Oddworld Soulstorm review – Much more than a remake
More than two decades after the Oddworld franchise was unleashed on the world, the proper sequel that creator Lorne Lanning always imagined has finally come to fruition. Was Oddworld: Soulstorm worth the wait? Absolutely.
Abe’s come a long way since the good ol’ PlayStation 1 days. After making his debut as a clueless cog packing meat at the mega-corporation known as RuptureFarms in 1997’s Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, this unlikely hero embarked on a mission to free Mudokons from slavery the world over and has become a certified icon in the gaming world.
The original classic received a ground-up remake called New ’n’ Tasty in 2014, marking the beginning of an Oddworld reboot that would fulfill the franchise’s early promise to deliver a quintology in a way that it was always intended to be. Now, the second of five games, Soulstorm, has finally (and triumphantly) arrived after years of teasing.
Originally touted as a reboot of the 1998 expansion Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus, Soulstorm goes far beyond that sales pitch and elevates the game from ‘more of the same’ to an entirely new experience. It stands strongly on its own and revels in its glorious odd-ness.
Oddworld: Soulstorm – Key Details
- Price: $49.99
- Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
- Release date: April 6, 2021
- Platforms: PS4, PS5, PC (Epic Games Store)
Oddworld Soulstorm Launch Trailer
More than a simple remake
It’s easy to question why a reboot from the simpler days of the ‘90s took years and multiple delays to come out, but spend even five minutes with the game and you’ll quickly appreciate the sheer amount of work that’s gone into creating Soulstorm; so much so that calling it a remake is simply untrue.
This certainly doesn’t rely on nostalgia to sell itself. Unlike 2014’s New ’n’ Tasty, a mostly straight (and very good) remake of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Soulstorm takes the second installment in the franchise and gives it a massive overhaul – not just a fresh lick of paint.
This is evident right from the get-go, as the original game’s opening cinematic, which sees Abe and the Mudokons traverse through the desert after escaping RuptureFarms, has now been replaced by entirely new playable levels. There’s also the welcome return of nefarious OG villain Molluck the Glukkon, who’s hellbent on stopping Abe’s mission to free even more Mudokons and lead an uprising against the ruthless corporations that enslaved them.
These levels are bolstered by some absolutely top-class cinematics that really elevates Soulstorm’s world-building and storytelling, helping you invest even more in Abe’s journey to become the hero he’s destined to be.
Oddworld’s side-scrolling action remains, but gone are the transitions between individual screens. Instead, the game’s world is fully realized in what’s been dubbed as 2.9D, and it looks absolutely stunning. Grim, yes, but still stunning. Every part of Soulstorm feels alive, from the detailed backdrops to the Mudokons and villains you’ll interact with. There’s now a proper sense of the enormous scale of the environments.
Infuriating puzzles are the name of the game
When it comes to gameplay, the typical Oddworld elements are present as ever: double-jumping over wide gaps; rolling to safety if you’re set on fire; sneaking past enemies without alerting them; chanting to unlock doors and possess Sligs who can take out other enemies or pull distant levers for you. The good news is that everything feels far more fluid than we remember.
Things don’t stay this simple for long, though, as puzzling scenarios quickly appear that require more than just basic platforming skills. Longtime fans of Oddworld will know that this trial-and-error gameplay that requires you to really stop and think is the franchise’s major selling point. For the most part, Soulstorm does it very well.
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Early on, for example, Glukkon technology suppresses your ability to chant, meaning you have to find other ways to progress. Pacifists may choose to tie up their sleeping enemies with tape, while more aggressive players can throw a Brew Bottle into a flame to set them alight.
As you progress, new items like stun mines and smokescreens become available in the crafting menu, giving you even more options to make it through the game’s increasingly harder puzzles and enemies. This new system has been referred to as “crafting-lite” by Oddworld creator Lorne Lanning, and that’s a pretty apt description. Crafting is largely optional, but definitely helps solve a number of tricky scenarios.
While most puzzles ultimately feel satisfying, some of them are a little too frustrating. Disabling four mines in a row – a process that requires precise button pressing – early on feels unnecessarily tedious, especially when these mines can be accidentally reactivated quite easily. This small section resulted in a number of deaths that felt unfair on our playthrough. This frustration is part and parcel with Oddworld, though, and certainly won’t be a surprise for those returning to the world.
It’s also worth noting that quite a few of the puzzles and enemy-filled screens in Soulstorm can be tackled with brute force rather than with careful planning. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is down to the individual’s playstyle, but knowing that simply blowing everything up could work just as well as using brain power does sometimes take away from the feeling of achievement when pulling off a great plan.
Is Abe good or bad? That’s up to you
Much of Soulstorm’s charm comes from the small-yet-meaningful freedoms it gives the player as they progress through the game. When releasing a possessed Slig, for example, you can simply knock them out for a few moments – long enough for you to pass by unharmed – or choose to brutally explode them instead. Your fellow Mudokons can be commanded to be aggressive or passive, and even the basic gameplay element of ‘how many Mudokons can you save?’ feels intrinsically tied to how ‘good’ your version of Abe is.
As you progress through each level, you’ll be awarded Quarma – Soulstorm’s real-time version of karma – based on a variety of factors including the number of Mudokons you save and how many you let die. They may just be virtual characters on your screen, but those numbers are surprisingly capable of making you feel guilty – and they’ll have a real effect on the outcome of the game, with four separate endings ranging from worst to best depending on your Quarma scores.
It’s this humanity that has carried Oddworld through the last two decades and kept it in the hearts of gamers around the world. Themes like slavery and corporate greed reflect real-world issues and tap into our emotions, amplifying the sense of responsibility to protect the vulnerable Mudokons, who are largely docile creatures simply following Abe’s directions. This is a dark franchise with even darker themes, but there’s always a splash of wry humor or slither of hope among the tragedy, and Soulstorm builds on these foundations well.
Some bugs to be ironed out
Despite a day one patch, there are a few bugs remaining in Soulstorm. The first sees Abe caught in an infinite falling loop, which can be fixed by returning to the last checkpoint; the second appears to be specific to PS4 and PS4 Pro consoles, and boots players to the home screen. Neither of these bugs will result in loss of save data, and we’ve been informed that a fix is already being worked on.
While we didn’t encounter these bugs on our playthrough, there were a couple of occasions where Abe simply froze in place and couldn’t move. The only way to fix this was to exit the game and load it up again. Hopefully, this will also be addressed in a future update, although with the abundance of checkpoints in the game, it’s certainly not a dealbreaker.
Soulstorm does occasionally feel stuck in the past, which is understandable when you’re playing a side-scrolling platformer-meets-puzzle-solver that was originally conceived in the ’90s, but overall it does a fantastic job of taking a beloved cult classic and updating it for the modern day.
While it will most likely appeal to longtime Oddworld fans, we do hope a new generation of gamers give Soulstorm a go, as this is a franchise that’s definitely worthy of the love it receives – and we can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Oddworld: Soulstorm is far more than the quick throwback cash-ins the industry has been pumping out lately. It’s a fully revamped experience that manages to feel classic yet fresh, with themes that are just as relevant as they were 20 years ago.
Other developers take note: This is how you do a ‘remake’ the right way.
Reviewed on PS5