Released in 2005 for the original Xbox, Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath surprised gamers with a unique amalgamation of genres. It blended elements of platforming, 3rd person combat, and 1st person shooting. Combine that with some memorable characters and a fully fleshed out world, and it’s not surprising that the original quickly became a cult classic. Eight years later, Stranger’s Wrath has snuck its way on to Sony’s current generation PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita. Though rough around the edges and slightly dated in design, Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath shows a level of polish and care not seen in many other HD remakes, providing for one of the better re-releases to grace Sony’s systems.
This is the tale of Stranger, a mysterious bounty hunter with a nebulous past. The details given are sparse, but talks of a life-threatening disease, surgery, and bounty hunting are enough to give the player motivation to see his tale to the end. In order to pay for his surgery, he decides accept bounties to capture the enemies harassing the local town and its people. If he brings in the culprit alive, he’s given more moolah as a reward, and this mechanic drives the player to focus on capturing rather than killing. He’s a slightly charming, cocky, and witty character that draws you in, unlike many characters seen in games today. The plot of the game proceeds at a nice clip and pace, but certain areas seem to be added in for extra length to extend playtime. In the end, however, the story pays off, and it’s worth experiencing.
Characters are well developed and downright hilarious. Every locale that you visit looks like a real place, rather than a random collection of polygons meant to guide you to the next major combat arena. More times than not, I found myself chuckling out loud at something an NPC says; that speaks to how well the writing has held up after all these years. The world itself is fleshed out and inviting, which makes the journey all the more enjoyable. The visuals have received an immense upgrade; rather than just upscaling the existing game, the developers went in and redid the polygon counts for many of the main characters, giving them a much wider range of expression and detail. This is what an HD remake should look like. It pays homage to the original source material, allowing characters and environments to look the way that the developers intended them to look.
The game tries to do what few games before it have done: blend a 1st person shooter with 3rd person traversal mechanics. In this case, Stranger’s Wrath comes across as a jack of all trade, but master of none. In terms of controls and overall feel, the 1st person sections feel solid, but not revolutionary, and the 3rd person traversal feels the same way. Jumping can be awkward at times, but overall, Stranger is a delight to control.
The true wow-factor of Stranger’s Wrath lies in the combat and ammo system. Rather than giving the player generic, uninspired ammo types with different special abilities, Stranger harvests the live creatures around him and uses them in his shotgun. Want ammo that’ll tie up your enemies? Shoot a spider at them. Want to distract an enemy with some noise? Shoot a chipmunk to lure them away. The magic of Stranger’s combat lies in your choice of ammo, and it truly makes this game a delight to play. This system allows players to tackle objectives in a multitude of ways, keeping things interesting and enjoyable.
After a while though, the novelty of the ammo choices can wear a bit thin. It can feel like the same formula level after level: enter an area, eliminate some enemies, defeat the boss, return to the hub world. It’s a system that has proven to work over time throughout gaming’s history, but it’s a world structure that can feel dated. In addition to that, random difficulty spikes can lead to some tense and frustrating moments. However, it comes across as more of a retro quirk and charm rather than bad design choices. Stranger’s Wrath doesn’t feel like a game made in 2012, but that’s completely okay. It speaks to the generation of consoles that it was originally released for, and it is a breath of fresh air in the downloadable market place.
The transition from console to handheld is extremely smooth, with only a few minor hiccups. Before the most recent patch, melee attacks were delegated to the back touchscreen, leading to very frequent and unintended activations. Thanks to the most recent patch, the issue has been rectified, and the control experience is significantly better on the Vita. It’s worth noting that the PS3 version is better in visual quality, 3D capability, and PlayStation move compatibility, but at the end of the day, the Vita version stands side-by-side as a worthy port. The lack of cross-buy and cross-save capabilities is disappointing; it would have been nice to continue Stranger’s tale on whatever console you wanted rather than choosing and sticking to one version.
Overall, Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath is a fantastic game that makes an excellent addition to anyone’s PlayStation 3 or PlayStation Vita library. The difficulty spikes and dated design may be a turn off to some, but those who push through those few faltering moments will find a charming, witty, and enjoyable fusion of first and third person action that is unlike anything else this console generation. Pick a platform, download it, and get ready to experience one of the more interesting games to be released in the past decade.