its forebears in favor of becoming a first/third-person shooter with a Wild West twist.
You play the Stranger, a bounty hunter with a murky past and adorable ammunition. Apparently, Stranger requires some kind of operation and the only way to earn enough moolah is to bring down the baddest group of freaks this side of Oddworld's Old West. His mission - should you choose to play it - is to face down these outlaws and bring them to justice, dead or alive.
The story starts off slowly with only a few cutscenes to clue you in, but after several hours there's a huge plot twist that ties everything together. Even though the pacing isn't even, the overall plot is entertaining.
As mentioned, Stranger's Wrath is a hybrid first/third-person action game, similar to Star Wars: Jedi Outcast . With the simple push of a button, you can effortlessly switch between first and third-person perspectives. When you switch to a first-person point of view, Stranger breaks out his trusty crossbow for some fragging. On the flipside, if you switch to the third-person perspective, you lose the ability to blast things, but gain a tremendous speed boost while running. It's a smart control scheme that's easy to pick up.
While the crossbow is the only gun you will use throughout the entire game, the types of ammunition you'll encounter are so different from one another that you'll essentially have plenty of weapons to play with. You won't find any explosive quarrels or poison-tipped barbs in any of the crates and barrels you bash open. Instead, you'll hunt for your ammo.
That's right – all of the ammo in the game is some sort of live critter. From enemy-attracting Chippunks and explosive Boombats to web-slinging Bolamites and cranky, rabid Fuzzles, you'll be hunting down all sorts of unique and helpless Oddworld varmints to launch from your double-barreled crossbow. This quirky setup fits the Oddworld universe perfectly; just watching the loaded critters growl and chatter while waiting to be fired is pretty entertaining in a sadistic kind of way.
Since you're a bounty hunter, you can either KO the outlaws and suck them into your handy-dandy, wrist-mounted vacuum cleaner, or just kill them for a lesser reward. The first few targets are pretty easy to take down, but a handful of the later outlaws seem impossible to bring in alive. At one point, I was pounding on an enemy like Lennox Lewis on Mike Tyson, and the guy just wouldn't go down. There wasn't any explanation for my sudden lack of melee might, nor any clues to suggest an alternate method of capture. Guess he had a iron jaw.
Sadly, the enemy A.I. isn't horribly complicated. The bad guys display simple behaviors like hiding behind objects and that's about it. But what they lack in smarts they make up for with gnarly weaponry and sheer numbers - they're dumb, but they can still kick your ass. When this happens, you'll have to jump into third-person and split. Instead of searching for health-packs or busting open crates, you'll simply shake off the damage. This drains your stamina, but replenishes your health. And since your stamina regenerates, you'll never be at a loss for healing if you can get clear of your foes.
This self-contained healing system is cool since it gets rid of silly things like health packs, but you'll frequently find yourself running into enemies, popping one of them, and then taking off to heal. Then you'll rinse, wash and repeat until they're all dead or captured. This process can get tedious and doesn't really gel with the Stranger's bad-ass image.
The visuals in Stranger's Wrath are top of the line. The game world is brought to life by highly-detailed character models and environments, and the CGI cut-scenes look incredible. The only complaint I have here is the occasional shadow you'll see poking through solid objects. Enemies on the roof of a building will project their shadow through the ceiling, thus making their presence obvious to anyone on the inside. With the camera pulled back as far as it is, it's bound to get hung up on objects every once in a while. But this is only a minor annoyance; by and large, Stranger's Wrath is a pretty game
This same level of care and detail was applied to the music and sound-effects. Talking to the townsfolk is reminiscent of the good old orc-clicking days of Warcraft, and if you sneak up on your enemies you can sometimes catch an interesting bit of conversation.
For a game with as much personality as Stranger's Wrath, you'd expect to see an equally kooky multiplayer component, but alas, this bounty hunter only works alone. Which is a shame, because the game is only about fifteen hours long and lacks any play modes or goodies outside of the main campaign. You'll have fun the first time through and then be left with nothing to do.
Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath is unlike any of its predecessors, but excels nonetheless as a fresh, comical shooter. Capturing cute, fuzzy animals and hurling them at enemies is good fun, even though some of the action gets repetitive and the replay value is suspect. If you're a shooter fan or a connoisseur of oddities, this is one stranger you should get to know.