Game Review

Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus (1998) [PS1]

It isn’t fair, we had twice the flavour!
-Brewmaster Glukkon

 

ava “The following is a contributor post by the Bizzaro Mage.”

After cutting my teeth on taking on Abe’s Oddysee as my first in depth critique, it seems only natural to turn my attention to its direct sequel, Abe’s Exoddus.

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Released only a year after Oddysee in 1998, Exoddus is grander in scale to an impressive degree. It has more varied locales, bigger levels, far more Mudokons to rescue (or kill if you’re of a certain disposition) and various new enemy types.

Whilst my memories of how I even got hold of this game are hazy, I do remember it being a particularly cold winter at the time, perhaps I got it for Christmas as I remember my brother and I bingeing it on New Year’s Eve whilst everybody else was doing inferior things like drinking beer and partying. Were there any flying Sligs at their parties? I think not!

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Worst party guest ever..

The game was borne of a hectic nine-month development cycle, publisher GT Interactive having seen the amount of money that Oddysee had managed to rake in and deciding that it wouldn’t mind a little bit more. It is posited that this is the reason why the game is so very similar to its prequel, that time constraints forced Oddworld Inhabitants to use the same engine.

Indeed, many reviewers across the board found fault with just how similar this game was, reusing many Oddysee’s assets and themes and even a couple of story beats. But this never bothered me when I picked up that controller and got stuck in and, after blasting through Necrum mines a couple of nights ago, I must say it’s still no issue. To my mind, it’s simply more of the same well-designed, flavourful platforming action that made Oddysee such a hit with me.

The plot this time sees Abe on the offensive from the get go, thanks to some questionable health and safety at the Mudokon Temple knocking our hero clean out. In his vision, he meets three Mudokon ghosts, who are pleasantly nicknamed the “Weirdos”. They send Abe on a new quest, to shut down the latest industrial expansion set up by the evil Magog Cartel, led by the Glukkons. This new expansion is the mining of Mudokon bones from their holy burial site, Necrum. If that’s not suspect enough, they’re even using Mudokon slaves to do it.

Abe’s mission goes awry from the beginning, yet he somehow manages to deal with the Necrum bone mines before having to engage in some trials, much like the ones he had to complete in Paramonia and Scrabania in his previous outing. And just like those glory days, he must face off against wild Scrabs and Paramites in the Mudanchee and Mudomo vaults. Completing these trials gives Abe the ability to heal his fellow Mudokons that have been poisoned by drinking the Glukkon’s new hit product, Soulstorm Brew, which we discover is made from Mudokon bones and one other secret ingredient.

After being bestowed this gift, Abe then takes the fight to the Glukkons, taking down the Bonewerkz bone processing factory, Slig Barracks and FeeCo Rail Depot in order to gain access to Soulstorm Brewery and free the rest of his people. What happens from here I will let any prospective player discover for themselves, suffice to say that if you fail to rescue enough Mudokons along the way then Abe will meet a rather unfortunate end.

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Show up, do deadly trials, save the Mudokon people… again

So what new tools does the player have at their disposal to help them in this new mission? Well to start with, GameSpeak has been tweaked and some very useful quality of life changes have been made. Whereas in Oddysee when Abe could only talk to one Mudokon at a time, he can now interact with entire crowds of them, occasionally ending up with what amounts to a giant conga line of Mudokons heading to the nearest escape portal.

I did initially worry that this would make puzzles too easy and, therefore, the game fly by too quickly. This, however, is not the case. The maximum amounts of Mudokons to save has gone from Oddysee’s daunting 99 to an impressive new 300 and, whilst you can save 75 in the first level alone, saving 300 is no easy feat. As in Abe’s previous outing, the Mudokons along the main path of progression are a challenge to save but the game always seems to give you a good chance at doing so. It’s the hidden areas, often marked by subtle clues in the environment, that contain the real rage inducing puzzles, some of them so difficult that I have never, in all of my many playthroughs, saved all 300 (there, I said it, my dirty secret is out there!)

The puzzles seem a lot harder this time around in part due to the addition of new enemy types, most of which are very welcome but one that can most certainly burn in video game hell, along with that laughing scene in Final Fantasy X. Anybody who has read my critique of Abe’s Oddysee will know how much I love those cruel, machine gun toting enemies, the Sligs and, this time around, they have two new varieties, the first of which is one separated from his mechanical pants and machine gun, otherwise known as defenceless victims for Abe to possess. Whilst they sound pretty useless in this form, they can be used to interact with the Slig’s voice-activated locks and can even summon some pants and a gun at conveniently placed vending machines.

