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Xbox Preview - 'Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath'

by Eric on Jan. 15, 2005 @ 4:50 a.m. PST

Oddworld Stranger features detailed interactive environments set in an enthralling new frontier of the Oddworld universe. Players step into the role of the Stranger, a rough and tumble bounty hunter who tracks down outlaws for moolah. Using a special weapons system that gives a whole new meaning to "live" ammo, players will encounter deviant species and hostile challenges along the way.

Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
Release Date: January 25, 2005

Developer Oddworld Inhabitants has always come out with some very unique games, to say the least. They do not shy away from sensitive issues and are known for combining many different human emotions – and a heavy dose of politics – in their games. They do this by taking real world issues and problems and displaying them in the fictional world known as "Oddworld." This clever way of game design has brought them much success in years past and has resulted in some amazing titles that have generated deep thoughts and sentiments from gamers.

Despite all of the past success, Oddworld Inhabitants has yet to really break through on the current generation of gaming consoles. Microsoft signed them up as a third-party developer to produce Oddworld titles exclusively for its Xbox console, which saw them release Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee in time for the Xbox launch in 2001. While not a bad title, it really was not the usual ground-breaking stuff gamers had come to expect from Oddworld Inhabitants, and it ended up being a pretty average title overall.

Since then, things have been extremely quiet about their next project. Little bits of information started to escape to the public, along with a screenshot or two, and gamers started getting excited again. That hype was really quieted a good bit when Microsoft announced that they were no longer going to publish the game, but Electronic Arts quickly came in and picked up the title and are now on the verge of releasing it in a few short weeks to the masses. After spending a lot of quality time with a build of this game, I have walked away very impressed.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath puts you in the role of a bounty hunter named "Stranger" who is in need of a lot of cash for some sort of medical operation. To raise the necessary funds, you find yourself hunting down all different types of outlaws and turning them in for money. Just like the old "WANTED!" posters from the Wild West days, you have the option of bringing them in dead or alive. Right off the bat, I really liked the whole theme of this game because you feel like you’re in one of Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns playing the role of "The Man with No Name." At least initially, the game looks and feels just like one of the Clint Eastwood classics, taking place in a world not unlike the Old West, complete with wagons and western styled towns. The settings change as you get deeper into the game, and you will eventually find yourself in much more lush and tropical places.

Stranger himself takes on the outlaws with his very own "peacemaker," but unlike the types of weapons used back in the Wild West, this one is quite a bit different. Stranger's weapon of choice is a crossbow, but this is not just any crossbow (remember, this is Oddworld here) because instead of arrows, this one can be equipped with a wide range of live animals that have different effects when fired. Some of these critters will emit a strong electrical shock or help distract enemies, while others will stun them with poison gas. One of the neat things about this "live ammo" system is how you get more of it. Unlike other shooters where you collect ammo from boxes or dead enemies, in Stranger's Wrath, you actually have to hunt down your ammunition. Throughout the levels, you will come across different animals that can be used as ammo for your crossbow, and you must stun and collect them. This is a really fun approach to an old system and adds a lot of depth to the gameplay.

Stranger's crossbow is not the only way for him to take on the baddies; he also can bust out the hand-to-hand combat too. This is done in third-person mode, where he has two different attacks: a spinning punch that is better for somewhat long-range attacks, and the headbutt, which is really up-close and personal. There is a good bit of platforming in Stranger's Wrath as well, and while passable in first-person view, this works great in third-person. The controls are very well done, and moving Stranger around his environments is no problem at all. In many levels, you will find different sections that require jumping, climbing and other platforming moves, and the controls never hold you back. All of the shooting with the crossbow is done in a first-person perspective that you can switch to at any time at the press of a button.

The gameplay flows nicely throughout the levels, and there is a good balance of shooting, platforming and adventure. As you progress, you will take on hordes of enemies that you must dispatch one way or another. It's your choice to bring them in dead or alive, but keep in mind that you get paid a lot more if they are alive. To do this, you have to stun or a kill an enemy and then "bag" them. Bagging the outlaws is a piece of cake and is done by pressing the B button on the controller. It takes a few seconds to do, but once done, you're on your way to the next batch of baddies.

Directly taking out enemies is the main way of doing business, but there are often things in the environments that you can use to your advantage. There is a good amount of strategy to be found here too, and using your head to look for other ways to deal with problems is a good idea. After you complete all of your goals on a mission, you can go back to town and cash in on your hunting at the Bounty Store, which is like a jail where you take all of your outlaws and collect your pay. This is also where you progress through the game's story by accepting other missions, and you can also do side and bonus missions by talking to the townsfolk.

Graphically speaking, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath is stunning, and this new engine really shows off the talent of the people at Oddworld Inhabitants. Each of the game's levels is beautifully textured and well-modeled, and you will see things such as blades of grass, flowers and weeds that stretch as far as the eye can see. There is also a good amount of polygons being used in the buildings and other objects in the levels, resulting in some of the best looking trees I have ever seen. Apart from that, the lighting also looks great as do the special effects, many of which are quite stunning.

The character models have always been extremely well done in past Oddworld games, and Stranger's Wrath is no exception. All of the character models look great and are very creative, to say the least, and they are also really well-animated. The levels themselves are huge not only in size but also in draw distance. You can see far into the horizon with no nasty fog or pop-ups to get in the way, and this is all topped off by a very smooth framerate that does not stutter at all.
Overall, I was very impressed with this latest offering from Oddworld Inhabitants. I am also very surprised that Microsoft decided to drop this game and not publish it because out of all third-party developed games for Xbox, this is easily one of the best. It is a very well-balanced title that combines first-person shooting with third-person combat and platforming/adventure in a single package.

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