Pages: 1 2
Graphics: Given the deliberate, tormenting death 2D graphics are enduring, it is encouraging to see a game use the approach in an engaging, artistic manner. There is no paradigm-changing going on; rather, the designers use static screens to cast strange, alien visions and shape antique-industrial realms teeming with bizarre creatures and malignant machines. Although this sounds trite, each 640×480 scene could be captured and hung in a museum, with Abe’s toothless mug gaping down at children. Since the graphics are pre-rendered, the depth and detail are astonishing, but it is the outlandish settings that seized me time and again throughout the game.
The creature animation is as impressive, with smooth, intricate movements. I am unable to argue that it is realistic, though, since I have never seen organisms such as these! The lighting is also notable because it enhances strategic moments. Creeping through a cave to avoid alerting Sligs might be interrupted by a couple Paramites, silhouetted against an orange horizon, slipping down huge cobwebs to pursue Abe. Rest assured games can induce chill bumps. Then there is the attendant increase in pulse rate as Abe slips unseen into a shadow as a Slig strolls past. And I must, once more, mention the sensational cinematics, which demonstrate the artistic potential in games.
Are there complaints? Should someone threaten to place me in a deep pit with an ill-tempered Scrab, and trust me, there could not be a more hideous death, I might relent that Abe is a bit pixelicious, a notable distraction. I might also grumble that, as impressive as the graphics are, the designers do not do enough to distinguish the game from the original. That said, I am content celebrate the graphics, 2D or not.
Interface: Imagine a song that starts out simple, and can be tapped out on a piano one note at a time. Add a second simultaneous note, then counterpoint, then segue into chords and melodic progressions while increasing in tempo, more and more, until crashing it down in a savage crescendo. What does this have to do with the game? The piano experience is comparable to controlling Abe and the possessed characters. In the beginning, climb a ledge, chant and call it a morning. Soon, Abe is running, leaping, grabbing, chanting, possessing, and howling commands in three alien tongues as Slogs, Sligs and Slurgs nip at his heels. I was Fats Domino on the piano, with hands all over the controls.
So things get tough. Still, the designers mapped the moves and commands in a practical manner and ensured the control set was capable and responsive. Despite the inevitable entanglements during tense moments, Abe is simple to control. For instance, pressing Run+Jump+Direction will hoist him up on a ledge in a split second without stopping, leaping, grabbing the ledge and climbing up. This is salvation when Scrabs are closing in. Another nice example: stroll up to a wall and he will crouch and roll should there be a crawl space. The controls require practice, but also enable Abe to navigate the game with ease.
The menu structure is standard, and I have no complaints except it would be nice to name saved games. Riddling through a huge list with designations such as MIP01C04 can be a bit bewildering. Still, while I am on the topic, Oddworld Inhabitants must be commended no, praised no, exalted for implementing in a save anywhere, anytime system — something missing in the original. When Abe dies, he regenerates at the last save game position. In addition, the designers added a “restart path” option so when a person saves a game during an impossible to resolve bungle, the game can be restarted at a logical point without demanding an epic retread. This does not compromise the challenge, as I will discuss in a moment, it eliminates the stress. I should also mention that installation is as smooth as a bottle o’ SoulStorm brew.
Gameplay: Herein lies the most brilliant mix of cerebral tumbling and twitch acrobatics I have encountered. One moment Abe is solving an intricate puzzle and the next he is running, leaping and contorting his gaunt bones to escape a lathered horde. At times the sadistic designers combine the two and toss Abe into the most unnerving dexterous nightmare possible. One memorable sequence has Abe possessing a Brewmaster. “Come here!” he tells a Slig. “Do it!” he commands the Slig to open a gate. “Kill him!” he screams as Slogs are unleashed on the traitorous duo.
The game could have been relentless, but the designers have impeccable pacing. Demoniac sequences are proceeded with something more serene, perhaps a calm exploration sequence during which Abe learns a new talent — such as possessing gaseous emissions and using them to detonate other creatures! Such demented amusement should cross our screens more often.