If an unarmed Slig is crawling toward one of these, you’d better intercept it quickly. The other new variant of Slig is the flying type. I remember first booting up Exoddus back in ‘98 and my dad howling with laughter as a flying Slig appeared in the intro sequence, moved to tears of joy by the fact that its little helicopter was powered by what sounds like a two-stroke lawn mower engine. It is unwise to hang around and enjoy that for too long, though, as the flying Slig throws grenades pretty accurately and will make short work of Abe if he ends up beneath it.

Also new to the party is the Greeter, a strange machine that resembles a dustbin on a unicycle with a big cartoon grin. These things are hard to kill and attack with a bolt of electricity but are otherwise quite unremarkable. It is the last addition to the enemy roster, the candidate for video game damnation, that part of me wishes Oddworld Inhabitants had never added, the Fleech: a leech-like creature spends most of its time asleep but, if awoken, chases Abe trying to swallow him whole with a long, chameleon like tongue. To make matters worse they can follow Abe almost anywhere, including upwards, so climbing onto a handy ledge is no defense against these.

Fleech

No! Just no!

One final new addition of note is that Abe’s possession ability is now far more powerful, allowing him to not only possess the three types of Slig but also Scrabs, Paramites, and even Glukkons. This feature adds a whole new element to the Scrab and Paramite trials in the Mudanchee and Mudomo vaults, making the puzzles here stand out from those encountered in the temples of the last game.

Along with these new possession options comes new GameSpeak dialogue, too. As a Paramite, for example, you can greet your fellow spider-faced horrors and ask them to follow and assist you, just like Abe can with other Mudokons. Scrabs have less options (as they usually just kill whatever appears in front of them anyway, including other Scrabs) but do have a vicious, whirling attack that will put down anything that comes into contact with it.

Hands down the best new GameSpeak options go to the Glukkons. As they are physically frail and have no offensive capabilities as such, the Glukkons have to rely on Sligs to do their dirty work. One puzzle later in the game sees Abe possess a Glukkon and send them down through a slog kennel, using a Slig to put down wave after wave of the dog-like creatures by standing behind it and relentlessly shouting “kill ‘em!”. These high pressure situations are a real test of your GameSpeak knowledge and reflexes.

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Bossing Sligs around is actually quite cathartic

Exoddus also introduces Mudokons with frail emotional states and blind ones, too. The emotional Mudokons can be calmed down by Abe administering sympathy or, in the case of Mudokons driven mad by laughing gas, a harsh slap to the face. Whilst this doesn’t sound like much, getting a Mudokon to cheer up so it will follow you to freedom can be pretty hard whilst also trying to avoid a patrolling Slig or avoid a pack of Fleeches that are slowly wriggling toward you. Blind Mudokons also add an extra challenge, their lack of vision meaning that they will simply follow Abe’s voice. This can often end with them walking into mining equipment or falling to their deaths if Abe isn’t fast enough to tell them to wait.

The final new addition to Exoddus is perhaps the most welcome of all. Something that we perhaps take for granted in many modern games, the addition of a quick save function turn Exoddus’s more problematic puzzles from a chore to a challenge. At any time you can pause the game and simply select quick save and, should Abe die, you will simply revert back to that point. Oddysee really suffered for having some badly paced checkpoints and the developers found an elegant way to give more control to the player in that regard.

It is good to see that, despite adding so much new material, Exoddus manages to keep the same high quality of visual and sound design as it’s predecessor. The levels still look magnificent, with hand drawn backdrops that range from the purple-hued tunnels of Necrum to the harsh industrial lights of Soulstorm Brewery. The character sprites still look amazing, if largely unchanged outside of the new additions. Little additions like the odd bird wandering the ground that flies away as Abe approaches or the movement of passing cargo trains in the background of the FeeCo Depot make the world look more alive than ever, certainly at the top end of what a 2D platformer can do visually to this very day, which is saying something considering how much the PlayStation’s graphics have aged over the years. The FMV cutscenes also seem to have had something of a quality boost since Oddysee and actually look pretty decent still, though obviously not a patch on something a PS4, Xbox 360 or even a PS2 could run they look very good for the games of the time.

weirdos.jpg

The FMV sequences still look good today

The sound design also keeps up the good work started in Oddysee, maintaining the dynamic approach that made its forebear feel like a movie. Music is virtually non-existent when things are calm on-screen, allowing the player to enjoy the sound of their surroundings, such as mining machinery in the mines or the sounds of the rainforest in Necrum. As the action ramps up, for instance a Scrab becomes aware of Abe’s presence nearby, the music begins to intensify and, once Abe’s life is in actual harm’s way, builds to an urgent crescendo.

