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- Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath takes place in an odd world. You play as a weird equestrian man who’s doing his best cowboy impression. You crossbow is not loaded with bolts, but with live critters. And, somehow, almost everyone in the world is a chicken and not a loose alien interpretation of some animal. Despite how often it is ported to other platforms, it still seems to fly under the radar. But the recent port Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath Switch port is a necessary reminder that it is a great, unique title more people should finally settle down and play.
Stranger’s Wrath‘s weirdness stuck out then but it sticks out even more now. While it was in a league all of its own when it launched in the old days of 2005, it’s even more of a unique gemstone in 2020. First-person shooters tend to run together, especially within the last decade. Many of them follow similar rules or at least take place in some version of our reality, Doom excluded.
Yet, Stranger’s Wrath turned left when everyone else turned right. Shooters hardly sway away from brutality and this game encourages you to capture targets alive. Ammo has to be hunted and not picked off corpses. It’s even partly a third-person action game, which further demonstrates its one-of-a-kind qualities. Because of its ingenuity, it still plays well because there’s a hook that goes beyond “kill the bad guys.”
The Stranger’s Wrath Switch port shows how unique the title still is
It’s more of an early 2000s shooter hybrid with a bit of edge that must have went through the same classes as the first few Ratchet and Clank titles on the PS2: another series that stretched the perception of what “shooter” could mean. These games served as the transition titles from the platformers of the ‘90s to the shooters of the modern day and that time seemed to be more open to alternate interpretations of first-person shooter mechanics.
And like Ratchet and Clank, Stranger’s Wrath has a sense of humor that also isn’t as prevalent nowadays. Many games now seem to either cradle the E rating or push far into the fucking mature content with hard swear words and content that those moms from that cringeworthy Dead Space 2 commercial wouldn’t like. Stranger’s Wrath has an attitude to it where characters insult each other and curse like they’re trying to avoid an M rating.
Rather than being a dumb attempt of teen humor or toothless adult humor, it actually uses these tools effectively with some genuinely hilarious moments that strike a particular, usually unseen chord. There’s nothing inherently wrong with adult humor but seeing a game go outside of those boundaries and work within a certain limit while still being funny is a rare achievement in the medium. Even Ratchet and Clank has gotten away from this as the more recent batch of installments play it way too safe and have ended up sanding down Ratchet in the process.
Something to say
These comedic moments aren’t just there for laughs either, as they move the story along. Storytelling has evolved quite a bit since 2005 but Stranger’s Wrath has a point and is actually about something: a rarity for games of that age. It touches on identity and embracing who you are in a straightforward yet effective manner.
While simple, these themes still work well today especially since plenty of modern games aren’t as clear with their messages. Perhaps it has to do with Creative Director Lorne Lanning’s experience in film, but centralizing the narrative around something gives it heart in a way that stands the test of time. Combined with its legitimately great twists, there is something to grab onto here that ties into the gameplay and isn’t just a hollow excuse to blast some bad guys.
Stranger’s Wrath was ahead of its time in many aspects and would be greatly aided by the technology of today. A sequel is a long shot, especially considering the time it took for Oddworld: Soulstorm to even get a release window, but supporting this game might give Oddworld Inhabitants some confidence. While the team seems focused on finally bringing its quintology to fruition, it’s possible that the team could do some sort of a New and Tasty version of this underappreciated shooter starring everyone’s favorite steef. Supporting this kind of creative art — even if it is a port of a remaster — is also just good for the medium as it shows that new ideas have worth long after their initial release.
There are even plenty of ways to experience Stranger’s Wrath as it has been ported to a ton of non-Xbox platforms since its original release. It even works well on the Vita. The newest Switch remaster is pretty solid as it looks and runs well if you’re willing to pay extra for this portable port. It may not be a great deal to pay twice as much for the Switch version but its release is a decent reminder that it is still worth playing all these years later if you’ve put off playing it. The game still has a role to play, despite its age.
After all, it’s all too easy to bemoan modern AAA games as formulaic retreads of the same systems that hardly seem to stray outside of the norm. That norm is partly true but Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is well outside of it. Its existence shows that first-person shooters can go off in their own direction while still drawing from a common foundation. Stranger’s Wrath is still inventive to this day and, because of its ingenuity, worth celebrating each and every time we get another port of it.