By dankempster 26 Comments
As much as I love playing games, it does sadden me that the industry is driven on the back of shooters and sports simulations. I suppose that's why every now and again, I take a break from the plethora of generic consumer-pleasing games and indulge in something a little more off-the-wall. The latest example of this is my recent foray into the quirky realm of Oddworld. Over the last week or so, I've wasted a significant amount of my time playing through both Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee and its follow up Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, bought on Steam in the form of the Oddworld Pack for the very reasonable sum of £8.99. After doing so, I highly recommend you do the same. The first two Oddworld games are a breath of fresh air when juxtaposed with comparatively stale modern releases. Here's why.
Both games are essentially the same from a gameplay perspective, and Exoddus picks up immediately where Oddysee left off, so I've chosen to evaluate them as a pair rather than individually. For those of you not familiar with them, the first two Oddworld games are a pair of 2D platformers where the emphasis of gameplay is focused on puzzle-solving. You play the role of a Mudokon named Abe, whose people have been enslaved by the greedy Glukkons and used as cheap labour. It's up to you to help Abe fulfil his destiny and rescue the captive Mudokons. It's a premise that sounds simple, but makes for some pretty complicated gameplay.
The main reason I love the gameplay on offer in the first two Oddworld games lies in their employment of the utterly brilliant Gamespeak concept. Throughout both games, Abe has no weapons or offensive powers to his name (save for the odd rock or grenade, that is), meaning his most potent weapon is his own voice. Through use of Gamespeak, Abe is able to rescue his friends, possess his enemies, and solve the myriad puzzles he's faced with. The games' most memorable puzzles involve a healthy mixture of precision timing and elaborate manipulation of Abe's foes in order to rescue a band of Mudokons. While sometimes they can prove to be a little frustrating and arguably rely too much on trial and error, they're also incredibly rewarding. In fact, completion of these Gamespeak puzzles is more rewarding than anything else I've done in a game in recent memory. I'd even go as far as to blaspheme and say that in some cases they're more rewarding than nabbing a few difficult achievements.
This formula works well enough in Oddysee, but it really comes into its own in Exoddus where the range of creatures that Abe can possess increases drastically. In addition to Sligs, Abe can possess Paramites, Scrabs, Glukkons and even his own farts. As a result, the puzzles in Exoddus are a lot more varied. To top it all off, all of these creatures interact in different ways. For example, isolated Scrabs are a threat to Abe, but will attack members of their own species too. On the other hand, Paramites are more social creatures and can communicate with each other to co-ordinate attacks. Glukkons can command Sligs, and Sligs can command Slogs. These chains of command make for some great situations in-game, and really help to make Oddworld all the more believable.
That's another reason why I loved playing through the first two Oddworld games - the self-contained Oddworld universe is unlike anything else I've seen in any other game. The world has its own inhabitants, its own races, its own heirarchies and its own history. It's like a really off-the-wall alternative to Middle-earth. It makes a welcome change from the same tired old scenarios involving zombies, aliens and terrorists. It's even charming, in a warped, ugly kind of way. Not just that, they're also two of the funniest games I've played in recent memory.
Abe's Exoddus was one of the defining games of my childhood, so it was a pleasure to revisit it and finally get a chance to experience its predecessor too. As I said in the opening paragraph, these games are more than worth the Steam price. If you're tired of the same old story, finding yourself unenthusiastic about Modern Warfare 2 or disinterested in FIFA 10, then I recommend giving the first two Oddworld games a try. There really is nothing on the market like them anymore, which is a real shame. Here's hoping Lorne Lanning and the other guys at Oddworld Inhabitants see sense and return to the world of video games, because it's certainly a less interesting place without them. Now that my stint in Oddworld has come to an end, I have my sights set on getting into a new JRPG. I've narrowed the choice down to Final Fantasy VI, Dragon Quest VIII, Persona 4, and Lost Odyssey. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, as I'm terrible at making decisions. In the meantime, thanks for reading, guys. See you around.
Currently playing - Forza Motorsport 2 (X360)