Oddworld: Soulstorm is a fascinating game all-around. Its grim world is endlessly intriguing, as is the earnest presentation through which the story is delivered. The gameplay goes between pleasantly tense and frustrating, but the atmosphere is top-notch. It’s a suitably odd game to get into, but you’ll find it can be quite rewarding once you dig into it.
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
Price: $50 (free on PS+ for April 2021)
Platforms: PS4, PS5 (reviewed), and PC
MonsterVine was provided with a PS5 code for review.
I’ve never played an Oddworld game before, but the series is so diverse that it probably doesn’t matter. There are 2D platformers, 3D platformers, and shooters all within the franchise, though Soulstorm follows the original game, Abe’s Oddysee, as a 2D platformer. This works quite well in some respects, though I think it’s the world of Oddworld that really steals the show for a newcomer like myself.
The story of Soulstorm picks up following the escape at the end of Abe’s Oddysee. Abe and the other Mudokons have found themselves being hunted once again. As they flee towards freedom, a mysterious illness begins to spread among freed Mudokons, leading Abe into a new adventure filled with conspiracies and train-hijacking. There’s something immensely appealing to me about a serious story about capitalism and slavery mixed with these doofy looking muppets, all presented completely earnestly. I was taken off-guard when a buggy-eyed Mudokan was realistically dying of a bullet wound in one of the first cutscenes, but I sincerely love how seriously the story takes itself. It makes things feel far more grave and somber, which somehow works well with the subject matter.
The whole world of Soulstorm is remarkable to me. It’s so dirty and dystopian that it’s hard not to sympathize with the downtrodden Mudokons, who just want out of the hell that they’re subjected to. I especially like how levels change depending on how close to civilization you are, with checkpoints and tutorial stones changing from rustic totems to digital screens and tablets. It effectively sells the fact that you’re going deeper into dystopia, which makes progression feel both rewarding and uncomfortable.
“I love the designs of the different species as well, as one look at each character tells you everything you need to know about their personalities.“
Soulstorm’s gameplay teeters between enjoyably tense and frustratingly structured. You spend a lot of time navigating dangerous areas with a number of obedient Mudokons in tow. You have to command these followers in order to control how they act, to ensure you can guide them to safety. When things work, it’s very rewarding to send a large group of Mudokons into a portal so that they’re safe. This can lead to some very frightening moments where you’re hoping an enemy doesn’t see you as you try to time a jump with your crew, which is wonderfully stressful. Plus, the Dualsense features that make the triggers resist you when you chant add some extra fun to the mix.
When things don’t work, your Mudokons will go the wrong direction or jump into the line of fire for no reason, leading to dead Mudokons and restarting from a checkpoint. Since the amount of Mudokons you save gives you a rank at the end of each stage (and unlocks the last two levels and the good ending) you’ll be restarting quite a lot to try to save as many as possible. It can be very frustrating to see them die when it feels like you did nothing wrong, especially when one of the game’s bugs is responsible. There were a few times where I fell through platforms, got stuck behind an invisible wall, and one time where I got softlocked and had to restart a stage. These bugs will hopefully be fixed soon enough, but they can add up to make the game less enjoyable.
I was quite impressed with the visuals of Oddworld: Soulstorm, as you can almost feel the grime layered on everything. It’s a great looking game that takes advantage of its creative and weird artstyle and amplifies it on the PS5. I love the designs of the different species as well, as one look at each character tells you everything you need to know about their personalities.
The Final Word
Oddworld: Soulstorm is a very unique game. It can be stressful and fun at the same time, and it features one of the weirdest and most intriguing game worlds of recent memory. The platforming can occasionally get frustrating, but the sincere storytelling and payoff of saving Mudokons makes it a game worth playing.
MonsterVine Rating: 4 out of 5 – Good