[REVIEW] Oddworld: Soulstorm – Or should I say Dark Soulstorm?

It’s been a while since I had my last rendezvous with Abe. Oddworld’s anti-hero shaped my teens with Abe’s Oddysee and its sequel Abe’s Exoddus and gave me an impressive trip down memory lane in 2014 with New ‘n’ Tasty. I lapped up every game revolving around Abe that Oddworld dished out. I loved its simplicity and hated its “looks easy, but the hell it is” approach. Abe has ruined many afternoons – and PS1 controllers – and is ready to do it all again. Oddworld: Soulstorm excels at making me reminisce, reconfirming both my love and my hatred for the blue Mudokon.

Because yes, Oddworld: Soulstorm is tough as nails, even though it tries to make you believe it isn’t. Taking place right after the events of New ‘n’ Tasty, Abe and his fellow Mudokons have little time to celebrate their freedom. Their former boss and CEO of RuptureFarms – Mullock the Gluckon – is pissed. And can you blame him? His company just went up in flames and the arsonist is out there, chanting his blue balls off. But Abe knows his job isn’t over yet. There are still plenty of peers out there, slaving away at the Soulstorm Brewery. It’s time to move your bony ass and free those Mudokon saps, even if Mullock is hot on your trail.

The way to go about this is the known one. You run, stop, drop and, roll your way through a total of 15 levels, picking up colleagues as you go. When it comes to controls, Soulstorm is a breeze. At least, it should be. Abe doesn’t really possess a huge set of skills. He can walk, crouch, climb ledges, sneak, and interact with buttons and levers. He can even double-jump, which is a first. Apart from that, Abe has the ability to command his peers by making them “follow him” or “wait”. At times, it feels like you’re tagging along with a bunch of green big-handed lemmings.

Abe’s also the spiritual type, which helps him and his buddies out from time to time. By chanting, Abe can possess several of Mullock’s goons, allowing him to thin out the hostile herd. Then again, Mullock is no idiot. A hefty chunk of his estate is equipped with technology to counteract Abe’s spiritual mumbo-jumbo. This forces our boy to use his wits if he doesn’t want to end up like a blue piece of Swiss cheese. Fortunately, Abe is quite the craftsman. After scouring through bins, containers, and lockers, plenty of crap can be combined to create all kinds of useful weaponry.

Again, this all seems very straightforward and not that hard to pull off, but just like in the ’90s, it hardly is. Every level is designed to make you think about your next move, punishing you severely if you don’t. Death looms everywhere. Not just for you, but also your followers. Getting them to a safe haven requires dedication and methodical planning. If you neglect to do so, you might just survive, but too many dead Mudokons cause bad Quarma. Once the casualties start to pile up, Abe might just pay the price for it in the long run. If there’s one thing Oddworld games have taught me, it’s this: What goes around, comes around.

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The fact is that you’d almost forget that the world is designed to kill you because it’s an absolute jaw-dropper. Even if the environment consists of crumbling mine shafts and industrial death traps, it’s still a sight to behold. Running straight through it is ill-advised anyway since lots of secrets are tucked away in the furthest reaches of the land. Searching every crevice doesn’t come without its risks though, because Oddworld Inhabitants loves to see you try before you die. Don’t be surprised if you end up in a meat grinder or fall to your death, just because you didn’t get the timing just right.

This is exactly what makes Oddworld: Soulstorm so frickin’ hard, even if you opt for the easy experience. Timing is crucial in Abe’s quest for glory. It always has been and it isn’t any different this time around. The fine line between you making it to the end and getting shot up by a Slig is paper-thin. The controls aren’t exactly making that easier. Even though these controls are pretty intuitive, they do kinda suck at times, but that might just be my clumsy thumbs. Abe not climbing up or down when I want him to bugged me a lot. Constantly switching items and still throwing the wrong one because clicking the R3-button didn’t exactly pan out… it happened a lot. Yeah, I’ve spent way more time crafting junk than I’d like.

But besides those grievances, Oddworld: Soulstorm plays like the Abe games from the old times. There is one major gripe that I have, and it has got everything to do with saving. The game automatically saves at the last checkpoint you’ve passed, without giving you the option to quicksave. This means that you are fucked if you messed up right after that point. In my case, I had to restart a level a few times because an entire battalion of Mudokons got shot to hell as soon as I crossed that checkpoint. Especially in the “Hijack the Train” level – where you have to escort 15 of your buddies all the way to the end – these autosaves only can ruin everything for you.

Abe the Mudokon in Oddworld: Soulstorm

I really hope that Oddworld Inhabitants will reconsider adding the quicksave option in a later stage. All the other Abe games had ’em, so why not Soulstorm? It would save me a lot of broken controllers if they did. Because restarting an entire level just because I entered the wrong door that closes behind me, not giving me an option to return or to load a previous save… yeah. That pissed me off a little too much, to be honest. And while you’re at it, please optimize the loading times. Those take too long for a PS5 game, if you ask me.

But other than that, Oddworld: Soulstorm is everything a true Abe fan could wish for. Hearing the voice of Lorne Lanning sure brings back memories of the good old days, when sending Mudokons into a death trap was my favorite thing to do. Being able to do that again sure brought a big smile to my face, even if it also infuriated me on many occasions. Oddworld: Soulstorm is just another good ol’ Abe game with a dark sense of humor (that guy Stoopy really cracked me up) and challenging gameplay, just how I remembered them. If only it had the farts…

Oddworld: Soulstorm is available now digitally on PC (Epic Games Store) and PlayStation 4 and 5. The PlayStation version can be downloaded for free if you’re subscribed to PlayStation Plus. If you want the boxed version – or even the oddly satisfying Collectors Oddition – you’ll have to wait a little longer. Those will hit the shelves in June.

Oddly satisfying
Follow me if...
... you have a dark sense of humor
... you are looking for a true Abe experience
... you are up for a gruesome challenge
... you also love the sound of Lorne Lanning as Abe
... you can appreciate the sight and sound of Mudokons getting mulched up and shot down
Wait here if...
... you hate games without quicksaves
... you hate dying, over and over again
... dodgy controls bug the living shit out of you
... if you hate waiting (huh...wait a minute?)
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