After a lengthy wait and plenty of anticipation, Oddworld: Soulstorm is finally here. Released as a free bonus game for PS5 owners with a PlayStation Plus subscription but also available as a separate purchase and for the PS4, here are our thoughts.
When we recently watched the PlayStation Revolution documentary that came out last year, we noticed that one of the experts interviewed was Lorne Lanning, who’s been behind the Oddworld franchise since the earliest days of PlayStation. He talked about how new technology allowed them to bridge the gap between movie and videogames to deliver audiovisual storytelling on a scale that wasn’t possible in the 16-bit days. It was a thought that was the driving force behind the creation of one of the most charming and enduring characters in videogaming in Abe, and it’s a vision that’s alive and well in Oddworld: Soulstorm twenty-five years later.
Oddworld: New ‘n Tasty, the 2014 remake of the very first Oddworld game, remains one of our all-time favorites on the PlayStation Vita, and although it’s not a strict follow-up in the traditional sense (it doesn’t remake Abe’s Exodus), Soulstorm is definitely a successor to that reboot – bigger in scale, and easily the best-looking game in the franchise yet.
It retains the 2D gameplay of the first games while expanding on the 2.5D visual style and effects of New ‘n Tasty, and reintroduces us to Abe. It does so with gorgeous cutscenes that gets you up to speed on where Abe and his fellow mudokons are and how corporate greed is a danger to them all. If you have the opportunity I would suggest playing New ‘n Tasty before embarking on Soulstorm to get more comfortable with the story and world and get the most enjoyment out of this new adventure, but it’s not required.
The game itself is still very much a puzzle platformer, just like the original concept, so fans of the original PS1 games will feel right at home. At that time cinematic platformers were still in their infancy (a trend that, for me, started with Another World), and Soulstorm demonstrates that the formula still works while at the same time showing us how far technology has come. With camera angles that smoothly pan, rotate and zoom in and out, this one is a joy to watch and tells a visual story that’s engaging even to those not actively playing, which is something we rarely see in 2D games.
Abe isn’t a warrior, so stealth is definitely his friend and the earlier scenes in particular will have you sticking to the shadows in order to survive and either avoid or ambush enemies with traps and/or trickery. Part of why that approach seems fitting is that Abe has never felt responsive to control, and Soulstorm doesn’t “fix” that either. Abe can feel a bit unwieldy, so you’ll naturally want to go for the smart solution rather than a full on confrontation.
To help you with this, you still have access to Abe’s ability to possess enemies and take over their bodies and skills, which helps you to take them out and save your mudokon buddies. There is almost always a puzzle element involved in doing so, and many challenges have multiple solutions you can apply to them. This encourages experimentation and replayability, and the puzzles – along with the cinematic presentation – are clear highlights of the game.
How you approach the game also ties in to the karma system, called Quarma here. You’ll want to save as many of your friends as you can, but you also don’t want to be too violent about it. Succeed, and you’ll unlock the final level and the “good” ending. If you get the other one, you can always go back and improve your performance in previous levels – finding hidden secrets being another reason to do so.
But as enjoyable as Soulstorm is, especially to longtime fans, it’s also plagued by a few rough edges. A few major bugs were only squashed days before the release of the game, but something like the occasional weird behavior by NPCs reveals that Soulstorm could have used a bit more polish to be closer to the modern day equivalent to a classic that it should have been.
As it stands, Oddworld: Soulstorm is warm bath for longtime Oddworld fans, but newcomers might want to start out with New ‘n Tasty while the Soulstorm experience gets polished a little more. On the bright side, Soulstorm looks just as gorgeous on the PS4, where it’s one of the best looking games we’ve seen in the past year – so definitely don’t miss out if you’re not jumping to the PS5 right away.