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Graphics: Digital entertainment perfection. No less. Throughout my trek through the Oddworld, I noticed no graphical flaw which detracted from my sense of immersion. The introduction and option-interface are gorgeous, with water-rippling transitions and meticulously painted surfaces. All the in-game backgrounds are beautifully rendered, and as I mentioned earlier, the cutscenes between the action smoothly interleave into the level progression. The inhabitants of the bizarre planetscape appear lifelike, as if the artists somehow captured an element of kinetic realism that other games miss entirely. Each creature seems to have actually evolved into its exaggerated features because of environmental extremes, sporting wild skin textures and graceful muscle structure. The character animation is fluid and exciting, which injects an element of true excitement into Abe’s Oddysey.
Interface: The game installs from CD without any problems, and uses very little HD space overall. The game selection screens, option menus, and control config system are well laid out and efficient. There is even a separate interface screen designed to teach you the various speech functions. Abe’s smiling mug mewls out each phrase as you hit the appropriate number-key. The most shining feature of Oddworld’s interface, however, is in presentation of clues and info. As you traverse the expansive forests and caverns, all the relevant instructions you need are presented to you by elements of the background, such as billboards, spirit-stars, and signs. Fusion like this is to be appreciated in any title that can pull it off without bludgeoning the player with data. Abe’s Oddysey makes the cut, with style!
Gameplay: Once again, the golden five. Here we have an intriguing, original story about a happy-go-lucky hero in a dark and strange world. Dramatic, film-like cutscenes carry along the plot, which consists of a noble struggle never before used in any game I’ve played. Not a single aspect of this game seems recycled, which is very hard to do in today’s market! The level of depth, thought, and detail imbued upon the world structure is almost of novel caliber. It is a good thing the designers plan to release four more titles in the Oddworld Inhabitants series, because I cannot get enough. The creativity displayed here is commendable, and that’s before I even speak about playing the game. The action is fast and furious, but also requires cautious thought and strategy. Side-scrollers are not typically a ripe category, but this title is the exception to that rule. Abe must utilize all his physical, mental (however scarce), and spiritual resources to overcome the challenges that await. All his moves are executed smoothly and with heavy emphasis on realistic motion. The possession ability is by far my personal favorite. What could be more fun than usurping control of one of your rabid enemies, then having him open doors for you, blast subsequent baddies, and then finally explode with a satisfying pop? Nothing. That’s right, nothing. And that’s one of the more linear solutions! It seems that there are at least two ways to conquer each challenge in Oddworld, and thinking your way through Abe’s great journey is quite engaging. The control interface is complex, but once mastered, you have a very full range of movement. Also, the actual keyboard / controller / joystick configuration can be customized to your own particular tastes, so Abe becomes a extension of your will with a silly grin. And of course, the ultimate goal of the game is to become a sort of vengeful demi-god, and waste some Glukkonian minions in the name of peace and life on Oddworld.
Sound FX: Hmm, seem familiar yet? Yes, the sound in Abe’s Oddysey is some of the best work in the industry. Ambient noises bring chirping, growling life to the vast jungles and shadowy temples. The characters themselves are wellsprings of sound; Abe can even use their various sounds and words to his advantage, once he’s gained possession of their bodies. Abe speaks, and the other creatures respond in possibly the most appealing communication engine I’ve ever seen in any game without full motion video. (shudder.) In fact, the sound is so rich and plentiful that after a while, it becomes natural. Simply another part of this seamless gaming experience. You, as the player, begin to forget about all the specific sounds, and start to expect them. Once this process is complete, you’ve been drawn fully into the story. They couldn’t have done a better job if Abe was a real creature, and they hired him to help with all the sound effects from his home world. Heck, maybe they did.
Musical Score: First of all, the accompanying music in the cinematic animation is magnificent. When I mentioned that I felt as if something of monumental proportions was about to happen in these in-game movies, I was referring to the fantastic musical score more than any other element. The composition is prodigious, and the quality of the soundtrack to the cutscenes is absolutely flawless. But the most noteworthy musical achievement in Oddworld is the dynamic music engine. Reminiscent of many great LucasArts games utilizing the IMUSE engine, Abe’s Oddysey modifies the musical score smoothly depending on the action. For example, when you gain control of a Slig, the musical selection shifts quickly into a thumping mechanical rhythm, chosen by someone who knows scene-based soundtracks very well. When the Slig meets his doom at your hands, the music shifts back into a rolling, cautious melody, to mirror the darkened glade you’re passing through. Many in-game events such as these have their own tunes, and once again, this clever feature contributes to the game’s overall ambiance of professional polish. I would have liked to hear a few different musical selections for each event though, with similar thematic influences to remain cohesive. One thing that game music composers should concentrate on is variety at all costs.
Intelligence & Difficulty: The AI in Oddworld is impressive. Although event-driven by Abe’s proximity to his fellow creatures, the intelligence displayed by these denizens is crafty and dangerous. The bipedal (cybernetically so) Sligs can sick their fleshy pseudo-canine counterparts on you. The leaping Paramites can lead you into a trap, attacking only when their brethren are around to devour you whole. Abe can fling meat around to distract them, as well. Other creatures, like the Scrabs, aren’t fond of their own kind horning (literally) in on their territory, so Abe can pit them against each other. The question of difficulty is a complex one, however. One the one hand, I love how much of a challenge Abe’s Oddysey presents. On the other, I have to say that I felt that it was a touch too difficult at times. By this I mean that the way the game is set up forces the player to die repeatedly only to understand how not to. This single problem is the source of a great deal of anguish, and when compounded by the lack of a “save anywhere” capability, it can detract from the fun. But not much. When all the dust has settled, the game is still 100 percent enjoyable despite this gripe.
Overall: All right! Not since Flashback have I seen a title so well suited to this category, and so ultimately pleasing. Astounding graphics, atmospheric sound, and riveting gameplay? Apparently the members of this particular GT Interactive team weren’t looking to merely compete with other games. They set their sights on a higher standard of concept creation altogether. The emphasis here is on design. And what a design! I’m looking forward to the next title already. In the meantime, I suggest that you go out and pick up a copy of this gem before they’re all carried away by masquerading Mudokons. Watch out though, this is one game that’s liable to take you into the Oddworld forever. But we’re gamers. We’re odd already!
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