Length: ~8 Hours
Extras: Hard Drive, Analog Control
ESRB Rating: T
I've always been a big fan of the Oddworld series, ever since Abe underwent his first Oddysee, back in the glory days of the PSone. I think the real hook for me with that first game was realizing there was a button entirely dedicated to forcing your on-screen character to rip a juicy, wet fart. I'd never seen anything like it before and it's one of the major reasons I went ahead and bought my first Playstation, along with Oddworld: Episode I as my first game. It had inspired gameplay, an offbeat sense of humor that hit all the right notes, great voice acting and incredible replay value.
Fortunately enough, many of those qualities have remained intact beyond Abe's second game and now into Oddworld's third chapter. My one major qualm about Abe's Exoddus (the second game), the change in voice actors for Abe himself, has now been repaired with the return of the original vocal artist (or, at least, a very good impersonation). With the old feel back again, a new character, a stunning jump to 3-D and a continuation of the old story, there should be nothing holding this game back from perfection... right? Well, not entirely so.
Despite everything it's got going for it, there are a few little factors about the game, which serve to do nothing more than irritate. Nearly every operation required of your character is performed with one button. The Xbox controller's "A" Button is used to jump, press buttons, pick things up, pull switches, activate portals, climb into a wheelchair, operate machinery, or grab a drink from one of the game's vending machines. The rest of the controller's buttons are used for conversing with non-playable characters, a task which was completed by holding in one of the L or R buttons and pressing another button in earlier games in the series. As a result, you'll often jump to your doom when you'd rather lift something up or leap into a bloody warzone as Munch (literally, a fish out of water) without any sort of mobility. In addition, controlling Abe in the open field is notably difficult. There are points where precision is an absolute necessity, but Abe's veering left when you want him to go forward. For a game of this magnitude, with a control system that was already tweaked to perfection, it's silly that they muddled things like that. You'll eventually get used to the inadequacies of the system, but will never get to the point where Abe or Munch will do exactly what you want every single time.
Another thing that slightly irked me was the length of the game. Though it's certainly nothing to sneeze at, I completed everything in around eight hours. Maybe nostalgia has fogged my mind, but I don't remember the first two games as being that short. But, as I said, it's a minor issue and not one I'll really take anything away for. Just don't go into this expecting an epic on par with Final Fantasy or Grand Theft Auto.
The way this game looks is simply amazing. As a first-wave launch title for the Box, I'll admit I had set my expectations a little loftily, but Munch's Oddysee surpassed even my steep hopes and wishes. Every step of this world is visually stunning, from the soft gradient of the outdoor skies to the brown, crusty grime gathered around the toilets in the later stages. The attention to detail is outstanding, and I'd occasionally just set the controller down for a bit, just to take everything in. It's that good looking.
In addition, the pre-rendered CGI scenes maintain the standard set forth by the previous episodes. The cinemas were always one of my favorite parts of Oddworld, and the envelope continued its trend of being pushed forward here. Just great, great stuff, brought full circle with some spot-on voice work.
The audio tells you everything you need to know when first gaining your surroundings in a new area. With Dolby support, it's possible to locate a lost Mudokan with your eyes shut. You can hear the click-click-click of an enemy slig down the hallway. The music is fresh, maintaining a beat in the background but never overpowering the scene. It picks up when you're being assaulted or chased, and dips back down when you're just patiently exploring. The cartoony sound effects are occasionally out of place and unnecessary, but on the whole don't interfere. My one problem with the audio was more of a planning issue than anything else. Every once in a while, you'll run into a 'spiritual advisor', who tells you what you need to be doing in that part of the stage. Naturally, it's pretty important you understand what he's saying, yet subtitles aren't available in case you can't hear him for some reason. A vacuum cleaner was running elsewhere in the house one afternoon, and I had to wait for some time before I could continue because I needed to know what he was telling me. Subs should've at least been an alternative option...
The story is pure Oddworld. It kept me intrigued every step of the way, even if what I was doing was repetitive. There's an overlying theme of lightheartedness, and the same issues of extinction and over industrialization are covered in a new and interesting way. With rumors claiming there are three alternate endings, depending on how many innocents you save through the game, there's also the promise of enjoyable replay value without identical results.
All in all, the series has made a successful, albeit rocky, jump into the world of 3-D. The graphics are very impressive, even by today's unrealistic standards, the audio isn't flawless (though it's close), the controls need some work, and the story has never been better. This is a really fun game to play, and though it does get a little easy at times, there's always just enough challenge to keep veteran players occupied without losing interest. It's a great way to kick off your Xbox collection, whether you're young or old, new to gaming or hardened from years of battle.
On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 8.3