Oddworld: Soulstorm Review – Dangerously Close To Greatness

When Oddworld: Soulstorm is firing on all cylinders, it’s basically an all time classic.

Posted By | On 14th, Apr. 2021 Under Article, Reviews


Given how simple the premise of Oddworld: Soulstorm appears to be upfront, it’s actually impressive the bevy of systems and gameplay mechanics the game manages to bring together for its players. There’s the sidescrolling platforming, obviously, and there are stealth sections (themselves further augmented by various offensive and defensive capabilities). There are a lot of fairly challenging puzzles, there is a mechanic where you can possess enemies, and a rudimentary physics system that can be used offensively, defensively, or any combination of the two. There’s an entire metagame that has you saving your enslaved brethren and leading them to safety, with how many you are able to keep alive directly interacting with how and how much you use the other systems the game has. And obviously, given that this is a release in 2021, there is a crafting system, because of course there is.

It should be overwhelming and bloated, but Soulstorm is a masterwork of streamlining and slowly eking out various options and abilities to player one at a time, so that you get every chance to properly get used to the newest addition to your arsenal before you’re challenged to use it in unending permutations with everything else you already knew you could do by some deviously challenging, finely crafted scenarios. Speaking purely mechanically, Oddworld Soulstorm is almost shockingly well accomplished at pretty much everything it sets out to do.

There are some stumbles. Some of these are intended – such as the sheer stupidity of the Mudokons you are tasked with rescuing, managing whose safety in their utter lack of self preservation instinct can be where a lot of the game’s challenge often comes from. Then there are those, on the other hand, that are decidedly unintended, such as in the crafting system, which is wholly unnecessary busywork that serves more to break the pace than anything, or the times the game actually has the audacity to tie your fortunes to the Mudokons. You can end up missing a perfect run on a level through no fault of your own because the Mudokons are very literally the dumbest beings to have ever occupied the annals of history (fictitious or otherwise), or you can be forced to often – shudder – rely on their assistance in combat and stealth scenarios, in which case, good luck.

Oddworld Soulstorm

"Soulstorm is a masterwork of streamlining and slowly eking out various options and abilities to player one at a time, so that you get every chance to properly get used to the newest addition to your arsenal before you’re challenged to use it in unending permutations with everything else you already knew you could do by some deviously challenging, finely crafted scenarios. Speaking purely mechanically, Oddworld Soulstorm is almost shockingly well accomplished at pretty much everything it sets out to do."

Those stumbles, as mentioned, are more infuriating than they should be because of just how well realized this game is otherwise. Frankly, I am impressed with the sheer mastery over mechanical design and prowess that Soulstorm exhibits on a consistent basis, and it’s that level of its mastery that allows it to get away with the crushing difficulty the series is known for – because no matter how many times you die, it never actually feels unfair. Repeated failures only feel like well earned penalties for your own impatience, or lack of understanding of all elements in a scenario, as well as how you can best leverage them, or just plain and simple misfires of execution.

Soulstorm ends up being one of those rare games where, even when you fail, you end up going right back into it, because just one more attempt and this time you’ll know how to get past that chokepoint with so many enemies blocking the way damn it. It’s the ideal of “die and try again” realized to its peak potential. Thanks to the SSD, load times between multiple attempts cease to be a factor, and you’re jumping right back into things with no friction whatsoever impeding you. The game’s extremely well designed checkpoint system, which liberally doles out saves after pretty much every encounter, also means that death doesn’t set you back at all. You just have to repeat that one encounter from the start, except this time you’re armed with the knowledge of what went wrong, and how to prevent it. Marvelous, really. It’s definitely one of my favorite uses of checkpointing in a game, because it works beautifully in tandem with most of the other systems and the player’s intrinsic progress to craft difficulty that actually feels fair.

Of course, the qualifier above means there are caveats here. For example, the game’s checkpointing doesn’t take into account any crafting or even item hotswapping, meaning you’re adding needless busywork in between attempts by making players repeat all that every single time. Oddworld Soulstorm’s menus aren’t bad, to be honest, but no menu in the history of menus has been so good as to justify that you spend as much time in it as Soulstorm can often demand from its players.

