Stranger’s Wrath marks Oddworld Inhabitants’ second foray into the Oddworld universe for the Xbox, and fans of the series can expect the same high production values, memorable characters and subtle humor that have become the trade mark of previous Oddworld titles.
You begin the game as a rough-and-tumble bounty hunter, known only as (get this) ?Stranger’. For the player, little is known except that Stranger is in dire need of an operation, and it’s your job to help him procure the necessary funds to pay for it. This title clearly takes the series in a new direction, but manages to retain many of the core elements that made previous entries in the Oddworld universe so successful. While, at first glance, this may look like little more than a zany first-person shooter, Stranger’s Wrath also offers up some solid platform action and manages to blend the two genres seamlessly. At a moment’s notice players can effortlessly make the transition between first to third-person by clicking the right thumbstick. This is useful, as you will often find yourself shifting back to third person to scope out the locations of enemies, as well as get a feel for the general layout of Stranger’s immediate surroundings. Stranger’s Wrath also has a hint of stealth action, thanks to the Metal Gear-like radar, which allows you to see your enemies’ fields of vision, as well as their awareness of Stranger’s presence. There’s even an indicator that tells you if you are safely concealed while lurking in tall grass or if you’ve been spotted by the enemy.
First-person movement is fairly standard, allowing Stranger to move forward and back and strafe left and right with the left analog stick, and rotate the camera with the right. Using the d-pad allows you to select whichever type of ammo you need at any given moment. Although many players may prefer the first-person action, there is much fun to be had while navigating many of the wide-open environments in third person. Stranger will actually drop to all fours and briskly cover what seems like miles. It’s almost like watching something on the Discovery channel. This dynamic is great because it’s not only fun to watch, but also keeps those moments when you have to go back and forth between objectives less time-consuming than they might have been. Stranger’s Wrath remains fairly balanced, offering a quick-save option, and it also allows you to continue from predetermined checkpoints should Stranger perish. However, there are no health items to speak of, leaving Stranger to shake off his wounds using a constantly refilling stamina bar. Beware, though, both melee attacks and healing quickly drain your stamina, leaving you vulnerable.
One of the more amusing aspects of the game is the ?live’ ammo system. In the opening movie, we find that Stranger doesn’t care for conventional firearms, opting to use a custom-designed, double-barreled crossbow instead. Ammo can be purchased at the general store or you can catch your own – in the wild. There are also numerous upgrades you can buy at the general store for Stranger’s crossbow. You can choose what ?critters’ to load into either side of the crossbow and experiment to find the best combination of ammo for each situation. While you could simply launch a boombat to blow up that outlaw, why not lure him out with a chippunk, tie him up with a bolamite, and double your reward for bringing him in alive? If you’re feeling sadistic, blast him with a thudslug and send him reeling into a large, spinning fan blade. Stranger’s Wrath offers plenty of room for improvisation, and never leaves you feeling tied down to the notion of completing levels in a singular fashion.
Even though you are rewarded for bringing in the bad guys alive, sometimes this proves to be quite a chore. Some bosses make their weaknesses known immediately, but many encounters make it difficult to discover how to bag your foe alive, and you’ll find yourself loading up the boombats in favor of increasing your body count.
Stranger’s Wrath looks magnificent. From the lush, outdoor environments to the often-hilarious character models, there is plenty of eye candy on display here. Wind pushes blades of grass through dust-ridden towns, a rainbow-like glare from the sun will appear when looking up at the sky, and the camera will briefly blur out of focus when using Stranger’s binoculars to spy on enemy activity. Stranger’s animation as he walks is comical. With an almost arrogant swagger, Stranger looks like he just strolled off the set of a John Wayne movie. Particle effects are dazzling and take full advantage of the Xbox hardware. Sparks fly from the wheels of rickety mine carts and brilliant flashes of light during gun battles add an extra layer of shine to an already solid graphical presentation.
Cut scenes are an absolute treat, advancing the story as much as they impress, with their smooth animation. Besides serving as a nice reward for capturing a few bosses, these animations also go a long way in fleshing out Stranger’s character and creating a genuine player interest in unraveling the mysteries of this gruff vigilante.
Chock-full of dialog, the audio doesn’t disappoint. Stranger may not seem like much of a talker, but his drawn out, raspy speech complements the game’s locales perfectly. Listening in on enemy conversations is hilarious, making you want to spare their lives for a few more minutes just to listen to them ramble. Hitting ?X’ induces a revamped version of the game-speak that was utilized to interact with NPCs in previous Oddworld incarnations. If other characters are around, Stranger will inquire about his next objective. However, if ?X’ is pressed when no one is around to converse with, Stranger will simply talk to himself, reiterating his current objective so you’re never unclear about where to go next. While this works well for keeping the action on track, it’s a bit disappointing that this interaction couldn’t have been used to introduce some new gameplay possibilities.
Music in Stranger’s Wrath does an excellent job of getting you in the mindset of a lone bounty hunter. It’s wonderfully dramatic and aptly sets the overall tone of the game. Twangy western guitar solos play for Stranger after capturing his bounties and you’ll hear the occasional banjo while making your way through town. As detailed as the graphics are, you can expect the same level of quality from the game’s sound effects, too. Stranger’s boot spurs punctuate his stride with an ominous jingle as he walks, and hearing his skull smack into a boulder when running at high speeds just sounds plain painful. The game’s audio is spot-on.
Stranger’s Wrath reeks of replay value. The environments are so massive and intricate that you can’t help but constantly rethink your plan of attack. High ledges beg to be used as sniper positions and there are multiple paths to get Stranger to where he needs to be. Whether you want to rush in guns blazing or prefer to adopt a more covert approach, Oddworld Inhabitants have left you with plenty of options.
Despite the fact that Stranger is a fairly versatile character, controlling him is nothing short of simple and intuitive. In typical fashion, the game’s first level walks you through the controls and provides performance and action prompts for you to gather a feel for how Stranger moves and attacks. Selecting what to load up into your crossbow is as easy as moving the d-pad up and down to cycle through ammo, followed by left or right to assign the chosen critter to the left or right barrel. Bounty Stores act as the hub from which all bounties are assigned, and there are plenty of clearly marked signs in and around the towns to point you in the right direction. Stranger’s Wrath does present a challenge, but is never mind-numbingly difficult.
If you’re looking for a unique first-person shooter with a great story, accented with a western flavor, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath delivers.