When one thinks of Oddworld games, they probably think the same thing I do. Small, toad-like creatures that run around in cities that are a cross between Tatooine (from the Star Wars series) and a landfill is a typical scene in an Oddworld neighborhood. Electronic Arts rendering of Oddworld is a bit different than what players are used to. The setting for Oddworld: Strangers Wrath is the old west (unknown is what time in Oddworld history all this is happening), Oddworld style. Most of the locals consist of chicken people and other strange human and animal cross breeds. While its like nothing weve seen before, it seems like we should have expected something this bizarre in Oddworld. So here we have a small, old west town with the usual old west town problems. Outlaws have surrounded the town and are robbing the wagon trails, taking over prime mining property and have made life increasingly difficult for law-abiding citizens. This would be the part of the story where a tall stranger walks into the town in the name of justice and cleans up the outlaw element, but this is Oddworld. A tall stranger does walk into the town, and that is where Oddworld: Strangers Wrath begins.
You are the Strangerthats it. Just the Stranger. If you want you can start calling your character something else, please do. No one else will know about it, so go nuts. I named my guy Roger. Forget the idea of Stranger stopping the outlaws for the sake of restoring justice to this small town. This Stranger is a bounty hunter and he is only concerned in bagging outlaws in order to make money. Youd probably work with the outlaws if the bounty wasnt being offered. Other than the fact that he is known as the Stranger, very little is known about him other than he is a hardcore bounty hunter and he needs to earn $20,000 for some mysterious medical procedure. Also, he is like no other creature in Oddworld. A cross between a human and a tiger (or a big cat of some sort), the Stranger has the ability to run at extreme speeds when running on all fours. This is perfect for evading attacks and charging at outlaws with knock-out force. In addition to the charge attack, the Stranger performs a spin attack, he pounces, he has an arm mounted crossbow with live ammunition, and a bounty vacuum that sucks up and stores outlaws for delivery to the bounty store where you get your money. But be careful when attacking outlaws because you get more money for bringing in live outlaws as opposed to dead ones. On the flip side, sometimes you need to take the lesser bounty and kill them in order to progress in the game. Be greedy, but not too greedy.
Its a given that things are a bit different in Oddworld, but living ammunition is the strangest yet. Think back to the scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit when Eddie pulls out the cartoon gun that shoots the talking bullets that look like cowboys and Native Americans (or Indians for you non-PC folk). Do you remember it? Alright, it really doesnt matter because the stuff going on in Oddworld: Strangers Wrath is way weirder. Your ammunition consists of things like Chippunks (chipmunks used to distract and attract outlaws to their locations and tend to insult Stranger if they stay in the crossbow for too long), Fuzzles (think of the movie Critterssmall furry creatures that like to bite and growl at you all the time) and Stingbees (use them like machinegun ammothat buzz while they wait to be fired). Besides being alive and noise making, your gathering method is bizarre as well. You need to stun and capture these creatures in order to arm yourself. Have you ever needed to hunt and capture ammunition you need to take on outlaws? You will now.
Gameplay wise, Oddworld: Strangers Wrath takes a basic platform formula and mixes in enough twists to keep the gameplay from getting too repetitive. Having to hunt your ammunition before going after the outlaws might seem tedious, but it can be fun and you have the chance to discover new kinds of ammunition. While on the hunt for outlaws, the Strangers view can be switched from third person (used for moving, melee attacks and bounty vacuum) and first person (crossbow) to suit the current situation. Mission wise, the Stranger takes on bounty assignments given to him, and then it is a matter of finding the outlaws. Each head outlaw holds up in an enclosed location and surround themselves with several goon outlaws. Once you make short work of them, the big daddy shows up, usually armed with a rather huge gun. Once knocked out or killed, head back to town to collect big daddy and his goons bounties. This is usually followed by a cut scene, and then its time for your next assignment. The unfolding story and ammunition discovery should be enough to hold the attention of any gamer.
Concerning the controls, it can be very confusing switching between third and first person perspective during battle scenes, even though many of the buttons do the same in either perspective. The layout will be easy for players to pick up on if youve played a platform or first person shooter game before. About the only major flaws in Oddworld: Strangers Wrath is the camera adjustment and angles can be down right awful at times. If your back gets up against a wall or other solid object, the camera loses you and has a great shot of the object youre standing next to. This can really screw things up when fighting several outlaws at once. Of all the controls, the most important is the triangle button that is used to have Stranger shake, and shaking Stranger heals Stranger of all injuries. A rule of thumb is to always be ready to hit the triangle button at a moments notice.
Graphically speaking, the facelift EA gave to Oddworld is amazing. While it still has the old, trashy charm, the old west looks like it should. Everything is simple with general stores, saloons, wagon trails, river valleys and all the locations found within. The only change that I would have made was making the townspeople and outlaws more distinctive with individual details. The cut scenes are well animated, especially Strangers facial expressions during close-ups. Truly incredible is the small movements and details in the living ammunition creatures. You almost dont want to shoot them away because of how cute they can be when theyre not insulting the crap out of you.
Sounds like a Clint Eastwood western flick to me. Stranger talks with a rough, gravelly voice and the outlaws sound like a pack of good ole boys. The music is timely and sounds like something out of a saloon music setup form the middle 1800s, although some custom soundtrack love would have been nice. Once again, the ammunition creatures stand out from the pack with their random noises and insults from the Chippunks. I dont know anyone else who would have the guts to call someone like the Stranger a smelly moron and not get pounded severely for it. Some more lines for the goon outlaws would have been a welcome addition.
Whether you love or hate EA, you have to tip your hat to the amazing job they did with Oddworld: Strangers Wrath after Microsoft dropped the project. Thanks to the perspective switch, third person platform and first person shooter games can both be satisfied with a common game. The graphics and sound recreate the 1800s old west setting, Oddworld style. Highlight of the game has to be the live ammunition creatures for their design detail, audio goofiness and weapon variety. There were only a couple of major flaws in the game. First, the camera angles can be terrible when your back is against or near any solid object. Camera angles and frame rate are the two most common spoilers of great games. Second, no online capabilities. How sweet would it be to have downloadable content in the form of new live ammunition creatures? Overall, Oddworld: Strangers Wrath is a great example of how a long running franchise needs to evolve in order to meet the demands of todays gamers. Dont let personal hatred of EA prevent you from running with the Stranger in Oddworld, the first great Xbox game of 2005.