If you've never played an Oddworld game and seen how it all comes together, then you'll probably be horrified to learn that just about every Oddworld: Soulstorm is a giant escort mission. Not only that, but the followers you are following do not have the brain that God promised a goat, they are terribly killed by anything that sneezes at them and they complain almost constantly – and all this was done by the developers on purpose. The challenge of this unusual action platform game is to keep these hopelessly useless creatures alive through increasingly deadly levels through trial and many, many, many mistakes.
While it can be annoying at times, the genius of the Oddworld series is in the moments right after me or my followers are faced with a totally avoidable death and I can't help but look at myself and laugh before trying again. His lemming-like followers will plunge unthinkingly straight into deadly obstacles, take a long time to walk through an area that requires precise time to survive, and will do practically nothing to defend themselves when attacked. You are the shepherd of the world's dumbest flock of sheep, which is often fun and almost always extremely challenging.
Oddworld: Soulstorm is a new version from 1998 Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus that reimagines the incredibly bizarre scenario that is Oddworld. But the remake remains as devilishly difficult as PS1-era games: each level finds a new way to put you and your followers at risk in a tortuous test of your intelligence, creativity and patience. One area may require you to pass armed guards that you have no hope of defying in open combat, while another asks you to keep waves of enemies occupied long enough for hundreds of your followers to flee.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Each%20level%20finds%20a%20new%20way%20to%20imperil%20the%20lives%20of%20you%20and%20your%20followers%20in%20a%20devious%20test%20of%20your%20cleverness%2C%20creativity%2C%20and%20patience.”] Soulstorm's only act of mercy – and its saving grace – is its checkpoint system, which saves your progress after almost all obstacles. Minimizing the amount of difficult challenges you will have to repeat does wonders for your ability to laugh when you are maimed by an armed guard or leave a dozen followers dead for wandering in a trap. Repeated failures with minimal risk allow you to master each section and plan the perfect strategy to overcome the last obstacle with you and your followers intact. The downside is that the checkpoint system does not allow you to manually save when you want, which leads to some annoying sections where you have to plunder an area again and remake all your weapons after each death. This is very time consuming and ages very quickly.
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The main tool you have at your disposal, however, is Abe's incredible ability to possess enemies and use them as meat puppets against the enemy. You can make possessed enemies kill your friends, or help you solve a puzzle, or explode just to get them out of your way. This is a great way to give you an advantage against the huge odds that are against you. Soulstorm is a little stingy about how often you are able to really use your shamanic powers, because the enemy puts anti-chanting devices all over the place that will shock you if you try to own something. Then again, it probably wouldn't be much of a challenge if they didn't.
The worst sections are when you are forced to trust your followers to help in combat, which is often an absolute disaster. Your incompetent allies are incredibly inconsistent, even when ordered to stay at one point and equipped manually with the best weapons for the job. Slow to react and completely clueless, their mudokon friends often let themselves be killed without offering any kind of fight and can only stand with an empty expression while watching a slig with a shotgun butchering a dozen of their friends. These sections are, without a doubt, my least favorite because they seemed to depend on total luck, which made me roar to the screen.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=The%20worst%20sections%20are%20when%20you%E2%80%99re%20forced%20to%20rely%20on%20your%20followers%20to%20assist%20in%20combat.”] Although the legitimate challenge is a difficult and fun fight, there are also some unfortunate unintended difficulties added in the form of bugs, and Soulstorm has many of them. In my moves, I found everything from visual flaws to problems that can break the game, like my followers disappearing completely from the level. In the vast majority of cases, going back to the main menu and reloading the level or closing and relaunching Soulstorm fixed the problem, but bugs are so common that they can increase your frustration in a game that pushes you to the limit on purpose as it is .
In one case, one of my followers refused to enter any portal and run towards freedom, which means that my perfect run on a particularly challenging level was burned. In another, I was unable to hear any dialogue during an end-level cutscene and had to repeat the entire level to avoid losing the story. Sometimes, certain enemies would be immune to my attempts to harm them for no reason. The list goes on and on. The developer Oddworld Inhabeground is aware of many bugs and has already released some updates to solve some of these problems, but with so many bugs to eliminate it is clear that Soulstorm would have benefited from a little more polishing (as is the case with many games developed in the COVID-19 era).
