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Review by: David Laprad
Published: January 30, 1999
Poor Abe. Just as he closes in on a much-needed sabbatical after rescuing his companions from Ruptured Farms, where they were about to become the main ingredient in an appetizing edible, he has a vision. Given its ghoulish nature, he could have attributed it to too much Soul Storm Brew, but the truth is, his ancestors are unable to rest because the Oddworld’s greedy entrepreneurs are at it again, this time digging up ancient Mudokon bones to use as an ingredient in the popular SoulStorm beverage. And guess who is slaving away digging up these bones? Blind Mudokons, clueless creatures whose eyes are sewn shut so they are unaware of the sacrilege. This means Abe is at it again, rescuing his buddies, possessing creatures existing at evolution’s oddest extremes and liberating his ancestors’ spirits.
It also means game designer Oddworld Inhabitants has returned, dishing out more creative brilliance. The original reinvented the gaming wheel. It required as much mental exertion as twitching, and contained a miraculous sense of adventure. The camera soared through three-dimensional cinematic transitions that blended with the impressive game environments, and the characters, especially Abe, were handled with a razor sharp comical touch.
Abe could run and leap through the gorgeous environments, possessing his enemies’ bodies to serve his purpose, both through direct control and an inventive device whereby he could issue commands to his cronies and the cold-blooded reptiles who stood in his path. Yes, it was a 2D game, but it was a 2D game with scant boundaries. There were problems, though. Gamers perished time and again to accomplish small steps, and there was no adequate save game schematic to cure this ill. The designers mixed brilliance with stress to create an unbalanced experience.
Some things remain the same in this second installment, and some things change. Let me mention at this point that the designers did all the right things, and the result is a creative catharsis that means the sequel, which at times can be a little derivative, is well worth plunging into. The same glorious graphics, mind-bending puzzles and heart-stopping chases are there, along with abundant additions that evolve the series’ various innovative concepts.
Although I am tempted to trumpet the improved save game schematic, something that removes all unessential stress, there are other, more important enhancements, such as additional commands. Abe can now issue commands to a whole group at once with an “All ya!” To calm an enraged or depressed companion, he can say, “Sorry!” or slap a delirious one to return him to Oddworld. In a malodorous twist, he can possess his “gaseous emissions.” This leads to some explosive moments as he detonates other creatures. Abe can also possess additional characters, including Scrabs, Paramites, Sligs and Brewmasters, which he can use to command legions of Sligs.
Nothing has the impact, though, as the implementation of emotions. It brings character interaction to a higher level, and proves that Oddworld Inhabitants is on the right path with the AI and experiments regarding “living, breathing” game characters. Abe’s companions can be laughing, depressed, or enraged, and he must determine how to alter the mood to aid his cause. There are some eccentric original enemies, including relentless Fleeches, Slurgs, Slogs and Greeters, the worst public relations agents in games, and a mine car to navigate in one sequence.
Best of all, the game maintains the magic that made the original so enchanting. It is tough but rewarding, two-dimensional but gorgeous, and, although it does not reinvent the gaming wheel, remains an engaging experience that demonstrates the artistic potential in games.
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