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This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Oddworld: Soulstorm.

Transcript[]

Back in the wild, romantic days of the PlayStation 1, when pixels were large and masculine and memory cards were to their modern equivalents what a pedal-powered double-decker bus is to a motor scooter, there began the Oddworld series, wherein some visionary genius sat bolt-upright in bed and said, "What if there was a world that's like primitive Earth, but - get this - everyone looks weird, and has eyes the size of Jammie Wagon Wheels? For some reason, I feel like this is a creative well that will never run dry." Very much the James Cameron's Avatar of its time, in several respects, because it initially announced it was going to be a five-game epic, but never quite successfully fired the outboard motor on that one, merely sputtering along for a few games before disappearing over the horizon of indifference.

But back then, we didn't have the experience we have now with the many failed attempts at cinematic universes, from which we learned that pledging a multi-sequel epic before the first installment is even out is like getting a positive pregnancy test and proceeding to book a church for your child's future wedding; you're just tempting fate to ensure your child is born with no genitals or really weirdly into Sonic the Hedgehog. Oddworld started out with this rather original, mystical, and darkly comedic vibe, but, in later games, made the tactical error of leaning more towards the comedy when the comedy was based mainly around farts and doing embarrassingly bad Star Wars prequel-level gags in the Monty Python old lady voice, and was generally about as funny as the children's bone cancer ward's production of Othello, the Moor of Venice.

So, while I wouldn't say the Oddworld franchise never got off the ground, it certainly never really cleared the treetops, and is presently weaving around the painfully solid giant redwoods of irrelevance by remaking the first couple of games; sort of an attempt to recapture that original freshness, the way one does with Febreze and a pair of old underpants. First, there was New 'n' Tasty!, the remake of Abe's Oddysee, and now Soulstorm; not a remake of Abe's Exoddus, but more of a retake, or reimagining, or recidivist, or some other word beginning with "re", possibly even the one you're thinking of, you terribly un-politically correct viewer!

Let's not waste time and skip straight to the TL;DR part of the fractious Reddit relationship story that is this game; I kind of hate Soulstorm. I hated the experience of playing it. But the question I found myself asking was, "Is this because of unintentionally bad design, or from its attempt to faithfully recreate the PlayStation 1 era, before video gamers were spoiled by autosaves and analog sticks and the warm, convivial atmosphere of grudging societal acceptance?" Well, I'd say it's a little of Giant Redwood A and a little of Giant Redwood B.

The plot involves Abe, bumbling messiah of the Mudokon people who all look like Teenage Mutant Ninja Tadpoles, fresh from having rescued his people from the factory in the first game, now getting roped into rescuing another batch as he's hunted across the plains by his enemies; thankfully without so many fart jokes, but having taken those out, the game doesn't have anything to replace them with. The general tone of the story is bland, with Abe stumbling from one gameplay encounter to the next without much apparent decision-making on his part; it's like watching Mr. Bean recast as Lawrence of Arabia.

Anyway, Abe's Oddysee and Exoddus were, back in the day, what we used to laughably call "cinematic platformers" or, even more laughably, "realistic platformers", which usually meant "character can do an infinite number of pull-ups onto ledges", which doesn't strike me as realistic, but then I get most of my exercise lifting Creme Eggs to my face. So that's faithfully recreated in standard 2.5D gameplay, complete with the classic "cinematic platformer" thing where it's weirdly difficult to walk off a ledge. The gameplay is also based around escorting NPCs, and a game based around escorting is so often akin to, say, a family dining experience based around sitting on spikes, but not so much in a puzzle game in the Lemmings sort of area like this; figuring out how best to navigate your dudes past a few screens of hazards when your dudes have all the facility for self-preservation as a blind hedgehog on a turnpike.

Bearing that in mind, when I fuck up in a puzzle game, I want to feel like it was because I wasn't smart enough, not because some element of the game decided not to work the way it had worked before. Sometimes, your followers' neurons will fire fast enough to run past the ceiling crusher when you tell them to; sometimes, they won't. Sometimes, they'll all hide in a locker when you tell them to; sometimes, they won't, and when the enemy patrol turns around, they all get shot dead before they even have time to show their hall pass. Sometimes, the enemy patrol turns around and shoots you dead; sometimes, they don't, because their A.I. fucked up and they've stopped moving altogether, which gets particularly farsical if you've dropped a mine on their patrol path. "Boy, that was some really impressive patrolling up to now! Can't wait to see it again! Oh my goodness, is that a reunion performance of The Three Tenors behind you?!" "Boy, missing out on that would haunt me to my dying days!"

When the elements of a puzzle game don't act consistently, the result is frustration; it's like playing chess against a six-year-old who's just decided his bishop can now move sideways and shoot lasers out of his hat. These are the frustrations that I classify under "recreating the retro vibe, genital warts and all"; there's also an array of wonderful, fresh, new diseases that Soulstorm has acquired from not maintaining social distancing with modern video game trends. For one thing, it's nice that games can now instantly save your progress when you touch a save-point without all that fucking around with double-decker bus memory cards, but when you've just lost five dudes 'cos a helicopter enemy randomly decided they can see through smoke clouds now, and want to kill yourself and retry the area, suddenly, those insta-save points become fucking landmines.

Oh, and we all know how much modern video game audiences love digging around in the trash like they're your mum at a speed-dating event, and so there's a fucking crafting element in the game; we find ourselves having to laboriously check every dustbin and locker, all of which are like fussy prom dates 'cos they require you to be perfectly-positioned before they'll consent to being rooted around in, in order to craft items that are essential for progress. Or, we have to scrape together enough pocket change to pay a toll on the gate to the next area, often by taking empty bottles to a recycling machine, and that's not even crafting; that's just fucking me about. Rather undermines the main theme of escaping from wage slavery, because we seem to have taken over the factory's fucking janitorial services.

