You know, maybe some things deserve a second chance (Ex partners don’t count), and a lot of the time, that second chance can be a wonderful thing. Other times, it can be even more of a disaster. What I have learned over my life with gaming, is that some games get better with a retry, and seeing now as developers can update games to be better and more engaging pieces of media, we can certainly go back and play something a second time around. Soulstorm may have not got the best reactions back in April this year, but with the newly updated “Enhanced Edition” being released, I decided to take a second look, as I’m a huge fan of the Oddworld series.
Will a second playthrough change my mind and see an improved game overall?What is Soulstorm?
Oddworld: Soulstorm is the remake/reimagining of the original game Abe’s Exodus. While this is a continuation of New n’ Tasty (the remake of Odyssey, which followed very closely to the original source material), Soulstorm is a different beast in many regards.
Director and Oddworld creator Lorne Lanning wanted to bring us his and the team’s original vision for Abe’s Exodus. This means a complete overhaul of the story, introducing new mechanics, and overall a major shift for gameplay and tone compared to the original. The original game was very much beloved by millions of fans and so this came as a big shock to the system. But we were very keen and excited to see the changes.
The game still sees Abe return and fulfilling a quest to save his people from the hands (or lack of) of the Glukkons. He is tasked with freeing his people from a devastating grasp that will surely result in their extinction. We have the classic elements of the Nacrum Mines, Phatt Train, and many other key locations and events from the original, but now many have been tweaked, extended and the whole venture taking a complete overhaul and events changed to create something that feels familiar but is very much new.
New mechanics are introduced such as crafting, big story set pieces, interactive environments with elements such as fire playing a big part in problem-solving, and more stealth mechanics at play for a more engaging and immersive experience.Story
Soulstorm does indeed keep many of the same story beats, even if they're in a different order. The beginning sees Abe talking to his fellow survivors and resting before the next steps towards freedom. There are many more Mudokons out there that need help and many of whom are dying while escaping their prisons. Abe is the only one with the gifts able to free his fellow Mudokons and he must set out to do so.
Seeing how everything is laid out this time around, I did feel a lot of gravitas in this remake compared to the original. The original had fart jokes and weird humour at times (which was really part of the norm for the 90s). But it did have plenty of charm and moments which were incredibly dark and effective too (the Blind Mudokons will always haunt me).
Soulstorm feels much more mature in execution, and the emotional elements are handled incredibly well, making Abe and his followers more than grown-up Lemmings. But it can also feel a little heavy-handed at times. Some cutscenes go on for a little longer than they need to, focusing on the wrong things at times while I gather no fart jokes were included, there could be a hint of humour to break the never-ending tension at times. There were even some good setups for a light-hearted jab, but instead, they either go serious or just end on a flat and “why even have this kind of line” note.
Cutscenes are beautifully put together, voice work is great and generally, the restructure to the story feels familiar yet very refreshing to old fans. I was extremely impressed with how much heart went into the story and how Abe and his friends developed over the journey. Cementing the threat and uncertainly that was here throughout.
“But” as I mentioned in my previous review, what I feel Lorne Lanning should have realised is that many elements of the original which he cut out, did have a lot of impacts and would work so well here. The whole realisation of how the brew is made felt underwhelming and certain touches such as the Blind Mudokons which were not here was felt. And the best ending, which is locked behind a large requirement of saving over 80% of Mudokons didn’t feel that gratifying.
There is plenty more heart in the story, and I love the darker tone of this remake. But some of the missing story elements from the original could have worked well here.Gameplay
Abe will venture into the Oddworld traversing a number of different environments from Mudokon ruins, industrial factories, deep underground mines, military bases, and hijacking a train in order to save his people. Along the way, Abe will be using every resource he can to progress and pass by the multitude of obstacles and foes in his way.
Soulstorm is led through a linear path of levels where Abe will be given a main objective, of finding an exit, stealing a train, destroying a comms tower, or simply finding an induvial of interest. But there are smaller objectives, the main side objective being to save those who are trapped within each level. This could be from a few stragglers to a dozen or so workers, right up to a couple of hundred followers looking for freedom. To do this, you have to safely lead your followers through sections of each level or an entire chapter to a bird portal that you can open up.
Player’s must traverse carefully through heavily guarded outposts, avoid dangerous machinery or simply not have the cold-hearted urge to kill off your followers in a number of humorous ways. To do this, or to simply save your own skin, you’ll be able to chant which releases a magical sphere that possesses enemies and allows you to control them. Or dive right into the crafting system and make smoke bombs, knock-out grenades, mines, and other items which can distract, disarm and detain your enemies, giving you a space of time to make your way to safety.
