Playing Oddworld: Soulstorm is as arduous as Abe’s quest to free his Mudoken brothers from slavery. Each step is a supreme test of patience as you methodically guide your followers through challenging dangers, sweating over the fact that one slip could unravel all of your efforts. If you enjoy taking on this old school challenge, you might love this trip. However, if you are a newbie or a fan who believes this style of platformer has not aged very well, come back now. Soulstorm isn’t enough to modernize the series’ drawn-out gameplay, and a litany of grave technical problems spoils Abe’s attempted comeback.
A reinterpretation of Oddworld: Abes Exoddus, Soulstorms gameplay remains largely unchanged: they recruit and guide followers through 2D platform stages full of danger. As charming as the classic Oddworld games are, they can be frustratingly difficult and that hasn’t changed much in Soulstorm. Most slig enemies and other dangers mow Abe down instantly, and I was furious at how little leeway I had to correct course when things went sideways. Abe falls off so quickly that the health bar seems like a cruel joke. Often times, while playing Soulstorm, I felt like I was walking on eggshells because it was so expensive to retrace every step, recruit every mudokon, and carefully walk them through a glove of enemies in seconds. Exposing yourself to unexpected dangers, like suddenly being gunned down by enemies off-screen feels cheap and happens far too often.
A crafting system is the biggest addition to Soulstorm, but it doesn’t seem necess ary. You’ll have to collect the same ingredients repeatedly (by searching lockers, trash cans, and fallen enemies) every time you die, which left me in a rush after repeating certain sections. The self-made tools like mines nearby, smoke screens and even a flamethrower add a welcome element of flexibility and improvisation to the gameplay. It’s nice to drop smoke screens to create hiding spots everywhere, but I wish I didn’t have to make these items myself and got tired of digging in the same places over and over again.
Even when Soulstorm’s difficulty subsides, the gameplay is boring. The action feels largely the same as in previous games in the series, and that formula doesn’t evolve much beyond the first few hours. Even the more interesting sequences, like lowering a giant ‘Mech on a speeding train, are far too punitive to be fun. I’m glad Abe has better control now (he even has a double jump), but inputs still have a squishy lack of responsiveness that makes fun actions like owning sligs a nuisance. The controls also result in additional deaths as Abe doesn’t act as quickly as you need to, especially in the ill-fitting, overly demanding battle arenas where you battle waves of bad guys as you try to protect fleeing Mudokens.
Soulstorm would be a tough recommendation for anyone outside of die-hard fans if it worked flawlessly, but I have encountered several bugs that sabotage progress (even after installing the big patch for day one) that should put even these players off. When I died, Mudokens sometimes couldn’t reappear next to me, even though my balance sheet showed they were still alive and under my command. That meant I had failed to make followers that I had forever tried to safely free, which negatively impacted my overall quarma – an important metric in determining which of the four endings you will get.
Abe occasionally gets stuck in the surrounding geometry and forces a restart. At some point I fell into an endless loop. An escape portal permanently disappeared when I reached it, forcing me to leave followers. A weapon in a late game turret sequence failed to fire even though it worked fine in earlier segments. After several reboots, I happened to find that clicking the right stick “fixed” the gun for some reason and caused it to fire. I tried to lead a large group of followers through a particularly challenging area for over an hour, but when I opened the exit door an invisible wall prevented me from moving forward. I was forced to restart this entire, long sequence twice before the exit worked properly. Soulstorm’s gameplay pushed my patience to the limit, but those mistakes sent me over the edge and made me nervous every time I started a new level. “What on earth is kidding me during this time?” I asked myself regularly.
Soulstorm’s mistakes are a shame because its narration and presentation put a smile on my face. Abe and his friends are goofy, adorable outsiders that I just made up my mind. The entertaining story is full of heart and the cutscenes look great. I wanted to welcome Abe with open arms to a new generation of games, but Soulstorm can’t explain why its brand is working for cinematic platforms today. In fact, Soulstorm only confirmed that Abe’s past adventures are best viewed with rose-colored glasses.