We also have the occasional cockeyed notion that this game about carefully escorting people needs some action set pieces, so our dude who's mainly built for tiptoeing around like he's sneaking off to raid the fridge has to accurately fling rocks at a giant robot's weak spots while it fires multiple explosive counter-arguments at your bony bum. So in brief, Soulstorm either does too much, or not enough of being too old-fashioned, or too new. ...Yes, I've confused myself, as well; let's just leave things at "don't buy it".

Addenda[]

  • The odd man out: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • For you see even across time, space and alternate dimensions the fart joke remains universally hilarious
  • Oh boy who remembers rumble packs
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
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2008
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2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
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Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2018
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II · Hand of Fate 2 · South Park: The Fractured but Whole
2018
Q1 Top 5 of 2017 · Okami HD · PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds · Fortnite and Dusk · Doki Doki Literature Club! · The Inpatient and Doom VFR · Monster Hunter World · Subnautica · Kingdom Come: Deliverance · Metal Gear Survive · Hot Coffee · Hunt Down The Freeman · Ghost of a Tale
Q2 A Way Out · Far Cry 5 · Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom · Extinction and Attack on Titan 2 · God of War 4 · Yakuza 6: The Song of Life · Silent Hill 4: The Room · Conan Exiles · House Flipper and FAR: Lone Sails · Detroit Become Human · Agony · E3 2018 · Vampyr
Q3 Jurassic World Evolution · Resident Evil 4 · Totally Accurate Battlegrounds and Moonlighter · The Crew 2 · Octopath Traveler · Observer · Chasm and This Is the Police 2 · We Happy Few · Unavowed · Guacamelee! 2 and Not Tonight · Shenmue · Marvel's Spider-Man · Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Q4 Dragon Quest XI · Star Control: Origins · Assassin's Creed Odyssey · Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 · Return of the Obra Dinn · The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories · Red Dead Redemption 2 · Call of Cthulhu · Fallout 76 · Hitman 2 and Killer7 · Darksiders III · Just Cause 4
2019
Q1 Top 5 of 2018 · Super Smash Bros. Ultimate · Gris and Ashen · Katamari Damacy Reroll · Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes · Resident Evil 2 · Kingdom Hearts III · Metro Exodus · Far Cry New Dawn · Anthem · Crackdown 3 · Left Alive · Devil May Cry 5
Q2 The Division 2 · Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice · Unheard and Outward · Yoshi's Crafted World · Mortal Kombat 11 · Katana Zero · Days Gone · Close to the Sun · Rage 2 · Observation · A Plague Tale: Innocence · E3 2019 · Blood: Fresh Supply
Q3 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night · Judgment · The Sinking City · My Friend Pedro and Sea of Solitude · Acclaim Entertainment Hall of Shame · Wolfenstein: Youngblood · Horace · Rebel Galaxy Outlaw · Control · The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan · Remnant: From The Ashes · Blair Witch · Gears 5
Q4 Astral Chain · Contra: Rogue Corps · Ghost Recon Breakpoint · Indivisible · The Outer Worlds · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare · Luigi's Mansion 3 · Death Stranding · Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order · Shenmue III · 2019 Games I Haven't Reviewed Roundup · Phoenix Point & Bug Fables
2020
Q1 Top 5 of 2019 · The 2010s' Most Significant Games · Boneworks · MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries & Wattam · Journey to the Savage Planet · The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners · Kentucky Route Zero · Zombie Army 4: Dead War · Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem · Dreams · Doom Retrospective · Black Mesa · Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Q2 Doom Eternal · Half-Life: Alyx · Resident Evil 3 · Animal Crossing: New Horizons · Final Fantasy VII Remake · XCOM: Chimera Squad · Cloudpunk & Streets of Rage 4 · World of Warcraft: The Corrupted Blood Incident · Ion Fury & Void Bastards · Maneater · Minecraft Dungeons · Shantae and the Seven Sirens · Desperados III
Q3 The Last of Us Part II · Persona 4 Golden · Stadia · Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise · Paper Mario: The Origami King · Ghost of Tsushima · Carrion & Beyond a Steel Sky · Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout · Mortal Shell · Spiritfarer · No Straight Roads & Battletoads · Marvel's Avengers · BPM: Bullets Per Minute · Serious Sam 4
Q4 Hades · Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time · Amnesia: Rebirth · Remothered: Broken Porcelain · Ghostrunner · Watch Dogs: Legion · The Dark Pictures Anthology: Little Hope · Assassin's Creed Valhalla · Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales · Yakuza: Like a Dragon · Immortals Fenyx Rising · Cyberpunk 2077
2021
Q1 Top 5 of 2020 · Bugsnax and Super Meat Boy Forever · Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond · Demon's Souls (Remake) · Hitman 3 · The Medium · Werewolf: The Apocalypse - Earthblood · Little Nightmares II · Breathedge · Persona 5 Strikers · Harvest Moon: One World · Loop Hero and Everhood · Evil Genius 2: World Domination
Q2 Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town · Outriders · Oddworld: Soulstorm · It Takes Two · Balan Wonderworld · Resident Evil Village · Returnal · Biomutant · Subnautica: Below Zero · Miitopia · Necromunda: Hired Gun · Sniper: Ghost Warrior Contracts 2 · Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Q3 Scarlet Nexus · Mario Golf: Super Rush & Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights · Ys IX: Monstrum Nox · Cruelty Squad · Death's Door and The Forgotten City · The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles · Dreamscaper and Jupiter Hell · Twelve Minutes · No More Heroes III · Psychonauts 2 · Tormented Souls and The Artful Escape · Deathloop
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