The Oddworld franchise holds a very special place in my heart, if only for the fact that it’s what got me back into gaming after a very lengthy hiatus. I probably wouldn’t be writing these very words on this very website if I hadn’t gotten so obsessed with it, to be honest. The Oddworld franchise is why I bought an Xbox instead of a PS2, and this New & Tasty HD remake of the original Abe’s Oddysee is one of the primary reasons why I currently own a PS4.
I’m going to be writing a longer appreciation of the Oddworld franchise for next Monday’s Gamemoir column; this post is, instead, about how this thing actually plays.
While I knew that I was buying it from the moment it was first announced, I can’t honestly say I knew what to expect. And quite frankly, I was more than a bit nervous about playing it again. This is a game that I haven’t stopped thinking about – or played – since 1998, and I was worried that my overly fond memories would obscure the quality of the game itself.
Let me say, right off the bat, that this HD remake is, as far as I’m concerned, the gold standard in terms of what I want in an HD remake. This is no mere up-res with cleaner textures; the whole goddamned thing has been rebuilt in a new engine. The game is no longer a panel-by-panel experience, but rather a free-flowing one. There’s new voice work, there’s new animation, there’s new everything. Even the cutscenes – which were rivaled maybe only by Final Fantasy VII in terms of sheer visual splendor – have been remade, and for the better.
And yet: this is still Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, through and through. This is still a maddeningly difficult puzzler, requiring a mastery of both physical and verbal dexterity, and even with the many added improvements (including the much-needed quicksave), it is a game where you will repeatedly and endlessly fail, often in spectacularly gruesome fashion.
It is very pleasing to see that my love of the game is not misplaced.
My only real gripe is that of the aforementioned quicksave. It’s a necessary feature that is somewhat clumsily designed. On the PS4, you tap the touchpad to Save, and you hold it to Load. That being said, even if you quicksave during a particularly tricky platforming sequence, you will automatically respawn at the last checkpoint, not at the last manual quicksave; you will then need to hold the touchpad in order to spawn where you actually intended. Not only that, but there were numerous times last night where I’d get to a safe place in a particularly tricky gauntlet and so I’d emphatically press the touchpad, thinking I’d quicksaved, only to see that I held the pad down just long enough to actually quickload, meaning I’d have to do the whole thing over again.
The aforementioned difficulty, by the way, is no joke. It starts hard and only gets harder, and it’s somewhat selective in terms of the information that it doles out. For example, I’d completely forgotten that I could possess enemies by chanting until I was midway through the second chapter; this very well might be why I somehow missed a bunch of secret rooms and thus sending 42 of Abe’s buddies to their doom when I inadvertently started Chapter 2.
That’s the part of the game that’s still very pleasantly intact, though. This game encourages empathy like no other game I’ve ever played. I wanted to save all 299 Mudokons when I played it back in the day, and I want to save them all now; they’re sweet and charming and I felt terrible seeing how many I’d missed, realizing that I’d somehow failed to check every nook and cranny in that opening chapter. (For the record, back in the day I also tried doing the true negative karma thing and get them all killed, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’m sure there’s a Trophy/Achievement for it now, but it’s something I have no intention of pursuing.)
I’m really just grateful to have Abe back in my life. (And I’m really looking forward to the Vita version, because this game is an absolutely perfect fit for it.) And I’m also glad to see that my son is taken by Abe as well.