Published on April 20th, 2021 | by Daniel
Oddworld: Soulstorm (Review), A Brewtastic Adventure!
Summary: A darker retelling of an outspoken hero, thrust into his role. With a few kinks to iron out, Oddworld Inhabitants have given Abe life anew.
Abe is back at it again! From the reinvigorated destruction of rupture farms in Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty to the gritty, darker retelling of Oddworld: Soulstorm. Abe has never faced danger on this scale before, will the completely restructured experience prove too much for our little blue friend?
Soulstorm is exactly as described, a much darker, more horrific retelling of the original story that was Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus. Therein the story was one of slavery and a tale of a hero helping his kind to freedom, but from every aspect of the game, you could find humor lying just beneath the surface. Capped off with the ability to fart on command, even posses your own farts to cause destruction and clear the way ahead for yourself.
Soulstorm is a stark contrast to it’s predecessor, not immediately takin place in Necrum mines like the original. No, this time we get to play the events leading up to Abe’s arrival at Necrum, only instead of a small band of friends, that he gets separated from and subsequently rescues later. This time Abe has a small army to save.
All 300 from New ‘n’ Tasty (Itself an upgrade from the 100 in the original Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee) are tagging along for the ride. Just slightly offscreen so that they can’t impact the player, but in enough danger that Abe has to put his own life on the line. At first, Abe is separated from the group and spends the first few levels catching up. After reuniting with them, he learns that his kind, the Mudokons’ are rising up in defiance of Slig and Glukkon rule, revolting and escaping en masse from all their factories after Abe’s successful rescue of the 300 at Rupture Farms.
The story has much of the same idea as Exoddus had back in the day. However Soulstorm is a completely new take on the tale of Abe’s heroism. As mentioned the game no longer starts in Necrum mines after learning about Mudokon plight there and beyond. Soulstorm starts pretty much where New ‘n’ Tasty ended, Abe is being advised by a sage that this is not the end. Abe cannot shed his stitches that have bound his lips for so long. Before long however the first twist take place, flying sligs have discovered the Abe’s hideout!
After chaos ensues and Abe is separated from his friends, he must escape pursuit by the Glukkon Mullock, the proprietor of Rupture Farms, out for his revenge. The first few levels are basically escaping the bad guys while learning the controls and elements of the item and crafting systems. From the the game throws you into the deep end, occasionally giving you hints but ultimately making you learn through trial and error.
Soulstorm’s first eight or so missions are unique to this entry in the franchise. The levels that fans would know back from the original 90s release, Slig Barracks, Necrum Mines, FeeCo Depot and Soulstorm Brewery are not accessed until very late into the game. In different order to the originals too. Gone are the Scrab and Paramite levels from the original. Which is a shame, because the early missions take some time to warm up. Once it does however, Soulstorm is tough, I don’t remember Exoddus being anywhere near as hard.
The base levels are easy enough to get through with mild challenge. But if you want to get the “good” endings, you gotta work and boy do they make you work for it. To achieve the best possible ending, you need to have saved 80% of the Mudokons in at least twelve levels by the end of FeeCo depot. A lot of Mudokons are new hidden in secret areas, more so than in the original.
Meaning you have to pay more attention to your surroundings and find those secret areas. The 80% requirement also means that in some levels with smaller numbers of Mudokons to save, you’ll have to save them all. It might seem easy in theory, but Soulstorm likes to mess with your head.
That’s probably Soulstorms’ hardest aspect, but isn’t the only new feature. Item looting and crafting now exist, giving Abe new ways to interact with his environment and combat his enemies. Things like Smoke screens, made from detergent and brew, obscure scanners from cameras and Sligs alike. Rendering Abe and his pals, invisible whilst standing within the smoke. It only lasts a short while however, forcing the play to make a quick, but calculated decision. Weapons to incapacitate or even kill your enemies is also craftable, giving Abe a fighting chance.
To bolster this, Abe’s followers can now fight alongside him. The player can give Mudokon followers some crafted items and toggle between aggro and passive. This opens up new solutions to complete a task safely. Be careful though, because this puts your followers in direct harms way and can lead to unnecessary deaths.
A gritty, darker, more horrific retelling of a classic masterpiece
Soulstorm can be proud of many things. Its graphics is one of them. No game quite nails the 2.5D style as Oddworld has. The originals used clever CG cuts to bring the backgrounds to life and downscaled a lot of the layouts and characters in order to make use of the background elements. Hardware limitations meant that there couldn’t be too much on screen at one time, so levels were cut into many smaller pieces in order for the game to play as it was intended. Soulstorm is a whole other kettle of fish thought.
Hardware limitations are a thing of the past. With glorious levels in single cuts, that simply scroll, bend and curve off into the distance. Cameras rotating as the perspective shifts. This makes the world of Oddworld, look so much larger. No longer does Abe need to appear smaller on the horizon, the horizon bends to Abe! The sheer level of graphical upgrades between New ‘n’ Tasty back in 2014 and Soulstorm in 2021 is immense. Abe now looks more real and shows more emotion than ever before, especially the prologue where Abe is trying to cast off his stitches, but cannot. It’s a touching moment made even more deep by the updated colours, lighting and art.
