My subconscious must have known that last month was the 25th anniversary of the release of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee because I suddenly and inexplicably became obsessed. I watched Let’s Plays and speedruns of the game. When I finished, I went immediately to the game’s sequel, Abe’s Exoddus, watching even more longplays and speedruns and scouring the Playstation and Xbox game stores for a port.
I couldn’t find one. (Lorne Lanning, if you’re reading this, can we please get Exoddus back out here?) So I settled for the next best thing: Oddworld: Soulstorm, which was released just last year. I had previously played New N’ Tasty, a remaster of Abe’s Oddysee, and more than playing Soulstorm — which is a reimagining of Exoddus — I only wanted to play a straight remake. I played Exoddus as a child when my unscrupulous older brother left a copy lying around for me — who was probably too young for such games — to find and play. I have, to this day, never forgotten the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I saw those Mudokons with their eyes stitched shut. It was dark and gruesome but also funny, and I loved it. I didn’t want a shiny, new reinterpretation — I wanted what I knew. Going into Soulstorm, I was prepared to pan it for just that reason, but man, this game set my brain on fire.
Lorne Lanning, if you’re reading this, can we please get Exoddus back out here?
I am ever on the hunt for a good, brain-scratching puzzle game. I had Inscryption last year and Escape Academy this year, but, like the greedy Glukkons who run the corporations that enslave the Mudokons of Oddworld, I needed more. Soulstorm presented the perfect mix of puzzle-solving and action that was decently long enough for me to get me my fix — if only temporarily.
In Soulstorm, it’s a forced perspective “2.9D” sidescroller of sorts in which each area presents hazards to overcome or puzzles to solve. At every point, Abe is hounded by murderous machine gun-toting Sligs who shoot on sight or security robots with lasers that electrocute you if you’re caught in them. Not only are you responsible for your own safety, but throughout, Abe has the choice to save his fellow Mudokons, making him responsible for their wellbeing as well. But Abe’s not helpless. Using his ability to craft a number of weapons and items and possess guards with his shamanistic powers, he can get through the violent world relatively unscathed. Soulstorm, and the Oddworld games in general, understand Abe’s possession ability can make him too powerful. To counteract that, Soulstorm forces you to come up with alternate ways to get through by sprinkling machines throughout levels that zap you if you try to possess a guard.
The puzzle perfection of Soulstorm boils down to its pacing. There’s a cadence to guiding Abe throughout the game that artfully switches up between considered thoughtfulness and frantically quick execution. That variety kept the game from getting stale because there are just so many different (and fun!) ways to solve a singular problem. Early on in the game, you have to escape a canyon crawling with Sligs and anti-possession machines. You could either sneak by them, which the game’s tutorial suggests you do, or you could do like I did and use my backpack full of Soulstorm Brew to burn each and every Slig alive. Was it slower and more dangerous for me? Yes? But sic semper tyrannis and all that.
But the way the game well and truly sucked my soul out of my body, compelling me to finish about 20-ish hours of game within a single work-week (which did no favors for my sleep/work schedule, whew!) was the duty it charged me with: saving my friends. The Oddworld games run on a “Quarma” system; the more Mudokons you save, the higher your Quarma, and the better your ending. In the game’s first level, there’s a sequence in which 200 Mudokons climb ladders to safety, and you’re tasked with fighting off waves of Sligs that come to shoot them down. The first time I played this game back when it launched in 2021, I failed miserably at saving all my comrades. This time, somehow, through godlike gaming and no help from a guide, I saved all 200 Mudokons. The jolt of pure gas I got from that set me on the path of ruin. You don’t have to save them all to get the best Quarma and ending, but that didn’t matter to me. I now had to save all the Mudokons, which, in Soulstorm, was around 1,300 souls. Shit.
I now had to save all the Mudokons, which, in Soulstorm, was around 1,300 souls. Shit
I had a hell of a time saving my enslaved brethren. There are several of those ladder sequences spaced throughout the game, each with its own unique challenges and configurations that I needed to find the optimal way to solve. Sometimes I armed my followers with Molotov cocktails and let them do the work for me (a handy improvement over Exoddus, in which your followers were singularly helpless and useless). Other times, I had to frantically possess and kill one Slig after another, anticipating where they’d come from next and gunning them down before they could get at my friends. The best moments were when I had the resources to light the platforms where they’d show up on fire, making a “set it and forget it” solution that made the sequence a breeze. If you’re noticing a penchant for setting things on fire, well, it’s very satisfying in this game, especially as Abe giggles when his oppressors burn to death.
For every one of the six or so ladder sequences, I saved all my Mudokon friends, and I thought that’d be the hardest challenge the game would throw at me. But it wasn’t. Of the 1,282 Mudokons I set out to save, I only brought 1,281 of them home. There was just one friggin’ guy I could not get, no matter how hard I tried. He was in the Necrum mines level, next to a gauntlet of alternating drills that chewed up anything under them. The goal was clear — carefully guide him through the drills — but I couldn’t get the timing right getting him or myself ground up into minced Mudokon meat. This frustrated me because this wasn’t a puzzle I simply hadn’t found the solution to but a physical skill task that I knew I just wasn’t going to be able to complete.
Knowing I couldn’t save him, I couldn’t simply leave them there. For all its gruesomeness and hilarious object lessons on the rapaciousness of capitalism, there is a lot of heart and earnestness in Soulstorm’s story. When you rescue followers, they exclaim, “Oh! I knew you’d come!” or “Praise be to Abe!” I didn’t want to leave him down in the dark mines waiting for a savior that wasn’t coming, so I killed him. I possessed a Slig and shot him in the head, figuring that’d be more humane than letting him get ground up on purpose. Rest in peace, Mudokon #20.
There are parts of Exoddus that I wish had been carried over into Soulstorm. I would have loved to possess the Glukkons and make them hop around on their small-legged, no-armed bodies before unceremoniously making them explode. That’s what’s so great and, ironically, damning about Soulstorm: it is just different enough that I have no qualms about going back and playing Exoddus without feeling like I’m retreading my steps. Which is exactly what I’m going to do the second I finish this review. It’s probably going to get me in trouble at home and work again. Oops.