Now a few months have passed since launch, I can confidently say that Oddworld Soulstorm was a victim of its own ambition. The studio behind it wanted to expand upon Abe’s Exoddus, an original PlayStation classic that trounced its predecessor in every conceivable way. It’s still brilliant today, but with Soulstorm, Oddworld Inhabitants hoped to supersede its initial vision for the sequel by using modern technology, enhanced visuals, and refined mechanics to create something that was no longer confined by arbitrary constraints.
The finished product was passable, but sadly didn’t deliver on such lofty promises. It left behind much of its morbid brilliance in favour of an experience that felt too compounded by unnecessary lore and political themes with no subtlety whatsoever. It seemed detached from the universe it supposedly belonged to, delving deeper into spiritual themes and the dangers of industrialiazation with a less than deft hand, failing to provide its central character with a satisfactory arc alongside them. Still, Soulstorm is relatively accomplished from a storytelling perspective, despite suffering from a notable level of inconsistency.
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It’s in the gameplay department where it really suffered, twisting a simplistic mixture of platforming and puzzles into a needlessly complicated affair where resource management and crafting were pushed to the forefront. Abe’s reactive stealth was thrown aside, meaning so much time was spent rifling through containers and diving into the pause menu to conjure up boring items instead of existing in this world. As a place, Oddworld remains unmatched, and it’s a crying shame that Soulstorm never takes enough time to explore it. Instead, we’re taken on a linear journey through boring ruins, repetitive industrial complexes, and rusting factories that seldom ignite the imagination. It was boring, which is the last descriptor I ever expected to prescribe to a series I grew up with and adore so much.
While the mark was missed, Oddworld Soulstorm is clearly a labour of love, and one with the best of intentions at its core. However, I feel it forgets the impact of its legacy, and how Abe’s Oddysee, Exoddus, and all the games that followed are held in very high regard. By treating them as the first attempt and defining Soulstorm as the new blueprint, or a canonical, expanded version of the original tale, you’re already playing with fire. I’m all for remakes, with 2014’s New ‘N’ Tasty being a pitch perfect example of taking the original adventure and crafting it into something new. It was amazing, and if Oddworld Soulstorm had followed a similar trajectory, I likely wouldn't be talking about it in such a way right now.
Instead, it aimed too far and came up short, failing to deliver on its myriad systems in a way that gelled with a world and characters that are known for being simplistic, as is the gameplay model they’ve adopted for more than two decades. By tinkering with that without the right resources, the studio only set itself up for failure. Even glancing back at Lorne Lanning talking about the game several years ago, the cracks were already starting to show, with mention of ambitious gameplay ideas and narrative touchstones that flirted with changing too much while lacking the necessary components to accomplish that change without compromise.
I think this compromise is important to highlight, since with Oddworld Soulstorm, it feels like every transcendent idea is met with one of equal frustration. These environments are gorgeous and seemingly stretch on for several miles, but my place within them is on a linear path blocked by cumbersome obstacles. The new movement controls are excellent, yet I’m forced to stop every few seconds to rummage in my backpack or deal with a trap that can only be foiled through an awfully imprecise throwing reticle. It’s always one step forward and two steps back, with this trend continuing right up until the credits rolled.
Soulstorm is still a special game to me, partly because it represents a continuation of a world I grew up with, and characters I was finally seeing realise their full potential. Except it was a bittersweet reunion, likely because Oddworld Inhabitants is detached from this sense of nostalgia, keen to meld its property into one that can build on its legacy without relying too much on the past. Sadly, sometimes it’s necessary to mine nostalgia, to ensure existing fans are along for the ride as you attempt to recruit newcomers into the fold.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake did this perfectly, albeit with a much larger budget and development team, but it knew when to harken back to the past and when to march forward confidently into the future. In comparison, Soulstorm is marching onward without a map to ensure it’s going in the right direction. It’s lost as a result of its own goals, missing every point it could have scored. But there’s love at the centre of this, and I can cherish that even if I have to come to terms with my own dissapointment.
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Jade King is one of the Features Editors for TheGamer. Previously Gaming Editor over at Trusted Reviews, she can be found talking about games, anime and retweeting Catradora fanart @KonaYMA6.
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