Just Add Water re-builds Abe’s Oddysee for the current generation and keeps all the charm.
Oddworld is one of those franchises which has had as long and storied a history with the video game industry as many early PlayStation titles. In a year of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Final Fantasy 7 and even PaRappa the Rapper, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee debuted as a franchise and still managed to stick around for the better part of the next ten years. Not everything was hunky dory though – Munch’s Oddysee didn’t quite set the gaming world on fire when it debuted in 2001 with the first Xbox’s launch. The franchise was set to re-emerge thanks to the cult following behind Stranger’s Wrath as Oddworld: Fangus was in development but the usual publisher pressure kept it from really leaving the ground.
Such exposition makes the development of Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty all the more intriguing because it’s indicative of today’s tools and infrastructure being used to not only bring old-school concepts to the new generation but to also circumvent many of the restrictive policies that have dogged studios for decades. Take the Unity engine for example, which helped streamline New ‘n’ Tasty’s development to an amazing degree. Just Add Water founder Stewart Gilray has talked about how the previous engine for development would have cost $100,000 to develop New ‘n’ Tasty on while Unity only cost $5000 for licensing.
Unfortunately, this isn’t Unity 5 we’re talking about since that engine released for free only a few weeks (or months depending on your platform) before the release of New ‘n’ Tasty on all platforms. Unity 4.3 is in effect and has been heavily customized, taking some features from versions 4.5 and 4.6, but features like improved PhysX support, physically based rendering, Geomeric’s Enlighten, global illumination and deferred rendering are all missing. This isn’t to say that Unity 4.3 doesn’t provide its fair share of benefits to the game though as the physics, visuals and overall performance are far improved over the base game. But we’ll get to that.
As noted several times before, this isn’t a remaster of the original Abe’s Oddysee but a remake crafted from the ground up using the original as a base. One of the most important changes to Oddworld gameplay see in New ‘n’ Tasty is continuous scrolling versus a flip screen style of presentation. This essentially means that levels are continuously streaming in real-time rather than segments or “pages” that players can return to.
A native 1080p resolution is used on both the Xbox One and PS4 with both games boasting a frame rate of 60 frames per second. As so happens, however, that frame rate isn’t quite locked – it sees its share of dips, sometimes between 50 to 55 FPS. These dips are more frequent on the Xbox One than the PS4. In terms of visuals though, it’s amazing to note the parity of quality across all platforms thanks to the Unity engine.
All three versions of the game employ fast approximate anti-aliasing (FXAA) which smooths out jaggies substantially but still aids the game’s pre-rendered look. Cut-scenes are now rendered in real-time though they’re still capped at 30 frames per second (yes, even on PC oddly enough). The PC version does have smoother edges compared to the consoles due a higher grade of FXAA being used and this definitely results in less jaggies overall.
However, only eagle-eyed observers will really notice the difference – all three versions boast the same image quality and look incredibly good. Texture detail and object geometry is also similar across all platforms. Though global illumination may be missing, Unity 4.3 does use a number of different light sources in New ‘n’ Tasty to make the world come alive. The overall improved physics ensure more realistic movement for both Abe and his enemies while the various details adorning each environment feel more distinguishable and alive.
The PC version does have its advantages though especially in frame rate performance. On testing Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty on an Intel Core i5 3.2 GHz with an Nvidia Geforce GTX 770 and 16 GB of RAM, we managed a solid 60 frames per second with no drops and no judder.
All in all, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty doesn’t just show off the potential for a high quality remake using a cost-efficient yet highly powerful and scalable engine. It also serves as a stellar example of a singular engine ensuring the same visual quality across all platforms (with some differences in frame rate performance, of course). We’re suitably excited to see what Just Add Water could do with Unity 5 and hopefully, if The Brutal Ballad of Fangus Klot ever does get made, we can finally get a look at how the engine’s various bells and whistles look in the Oddworld universe. We also wouldn’t mind an upgrade for Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty to Unity 5 similar to what inXile Entertainment is doing with Wasteland 2: Director’s Cut for the Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty in its current state though is as fine a remake as they come though. The upgrade to visuals and gameplay without significantly overhauling the charm that set Abe’s Oddysee apart from its blockbuster brethren is very much apparent. The PC version is of course the platform of choice thanks to its FXAA implementation and better 60 FPS performance but on the console side, we’d opt for the PS4 since it witnesses less frame drops and judder than the Xbox One.
Bill Smith carried out the performance analysis of the game.