But what do you do when you have no resources or aren’t allowed to possess your foes? Well, Abe will need to use the environment, the various elements, and blind spots to keep quiet and sneak on by. Using smoke from vents is a great hiding spot and sneaking on your tippy-toes will allow you to pass by unnoticed. There is plenty of stealth and sneaking around in Soulstorm and while there are action set pieces and moments of manic panic, you will indeed be doing plenty of sleuthing.Plus the extra bits
Included with the Enhanced Edition is Vykkers Labs, a new game mode that will pit players against various challenges, which are designed to test out your platforming skills thoroughly. While this mode is not anything groundbreaking, it is a nice addition to the game, and once you finished the main game itself, this mode will certainly indeed scratch that death-seeking itch if you wanted more. I do feel a level editor would have been amazing here and having community maps would be a great way to keep this mode alive for the future. Especially as there are only a few levels to play and I don't know if more will be added at this time. What I liked
I thoroughly enjoyed the approach to stealth gameplay and the epic scale of creativity in how you handled numerous problems, from saving Mudokons, traversing over death traps, and sneaking by heavily armed enemies. The crafting system while not original, does indeed allow you to approach the same problem in different ways, and with keen explorers, they’ll discover new recipes quicker and thus encourage further exploration. Speaking of which, there was a good number of secrets and hidden gems to uncover, some are pretty obvious, while others not so much.
Soulstorm does lack some of the best story beats and set pieces from the original, but brings in plenty of new ones to tip the balance. The hijacking of the train is a massive highlight and the use of the deadly machinery in Nacrum mines does create some intense and thrilling platforming and busywork.
Along with the game’s numerous updates, come some quality-of-life elements too. A few more vending machines are scattered here and there, especially in the more dangerous areas. And thankfully in one key level which actually broke me when I originally reviewed the game in April. I feel much better now with the game’s improved updates, along with the massive escape sequences where Abe will need to protect 200 or so fleeing Mudokons with whatever he has around him. Don’t worry, these moments and many more are still challenging, but not infuriating like once before.
Soulstorm does have plenty of these impressive moments which are now actually fun but deliver the right amount of stress and a fair bit on trial and error. Moments which are better now with updates and the allowance of creativity are plentiful. I love the reactive nature of hazards such as the fire in Soulstorm and how you can utilise it in such a varied collection of outcomes. Such as blowing up a platform above a group of sleeping enemies and causing a massive chain reaction and a fiery spectacle to enjoy.Before I move on …
So, this is an enhanced edition of Soulstorm, with better AI for followers, refined stealth mechanics, and overall, a push for a better quality of life. I felt the improvements here and more so in key moments which felt near broken in my original review. I can tell everyone who owns a copy from the original launch, and who may have not had the best of times, to definitely check out Soulstorm again.
But it’s not perfect ….What I felt could be better
Soulstorm still has some moments which could have been refined a little more, such as some dynamic camera movements which hindered the experience. Some of the set pieces do require a fair bit of trial and error and with how checkpoints work and the amount of preparation that can occur before big set pieces, it can at times be a little tedious. For example, you have a checkpoint before a big Mudokon escape set-piece and before it happens you can (or more so, must) scavenge for resources. You’ll do a fair bit of scavenging, crafting, and prep work before the big event and very easily die as things start. The trial and error in these moments are annoying and unlike a game such as INSIDE which keeps events short and sweet, Soulstorm can horrendously drag on at the worst of times.
If checkpoints could be used repeatedly without going back to another or manual saves where a thing here, then this prep time wouldn’t be a problem.
There are also some odd moments where the AI can still fuzz out, especially when you use them to fight enemies, or lead them through some of the more hazardous areas. But there are only a handful of these instances thankfully. Overall?
As mentioned in my original review, I was worried as “reimaginations” can come at a heavy price and can feel like a slap to the original. Some remakes do it right, by keeping the framework but improving and adding where needed. Whereas some remakes, miss the point completely and could be a whole new game entirely. After my second playthrough (and playing the original 1998 game again) I do apricate the changes made and feel Lorne and the team do a good job at retaining much of the original’s essence while adding new stuff, and this improved version does make it better than before.
Soulstorm is a much better game now, a more refined and engaging journey with many of the problems fixed that held it back on its original launch. Abe's story is captivating, the gameplay is thrilling, and the big changes are highly welcomed, despite some of the best elements from the original game not being here. I’ve grown fonder of Soulstorm, I appreciate all the hard work done here by the developers and I can not wait to see where Abe’s adventure goes next.
++ Captivating and engaging retelling of the original story
+ Solid stealth gameplay with plenty of creative elements
+ Good level design and interactive environmental elements
+ Massive improvements to AI and additional quality of life add-ons
-- Trial and error style to the bigger set pieces can be tedious
- Some of the best moments from the original could have been included and reworked
- The “True” ending felt anti-climatic
A review copy of Soulstorm “Enhanced Edition” was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review. Soulstorm was reviewed for Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S