**UPDATE** Sad news from Lorne Lanning and Oddworld Inhabitants, the creators of this spectacular series. Oddworld Inhabitants is closing its doors. After creating 4 games in what was supposed to be a huge series and with 2 games already in development for next gen systems, they are closing up. Chances are this will be the last game featuring the loveable creatures of Oddworld. But fear not, Lanning believes he might be able to crack into the TV or movie business in order to have his property protected. Keep an eye on them. They are so talented, their studio might be the next Pixar.
On to the review:
I'm very disappointed in the mistreatment this game has been getting from the professional online reviewers like IGN, Gamespot and Gamespy. When I was trying to figure out if this game was worth purchasing or not, I had to literally search the entire page at the Xbox branch of IGN just to find the review. Normally, reviews get top billing; not the case with this beautifully unique game.
A lot has been said about the "gimmick" of having live ammo. Given the series of Oddworld (Abe's Oddysee and Exodus, Munch's Oddysee), how someone could label the live ammo as a gimmick is beyond me. Oddworld is a world very different from our own. Stranger's Wrath just heightened this oddity by giving you creatures to fire instead of finding ammo for your tripple-barrelled, shoots rockets and has a flame-thrower attached, shotgun. And it fits in the universe perfectly. Now, if this was a Halo game (for example), yes having live ammo would be a gimmick. But, it fits in perfectly with the Oddworld mythos and provides a truly engaging experience.
Another thing that I feared after reading the sorely mistaken (IMO) professional reviews was that it was virtually impossible to capture the bosses alive. Being a bounty hunter, it is your mission to capture wanted villains either dead or alive. By capturing them alive you get two or more times the money than capturing them dead.
Now, if you were to read a lot of reviews from IGN etc, it would seem that you couldn't capture any of the bosses alive. While I have been playing games all of my life and am better than the average gamer in some respects, I would definitely not consider myself a master of the FPS genre. By any stretch. And yet I was able to capture every single boss alive. Now, there were a couple that made me very frustrated and it took me more than a handful of tries to do it, I was able to. The game definitely makes you work to get that full bounty but it's not impossible.
As far as the story goes, the developers once again created a uniquely different story involving Stranger and his past. I will not reveal any story spoilers, but not is all what it seems and there will come a point where the way you look at the game changes in an exciting way. And from that point on, the game ramps up the excitement to a wonderful climax.
Graphically, the game is beautiful. It makes me remember why I bought the Xbox. Not only are the lush environments beautifully rendered, but the framerate moves swiftly. Seeing Strange bound at a cheetah speed through these beautiful environments is striking. There is some pop-up, especially in Mango (sp?) Valley where bushes will pop up in the distance. But considering the speed and the graphics the game is pushing, it doesn't really bother me.
As far as controls go, this game is well designed. Switching between first person and third person is as easy as tapping the R3 button. This change works really well, giving you the best of both worlds, the percision of first person shooting, and the fluidity and speed of moving in third person. I have a couple complaints though. Moving up and down rope is a pain. The animation is kinda clunky and I don't see why you can't slide down rope, instead of hand over hand moving down it. Hey, if the Prince can slide down rope, why can't Stranger? But this is a minor quibble.
As far as the sound goes, again Oddworld Inhabitants (the developers) did an excellent job. Stranger's voice is a little silly to me, he talks in a slow drawl that seems to be a cross between Clint Eastwood and Forrest Gump. But the other voices are remarkable, especially considering that most (if not all) are done in house with the Lead voicing most characters in all of the Oddworld games.
My only real complaint is that the game isn't long enough. It's longer than Halo 2 (which is a bonus), and I don't know exactly how many hours I clocked in on it, but it felt like it was over too fast. I guess what disappointed me was that I was having so much fun exploring Oddworld again that no matter how long or short it was I would be sad to leave it. The world is just so interesting.
The level design is also very linear. In today's world of GTA openness, people might have a problem with that, which is why I bring it up. The levels have a set path. That's not to say the gameplay is linear. There are MANY different ways to tackle every situation. The joy of having live ammo is that you are presented with a myriad of ways to take down the opposition, creating gameplay that allows you to experiment. But if you're looking for a Deus Ex type of environment where there are multiple paths to get to the boss, you won't find it here.
What the game does best is refresh video games. From the opening CG cinema (which is Pixar quality) to all of the loveably strange and bizarre characters, this game oozes originality and charm. You can tell the developers truly care about the artform of video games. They love what they do and the game was a refreshing experience.
To sum it up, I can't say enough about this game. It is unique. It is beautiful. And it is fun. Even after the 5th time trying to take down a boss alive, I didn't throw down the controller in anger. It kept me wanting to play until I could take him down. If you are tired of the same old save Earth from "insert name of alien race here", or similar I would definitely recommend this game. It is hard, but it is easily one of the most enjoyable games I have played in ages. And the jolt of energy the games gives you about half way through the game is enough for me to recommend buying this game.