Oddworld: Soulstorm Review

Matt Lorrigan

If, like me, you’ve only ever dipped your toe into the Oddworld franchise, the very first level of Oddworld: Soulstorm is more than happy to teach you what to expect from the latest game in the series. A daring, cinematic escape sequence pushes you forward, but should you (understandably) sprint headfirst away from danger, you’re likely to run into… well, even more danger. Falling spiky balls; sniper laser pointers; deadly machinery; and heavily armed Sligs - whatever the cause, you’re going to die a lot in Oddworld: Soulstorm, that much is clear from the outset.

Oddworld: Soulstorm is a strange game to pin down. Simultaneously a remake of Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus and a sequel to Oddworld: New N’ Tasty (itself a remake of Abe’s Oddysee) Soulstorm attempts to bring the classic brew of 2D puzzles and platforming that the series started life with, into the modern era. From a visual perspective, it absolutely succeeds. With a cinematic camera that pulls away to reveal sweeping landscapes, or rotates around corners to offer new perspectives, the odd world of Oddworld has never looked this good. The cutscenes are incredibly well made too, up there with pretty much any AAA title on PlayStation, and inject our protagonist Abe with a ton of pathos. There’s a real heart at the centre of Soulstorm’s story, and it’s delivered with great aplomb.


Abe is going to need a bigger torch.

Unfortunately, once the cutscenes end and the gameplay begins, old and new don’t blend quite as well. While the PS1 Oddworld titles (and New N’ Tasty) are technically puzzle-platformers, the emphasis was always strongly on the former. The platforming took a back seat, with Abe only really able to jump small gaps or drop down ledges, and the games were heavily built around these restrictions. In Soulstorm, however, Abe is graced with a physics-based double jump, which lends proceedings a far more fluid feel.

With Abe more mobile than ever,many of the levels have been designed to match, but it can often feel like a square peg being forced into a Mudokon-shaped hole. Combat plays a large role in many levels, and while confrontation can occasionally be avoided with clever stealth and savvy use of items, a number of forced combat encounters will often have you weighing up the cost of a new DualSense versus the catharsis of throwing it against the wall. Despite his new manoeuvrability, Abe simply isn’t built for a fight. Possessing a nearby Slig - the weird, tentacle-y enforcers of the villainous Glukkons - lets you hijack their weapon as well, which makes things a bit easier. But Soulstorm frequently outfits its combat arenas with electrocuting Chant Suppressors, forcing you to awkwardly flail about as Abe, desperately chucking items about while attempting to avoid the Slig’s deadly firearms.


Your weapons of choice in Soulstorm are a selection of cobbled-together items, fabricated using the game’s crafting system. Thematically, it’s wonderfully appropriate - there is perhaps no greater video game depiction of anti-capitalism than that of Abe, lobbing homebrew explosives assembled from the “complimentary” drinks and snacks provided by the Mudokon’s enslavers. Item management is something you always have to consider, and you might find there are times where you’re left in the later stages of a level, wishing you hadn’t used up some of your stronger items. Do you restart the hour-long level so you're better prepared for the tough combat section you’ve previously been stuck on, or do you brute-force your way through instead? Neither option is particularly appealing.

It’s not all doom and gloom. In the levels where Oddworld: Soulstorm does leave combat behind, and places a stronger focus on well-crafted puzzles, the game really shines. When you’re having to carefully sneak past enemy guards, hitting switches to turn off hazardous machinery, all the while gathering a group of your fellow Mudokons to lead to safety, everything clicks into place. You’re still likely to die plenty of times along the way, but here it feels like your own failure, one you can remedy on the next attempt, rather than a test of reflexes that you don’t feel properly equipped for. Going from one level to the next in Oddworld: Soulstorm can sometimes feel like playing two entirely different games.


Charge!

Oddworld: Soulstorm is easily at its best when it slows things down, so it’s disappointing that it seems so set on throwing combat and fast-paced platforming into the mix. To counter the inevitable player frustration, checkpointing has been made very frequent, but this feels like an acknowledgment of the problem and a quick fix; duct tape used to cover up a structural crack. A litany of glitches and bugs at launch only make things even more infuriating, although developer Oddworld Inhabitants has promised a fix in a future update.

Oddworld: Soulstorm’s highs are infrequent but often excellent, with wonderful visuals, an engaging story and a unique world to explore, as well as a few great puzzle levels that prove enormously gratifying. The rest of the game, however, seems determined to frustrate. As it stands, it's difficult to recommend pushing through the bad stuff, in order to reach the good.

Oddworld: Soulstorm

Occasionally brilliant but frequently infuriating, Oddworld: Soulstorm is an uneven experience that will often leave you feeling out of control, even without taking into account the frequent bugs and glitches currently found in the game.

Form widget
55%
Audio
70%

There’s some good (if occasionally irritating) voice acting on display here, and the music helps enforce the oppressive atmosphere of Oddworld.

Visuals
80%

Soulstorm frequently looks excellent in both cutscenes and gameplay, although the 2.5D effects and camera angles can occasionally make the game a bit more difficult to play than it needs to be.

Playability
60%

Levels are overly long and very hit-or-miss. There’s fun to be found in the few well-crafted puzzle levels, but forced combat encounters only bring frustration.

Delivery
50%

The controls are often unresponsive and imprecise, undermining some strong level design and leading to many failures that feel completely avoidable. A multitude of crashes, bugs and glitches just add fuel to that frustration.

Trophies
60%

Not a terrible list, but with one trophy that requires you beat every level without Abe dying, going for the Platinum will be an extreme test of patience.

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