While that isn’t a small criticism (to be frank, it’s probably almost singularly responsible for my dislike of the crafting system), at the very least I can say that it never makes the game feel unfair. Mind numbingly tedious, yes, but unfair, no. Of course, things can be different when the game punishes you for how dumb the Mudokons can be, because at that point a lot of the things you are punished for are very literally not in your control. It can also be similarly frustrating when bugs or glitches end up ruining a lot of your progress (to Soulstorm‘s credit, it’s been patched to have a lot of its glitches addressed, because at launch, it was a fair bit of a mess).

oddworld soulstorm

"No matter how many times you die, it never actually feels unfair. Repeated failures only feel like well earned penalties for your own impatience, or lack of understanding of all elements in a scenario, as well as how you can best leverage them, or just plain and simple misfires of execution. Soulstorm ends up being one of those rare games where, even when you fail, you end up going right back into it, because just one more attempt and this time you’ll know how to get past that chokepoint with so many enemies blocking the way damn it."

This, again, rankles as much as it does because it’s all an unforced error – elsewhere, Soulstorm is very literally pristinely designed, and works with all its various elements coming together in a way that very few other games on the market can boast of. So that it then shoehorns the tedium of an unnecessary crafting system, or that it fails to account for said crafting system with its checkpointing system, or that it needlessly ties player progress to the Mudokons more acutely than it should, or that it simply isn’t as polished as it should be, hurts. Because when everything in this game is working, it is working like few other games manage.

One of the great things that can help players persevere even at the game’s worst, when the systems and bugs are working against you (which, to be fair, doesn’t actually happen too often) is the story and storytelling. Oddworld has an incredibly richly realized setting, and Soulstorm goes more into it than any game in the past has managed, with some distressingly macabre humor, some pretty unsubtle commentary on class warfare, environmentalism, and capitalism, and some charming characters, backed with some glorious voicework, that can make sticking with it worth it.

They also indirectly contribute to the frustration sometimes, because did you know, the game has multiple endings, and they are tied to how many of the Mudokons you manage to save. Yes, you can probably see where I’m going with this – that you’re challenged to save all the Mudokons to get the best ending means that you might get more invested in trying to save them than you otherwise would be, which makes those failures that much more infuriating. Thankfully, the good ending and the best ending aren’t too different, so you can get by with the more lenient requirements for the former than the latter, but yeesh.

oddworld soulstorm

"Oddworld has an incredibly richly realized setting, and Soulstorm goes more into it than any game in the past has managed, with some distressingly macabre humor, some pretty unsubtle commentary on class warfare, environmentalism, and capitalism, and some charming characters, backed with some glorious voicework, that can make sticking with it worth it."

The great world and story of the game is bolstered by the genuinely great presentation as well. As I’ve mentioned already, the voice acting is delightful, but the game also looks and sounds great. It’s not a next gen showpiece, but it looks good, backed up by some really strong art as well. The audio side of things is great too, though more on the voice work and effects side than on the music side (which isn’t to say the music is bad, it’s not, it just doesn’t stand out like so many other things in the game do).

Oddworld: Soulstorm ends up being a very good and very compelling game, that legitimately threatens to be an all time classic so often, you can’t help but be angry at it for not following through. That it stumbles where and when it does does not in the slightest take away from all that the game achieves, and just how well it achieves it, of course, and Soulstorm is without a doubt the best and most welcoming game in the series, not to mention the best rounded out one. And honestly, the fact that most of my frustrations from the game stem from it not managing to be utterly sublime all the time should, more than anything else, speak volumes about the quality of the core game, when it’s firing on all cylinders.

This game was reviewed on PlayStation 5.

THE GOOD

Most of its mechanics go incredibly well together; most of the game is really well designed; difficult, but really fair most of the times; probably some of the best checkpointing in a game yet; rich setting with some wonderful presentation backing it up

THE BAD

Some shoehorned systems that don't quite work well with the rest of the game, such as crafting; the reliance on the extremely stupid Mudokons can make some scenarios be outright unfair; unnecessary tedium added by crafting and menu management (which aren't taken into account by the game's checkpointing); still a little buggy

Final Verdict

Oddworld: Soulstorm is a very compelling game, which veers on the verge of being an all time classic.

A copy of this game was provided by developer/publisher for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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