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Of course, you can always say "screw it" and advance each level without saving anyone, but that will inevitably lead to an early end to your adventure with an ending that is completely depressing (and well-deserved, your selfish monster). There are four endings in total: the worst end, the bad end, the good end and the best end. The worst and best endings are simply small variations of the bad and good endings, respectively, the last that can be seen only by the most dedicated players and the first that honors those who are impressively terrible at keeping their teammates alive. The differences between the good and bad endings, however, are very significant. By mastering each level and exploring every nook and cranny to rescue all of your slave brothers, you are rewarded with two additional levels at the end of the campaign and an ending that is worthy of your hard work and determination. It is an incredible incentive to keep as many of your followers alive as possible and has driven me to seek a perfect conclusion at all levels.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=The%20differences%20between%20the%20good%20and%20bad%20endings%20are%20very%20significant.”] After playing on Soulstorm, you unlock the ability to repeat the levels, which can be useful if you are unable to reach the final finish on the first attempt. The caveat here is that you have to win an entire level in a replay session. This seems like an intentional choice and it would be nice if everything worked 100% of the time, but with tons of bugs – many of which are fixed by exiting the app or going back to the main menu – this means that a bug can cause you to lose an hour whole or more of progress. There.
One of the things that makes Soulstorm completely worth the absolute pain in the neck that its challenging levels and numerous bugs used to be is its history. Mudokon rebels are lovable and pitiful idiots, power-hungry glukkons are disgusting and opportunistic monsters, and the dystopian depiction of the scene of rampant capitalism and environmental destruction is unique, incredibly distinct and hilariously macabre. Everything about Soulstorm is so charming and supernatural that it's easy to be dragged into Abe's journey from clueless slave to unlikely revolutionary, and as soon as the credits rolled, I found myself crossing my fingers for a (hopefully less buggy) remake of  in the near future.
The controls have also been reworked from previous inputs to be more responsive, and while you still need a little more work, the maneuverability you have in Soulstorm is the best the series has ever seen. There are definitely some areas that need to be improved, such as the unpredictable nature of their ability to rear overhangs or swing from pole to pole during platform sections, but it's still night and day compared to the damage of Oddworld: New No. Tasty . In particular, the responsiveness of the double jump allows you to more accurately navigate obstacles and survive the treasure trove of deadly traps that await you in any area.
The weapons inventory and manufacturing system are intelligently designed and offer a great incentive to explore every nook and cranny in search of tools that make the way easier. For example, you can create rubber balls to instantly capture almost all enemies, but the cost of the resources required to do so is quite high. You can also create sticky explosive grenades to open paths to new areas and detonate enemies, or build a flamethrower that makes advancing much easier on all levels.
The downside is that you have to start from zero materials at the beginning of each level, which can be a little frustrating after spending the last hour accumulating a full arsenal in the previous one, but it is understandable because it controls the tools to which you has access at all levels to add some interesting challenges. For example, at the beginning of a level, you can have only the supplies needed to make smoke bombs, forcing you to use only secrecy to cross the area. Later, when you gather more supplies and can create different tools, your options for addressing the next areas will open up a little.
While most areas represent a major improvement over Abe's Exoddus, if there is one area that still needs some work, it is Soulstorm's sound design. Frankly, in addition to the excellent voice acting, Soulstorm is an auditory nightmare. For starters, the sound levels are totally inconsistent – sometimes the voices are very low and the sound effects are very loud. Sometimes, I could barely hear what was going on and turned up the volume, only to make things terribly loud a few moments later, which made me frantically grab the remote. Tinkering with the audio levels in the settings does not help much to improve the situation, since there is very little consistency in how loud the noise is.
Music is also scarce on Soulstorm, which means that most of the time you hear machinery tinkling in the background or dog-like creatures called slogs constantly barking (or whining for their lives when they are killed, which made my skin crawl). I was tempted to simply press the mute button and save myself from the unpleasant things, especially during long sessions. For a remake that improves so much that defined it in the past, it is disappointing that Soulstorm can be a real headache to hear.