Soulstorm: the newest oddventure with a nostalgic aftertaste

Oddworld is one of the most classic, iconic sagas that has ever graced us. The adventures of Abe, Munch and other Oddworld creatures have always managed to fascinate us with their unique gameplay, environment and situations. Soulstorm is the latest installment of this saga, does it stand to high standards?

I still remember the first game, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. It was marketed as an “alive” experience. This was incredibly revolutionary, since the game was based on gamespeak features, where you had to communicate with your fellow mudokons (the survivors of your species) so that you’d make it out alive bringing along the maximum number of them with you. Commands such as “follow me”, “wait”, “hello” and many more. This gamespeak feature was made even more complex in its sequel, Abe’s Exoddus, with the addition of mudokons that had states such as angry, sad or sick, and there were even blind mudokons. All of that made the gamespeak feature all the most interesting, adding a lot of variety, difficulty, realism and personality to what always was an atypical platform and puzzle game.
The saga has been offering a variety of games, styles and characters over the years, and this is when we get to Soulstorm.

Soulstorm is an incredibly beautiful game that began developing several years ago. The studio, Oddworld Inhabitants, has to make-do with an indie budget. Being indie has positive and negative sides. The most obvious positive side is that you can bring to the market a game that doesn’t meet specific marketable criteria. You do you and you bring your view of games. Oddworld has always had this indie mindset, bringing us games which are very distinctly different from everything else in the market.

In Soulstorm we play as Abe, in the sequel of the remake New n Tasty, in his quest to free all slave mudokons working in the Soulstorm factory, where the brew is made. This game, at first marketed as a remake of Exoddus, offers a completely new story, plot twists and a fully renovated gameplay.

This game takes on a more modern twist with the addition of an inventory system that allows Abe to fabricate weapons and traps of all kinds, along with new sneaking features and a more advanced posession system. The number of mudokons to rescue is also a lot higher than usual, and they are more intelligent and useful than before as you can assign different weapons to them to help you along the way.

Enemies lack a bit here, and this is because there isn’t anywhere as much variety of enemies as in any of the previous games. We almost only face Sligs most of the time, although there are a lot of different types of these enemies in the game. There are only a couple of other types of enemies other than Sligs, which is kind of a shame, since in Exoddus (the game this one drinks from) there was a really wide range of enemies.

Soulstorm offers a modern game experience with a really versatile gameplay that requires the player to act and think fast. This clashes with previous games, especially the two first ones, as they had a much more paused rythim and were way more demanding when it came to puzzle solving. Soulstorm is both easier and harder, in the sense that puzzles aren’t anywhere as hard as the classic games, but also it requires the player to move and act a lot faster most of the time.

Without going into spoiling anything, and to sum up, we have a game whose greatest assets are:

  • A completely new (and much better) story than the game it takes as a reference (Abe’s Exoddus). This game is absolutely worth playing from beginning to end just for the exquisite story
  • A much more improved narrative that makes for much deeper characters, who have a bigger personality now and makes it much easier for the player to connect with them
  • A visually astonishing experience, both in game and cutscenes, with a much more vivid palette than other titles, full of impressive depth effects and lighting design
  • Mudokons speak among themselves, likewise Abe talks to himself. That gives them personality, so it’s a great improvement
  • New characters and lore that talk about mudokons, their history and the future of Abe
  • We can go back and choose to replay any level to rescue more mudokons at any time

However, on the downside, we get:

  • A difficulty curve that’s all over the place. There are really hard sections followed by really easy ones with extremely hard ones thrown in
  • An almost non-existant soundtrack, which is pretty much a barely-there background music
  • Repetitive enemies, it’s almost only Sligs all the time (although there are more types of them now)
  • It is also only Sligs that we can possess. In other games, Abe could posess a wide range of enemies, from wild paramites to the high-rank glukkons
  • A gameplay that’s a lot faster, less thought-based than the original games. Everything happens much faster and the puzzles aren’t anywhere as demanding as before, and this is an aspect a lot of players may dislike
  • Speaking of gameplay, and although I know they are working on this already, sometimes enemies feel incredibly overpowered (like they can see through walls, for instance), and other times controls are extremely imprecise, resulting in dying not because of your own skills, but rather because of the way the game responds to you
  • Abe is not that much of a saviour anymore since mudokons can now help. In early games, mudokons completely depended on him. Now they actually help us, which leads to making us feel less of a saviour and more of a colleague to them
  • Gamespeak is almost completely gone by now. The complex system that made the original games rise above everything that was in the market has been diminished to just two orders: “hello” and “wait”
  • The classic dark, borderline foul humor is gone. No more farts, don’t expect too much gore either. There’s still some family-friendly humor though
  • The interface looks incredibly generic and lackluster. Sure, it’s functional… to a point. Fonts used are terribly small and hard to read. Compared to classic games, this is a big downside

So, all in all, would I recommend this game? Absolutely.
Is it a bad game? Not by far.

But the truth is it could have been better with a different approach, harder puzzles, a more paused tempo, a bigger variety of enemies… and with a much more prominent use of gamespeak.
I understand they are trying to play with more modern ways of playing but let’s not forget that Oddworld games have always done “their own thing” and that’s what players look for when playing a game from the franchise, so I am not sure it is a good move to add these more marketable features such as the faster gameplay or the crafting system.

If you are looking for the classic Oddworld experience, you may become disappointed. If you come to Soulstorm with an open mind, you’ll discover a really fun game that has a really good story to offer, charismatic characters you will fall in love with, and an overall remarkable adventure that leaves you wanting more.