Patience and attentive reasoning are crucial. At times the game seems too centered on precision and razor-thin escapes, but these sequences demand more logic than twitching. I was coming close to smashing something into pieces once as I attempted to escape an impossible Paramite gauntlet. At last I realized possessing them and running them into a deep chasm was a much simpler solution. At times game designers seem to miss the nuances and possibilities in their own blueprints, but the virtuosos at Oddworld Inhabitants capitalize 100 percent on this concept with cool assurance.
Sound FX: The sounds are good, but I am more enthusiastic about the creative implementation. The creatures’ chattering and Abe’s voice, done by creator Lorne Lanning, give the game a unique disposition. I would recognize his humble “Hello!” anywhere, and have quit the game unable to wave the Paramite’s menacing hiss. In addition, listening to the game and to the characters is important to understanding what is happening and what Abe needs to do. The action is crammed with sound that provides impeccable audio cues.
Musical Score: The cut scene music, with its dramatic, thunderous movements, gets high points; it is comparable to a cinematic score and gives the proceedings an epic tone. When the camera lands on SoulStorm in the opening movie, the attendant orchestral omen is stunning. Too bad the in-game music is not as good. It is little more than a limited assortment that establishes various moods, such as excitement, without being memorable – despite the same limited songs repeating throughout the entire game.
Intelligence & Difficulty: I have never scorned a creature in a computer game because it seems absurd, but these tenacious scamps are so territorial and awash in bloodlust I developed a genuine loathing. The creatures’ actions are simple to a point — the game use a vigorous “chase” algorithm to nail Abe — but the implementation is amazing. The creatures are engaged in a humdrum existence until Abe comes along. Sleeping, guarding posts, and beating SoulStorm personnel are routine chores, and the manner in which Abe uses this stasis to his advantage is important. Stealing past snoozing enemies, possessing Sligs to slaughter creatures — nothing is more riotous than possessing a Slig, commanding “Come here!” to another Slig, then pumping lead into his alien bones when he comes — becomes Abe’s commission. One misstep means death, no waiting required. In this manner the designers have created a convincing and threatening AI.
In addition, each creature has a unique disposition that changes depending on the game’s status. For instance, one Paramite is tame unless cornered, two or more are hell incarnate, but a Paramite can also be Abe’s best aide. The enemies also react to other creatures. The designers put this believable “intelligence” to good use in the puzzles, so Abe must use it to his advantage. For instance, he might need to possess a Paramite to guide another one to a less threatening location, or soothe an enraged captive to lead it to a portal. The possibilities are endless, and the amalgam created through the AI, creature commands, emotional manipulation and hazardous environments is mind-boggling. There are times, too, when things coming crashing in and all Abe can do is run with the nastiest alien assortment snapping at his heels.
Although challenging, the game never segues into unreasonable. The puzzles and action are tough, but the solutions are at all times accessible. The sequel is more demanding and tense than the original, but this is the price the designers are slapping on the improved save game schematic. Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus must be beaten, and provides tremendous satisfaction upon completion.
Overall: What an ingenious game! Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus is a clever and humorous title that progresses not from battle to battle, but challenge to challenge. As tough as things get, though, it is a consistent pleasure. Such inventive ideas! Manipulating emotions, possessing creatures, interacting with enemies and allies that seem alive, and blending it all together to avoid the copious dangers in Oddworld. Veterans will appreciate the added sophistication in the intelligence and puzzles, and everyone will delight in the exotic graphics and animation. In addition, the designers have removed all vexations, meaning gamers no longer have to die time and again to solve the game, or loop through the same extended sequence multiple times to consummate an intricate move. One quibble is that the graphics and game mechanics sometimes resemble the original too much, meaning the game is an ambitious enhancement, not a next-generation title. Nonetheless, Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus is a delight.
Pages: 1 2