Steam Cleaning #16: Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee

Wow, games used to play differently.

I’m no stranger to platforming/adventure/puzzle hybrids with very stiff movement and level design. This was all the rage in the 90s. Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine was my first dose of this kind of gameplay, and that game itself was copying Tomb Raider. Games in the 2d space, like early Prince of Persia and Abe’s Oddysee are not all that different.

I feel like we have kind of left this style of game behind. But, for that matter, I’m not sure I miss it.

In Abe’s Oddysee, the titular odd creature sneaks, runs, jumps, and puzzles his way through a hideous factory that both employs and destroys his kind. The animation and environment are breathtaking and immersive… for the PS1. Even today, though, the unique setting and character come through and provide an atmosphere unique to Oddworld. The way everything moves and acts is expressive and uglycute.

This visual and environmental fidelity comes with a caveat. Abe can’t interact with the environment as naturally as a protagonist in a modern triple-A game can. His animations are pre-determined, rigid to a fault. As such, the world is flat and laid out on a grid. Rather than having pixel-perfect collision, Abe stands in pre-determined ‘spaces’ on the map. This is a lot of gamespeak for “Don’t expect this to be a fluid platforming game with handy controls.” The game can’t do that for you, it’s not capable of it, and that was never the designed intention. This is an adventure game with puzzles and a few timing segments and fast-paced challenges.

With this explanation, I can’t call this a bad game. The way the tutorial is given to you in the environment is neat and immersive. My solutions for puzzles felt constrained sometimes, but I also sometimes got past a screen and wondered if that was the ‘intended’ route. Frequent checkpoints (somewhat) alleviated frustration when I couldn’t figure out how to proceed without dying. All good points.

I do wish the game were more clear about certain objectives and abilities. For example, there was a screen where I clearly needed an NPC prisoner to leap up and press a switch… I think. I had no idea how to make him do that with my commands. I solved the screen in a different way, and that prisoner died horribly. There were a few such examples just in the first hour of the game.

Between the gameplay style and its old-school ‘figure it out’ design, I’d say Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee is not for me. It’s not a bad game. I’m just not really interested.

Verdict: One hour played.

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