I did notice some stutter on the highest settings however. Moments where the game struggled to render faster than Abe’s feet at full pace. I did also have a few glitches and bugs that I found, even after the most recent QoL patches. There was a moment on Sorrow Valley where the platform I was running on ends at the cusp of the panning camera. As such, a well timed jump would see Abe leap off the level entirely and plummet to his death. Subsequent well timed jumps confirmed this. The bugs and glitches were few and far between however and did not have a huge impact on my experience.
Standouts from the visuals in Soulstorm is the cutscenes, they are incredible. Updated character designs have so much more articulation. Sligs with their weird mouths now articulate more with gestures and body language. Glukkons, without arms, need to articulate with their faces, thus, especially in Mulloks’ case you can really see how he seethes everytime Abe escapes, within his facial expressions.
Another standout has to be the level design and freedom of movement. Abe can now double jump and has so much more control in the air, this is a bit of a double edged sword though. As the aforementioned graphical hiccups can cause input lag, which led to more than a few frustrating, completely avoidable deaths. When the level design isn’t trying to kill me however, it’s incredibly intuitive.
Can’t reach that Slig from where you are? Bounce an item off the wall! Or curve an explosive up from underneath them! The game intends players to find interesting ways to proceed. Often times, it felt I had many options to reach my end goal and it’s true. With the usual built in aids like walls or smoke screens in certain areas. The levels are truly designed to encourage the best use of the item looting and crafting system.
Soulstorms’ audio is equal parts hot and cold. Cutscene music is on point, with it’s theatrical build up and intensity, making this retelling sound as every bit as horrific as it looks. In gameplay however, there is no music, only the percussion upon death and respawn. Or upon the reveal of new areas ahead. This is both a blessing and a curse. Blessing because it means you can focus on the tasks at hand better without distraction, even though there’s plenty to distract you in the heat of the moment. A curse, because it fails to set up anticipation for events upcoming, or even as they happen. Leaving a little bit of a sad taste in my mouth.
Where the game shines though, is the voice acting. Abe has a powerful voice and all his followers have their own voice too. With the usual, almost cheesy charm that the voices had from New ‘n’ Tasty. The newer lines from some of Abe’s friends still describe the horrors that some Mudokons have withstood with chilling intensity. While lines delivered by Mullock have a heavy weighted malice to them, when paired up with his often goofy, yet somewhat logical sounding Slig pilot compatriot, the two make a solid pair. The serious, revengeful Glukkon and his witty, charming Slig pilot.
One aspect of Soulstorm I definitely found lacking, was the lack of gamespeak. In the originals, Abe had a list of lines to choose from, to communicate with the world around him. While that might not seem like a lot, but in Soulstorm it feels even less. The simplified method of talking allows for faster gameplay sure, but it’s taken away some of the charm. Abe’s followers no longer get angry or sad in response to Abe’s actions and the world around them. Abe cannot interact with the Sligs anymore, something I sorely missed from Exoddus.
The ability for some Sligs and Glukkon to reply with a “Hi” to Abe’s “Hello!” or scream for help whenever Abe chanted in the vicinity of an enemy. It’s so easy to just walking into an area now and basically greet every Mudokon within range and have them automatically follow you. Apologising for getting someone angry or sad was another mechanic that added life to the Exoddus, while it did slow down game time, it is something I still miss.
One thing I definitely won’t miss is the laughing gas and the farting. The former being a pain in the ass to slap sense into these crazed Mudokons. The latter just seemed out of place in the original and most certainly was not part of the original vision for Soulstorm.
Oddworld: Soulstorm is a great game. A tough one for all those looking for a challenge. It is both a wholly new experience and a familiar one in the same breath. While a few minor bugs plagued me at times and the games’ difficulty throwing me for a few loops, Soulstorm is a solid experience. It’s a much more thought out experience, much closer to the original idea the team at Oddworld Inhabitants had for it way back in the early 90s. Whilst still retaining some of Exoddus’ flair and charm.
I’m not sure it’s worth the $75 price tag however, as there are still a few kinks in the core gameplay. It’s a hefty price tag for any new players interested in picking up a quirky title like this one. Fans would likely shell out the dough, it’s enough of an homage for die hards of Exoddus yet retains enough for it’s own identity. I highly recommend Oddworld: Soulstorm, it is a great title and I am immensely happy to see Oddworld Inhabitants back in the saddle and I cannot wait to see more.
Game Genre – Platformer, Puzzle, Action
Developers – Fat Kraken Studios, Titanium Studios, Sabotage Studio, Big Boat Interactive, Free Range Games, Superseed Studios, Streamline Media Group
Publisher – Oddworld Inhabitants
Rating – Unrated
Year of Release – 2021
Platforms – PS4, PS5, PC (Epic Games)
Mode(s) of Play – Single
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