Oddworld: Soulstorm first came to Playstation in April of 2021 as a Playstation Plus game. This bolstered the player base and made the game get a bit more attention than it would have. In November of 2021, Oddworld: Soulstorm the enhanced edition has come to Xbox platforms. Having played the game on PS5 when first released last year, I was interested to see how it compared on the Xbox ecosystem. Furthermore, I was curious to see how much attention it would grab given the $39.99 price tag.
From the oddball mind of Lorne Lanning, this universe’s genesis dates back to 1997 created by Oddworld Inhabitants Inc. Since then the franchise has seen 9 entries with more planned along the way. Few video games, or any franchise for that matter, have had such a long-running lifespan. This is likely due to the consistent creative input of Lanning. The franchise has explored first-person perspective and handheld but traditionally lives as a platformer. With the latest entry, we’re taken back to a traditional Oddworld experience in the form of a 2.9D action-adventure game.
For those who have never played an Oddworld game, you play as Abe, a Mudokon. This species is the servant/labor class of Oddworld who are enslaved by the ruling Glukkons. Glukkons are the embodiment of industrial greed and seek to maximize profits at the exploitation of the Mudonokons. This world is steeped in allegory and symbolism. While sometimes grotesque in its embodiment there is something deeply engaging about the heavy-handed art style and character models. For example, the evil Mudokons are in control but have no arms and are dependent on the labor class. Also, the main character is a slave named Abe whose mouth is sewn shut, illustrating his lack of voice in this brutal world. While I admit that might not sound like everyone’s cup of tea on the surface, the game is an excellent puzzle-platformer and has enough levity to make you chuckle from time to time.
Chronologically, Oddworld: Soulstorm is a direct sequel to New ’n’ Tasty!. The games are separated by 7 years, and the latest assumes the player to know about what’s happening in the world. For that reason, I’d recommend any newcomers check out a recap video before jumping in. Abe is back trying to lead his people in a revolt to escape to safety as their evil overlords try to exterminate these compromised slaves. After escaping in a train Abe learns that his people were kept in servitude through an addictive drink called Brew. He learns that everyone has become hooked on this drink and will die should they ever flee their captivity. If the freed Mudokons cut out Brew they’ll get sick and die. Abe set’s out to make enough medicine to set his people free from this controlling concoction.
In the beginning, you’ll play as Abe solo, learning the mechanics and solving puzzles. Later you’ll control a group of Mudokons. While there is strength in numbers, you will inevitably kill yourself and others repeatedly to outwit the enemy and survive. Oddworld: Soulstorm is hard and not for the faint of heart. The game takes patience and repetition to unlock the fun in the gameplay loop. For me, I felt drawn into the story through consistent cutscenes to continue the try-and-die gameplay. While it is rewarding, there are certainly times that you’ll want or need to take a break.
The level and world design are excellent. You will navigate through a maze with guards, traps, and challenges as the background helps tell more of the story. While the level design is great, the game ran surprisingly poorly at times. There was a slide stuttering in frames as I would cross checkpoints. While this wasn’t always the case it did happen enough to note that, there are still some optimization bugs to be worked out. Luckily, I never had any crashes and the game looked great. Furthermore, I’ll highlight the cutscenes and animation were top-notch. From the grotesque villains to Abe’s huge watery eyeballs, each scene drew me in and helped motivate me to get to the next story beat.
While the setting and themes are dark, the story of Abe is hopeful. You can’t help but root for this unwitting leader of a rebellion. While the studio says the game will take players 15 hours for their first play-through, I’d say that’s a bit shy of what to expect. For a game of this genre, that’s a pretty long playtime. If you’re a diehard fan you may be thrilled, but if you just enjoy the story, there’s a lot of frustration in those hours just to find out what happens next. I am glad Abe has made a return, and there are said to be more games to continue the story. While I don’t think it’s for everybody, Oddworld: Soulstorm is a great platformer and has an entertaining story to pull you through.