The voice acting is still excellent, with series creator Lorne Lanning once again taking on the role of Abe himself. The wild creatures of Oddworld still make their excellent noises and the new addition of possessable Glukkons comes with some very haughty, arrogant-sounding voices that match their fat-cat natures perfectly. The only slight disappointment here is the Greeter, which simply repeats Slig lines but in a higher pitched voice, I feel that they may have benefited from having a voice of their own to add some extra personality.

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I just love him so much….

As a parting note, I must mention that my one main gripe from Abe’s Oddysee has been more than made up for here: Exoddus features far more memorable characters. From the ghostly Weirdos to the four Glukkons that rule Soulstorm Brewery and its subsidiaries, there are plenty more personalities on offer to enjoy and they are all different from each other in one way or another. My favourite character, however, is the Newscaster Slig, who seems to have traded in his gun for a microphone and appears via FMV every now and again to interview the Glukkons and report on Abe’s findings, not to mention showing up at a very inappropriate point in the story to complain about Soulstorm Brewery’s bad plumbing. As a major league Slig fanboy, I couldn’t have asked for more.

As an Elum fanboy, however, I must note my disgust. Where is Abe’s lovable mount and accomplice this time around?

 

 

The 8-bit Review
Visuals icon Visuals: 9/10
Whilst largely unchanged in quality fromAbe’s Oddysee, the sheer amount of new artwork that went into Exoddus cannot be ignored. The game is a lot bigger and yet the only time any areas look at all similar is the Mudanchee and Mudomo vaults. Even within these two levels, the backdrop on every screen is different.

The foreground graphics and sprites are also still very high quality and the many billboards and signs put up all over the more industrial levels are often witty and eye-catching, just a little extra to add to the overall immersion. The FMV sequences are all improved this time around and I think it would be hard to find another PlayStation game with full CG graphics that looks this good.

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Audio icon Audio: 10/10
The sound design here remains at an extremely high level, the dynamic music and varied background sounds really making the world come to life and helping to instill a sense of what Abe might be feeling from moment to moment.

The wild animals of Oddworld all make a range of croaks, growls, clicks, and howls that one could easily attribute to a real animal and this range of noises can help the player to discern how that Scrab or Paramite is about to act in any situation, for instance a cornered Paramite hissing with anger and fear as Abe approaches it.

The speaking creatures are also still very impressive to hear. Glukkons will remind you of every horrible boss you ever had thanks to their arrogance and curt manner, and the Mudokons’ new dialogue makes them feel that much more three dimensional this time out. The Sligs are largely unchanged from Oddysee, their speech is much the same and their mechanical pants still exhibit the same creaks as they move around. An honourary mention does go to flying Slig’s little helicopter though, as that tinny engine sound is not only strangely adorable but also serves as a fantastic early warning system when one of them is approaching for the kill.

Gameplay icon Gameplay: 10/10
Abe’s Exoddus’s gameplay is kept fresh this time around thanks in no part to the new additions and mechanics that the developers have added. The core experience remains the same, well-designed platforming puzzles in which the player has to rescue Mudokons by sending them through portals back to safety. There are other objectives too, all leading Abe through his story of liberation toward Soulstorm Brewery, such as disabling three high powered locks at the FeeCo Depot or gaining the ability to heal those made sick by Soulstorm Brew. With all new locales, new enemy types, and new possession abilities, Exoddus feels like a massively expanded upon version of Oddysee. The game is overall longer, many of the puzzles harder and the locales more varied, especially with the addition of even more secret challenge areas and hidden Mudokons to save.

There are also even more ways for poor Abe to die now, thanks to the new enemies (I’m looking at you, Fleeches!) and the usual array of bombs, mines, drops, and mining machinery for the player to fall victim to.

A lot of the frustration, however, can be circumvented to the new quick save function, a feature that I cannot praise enough for taking the utter misery out of the more rage-quit inducing challenges.

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narrative Narrative: 9/10
I loved the overall narrative in Abe’s Oddysee, my only major complaint being the lack of any strong individual characters throughout the course of the story. Exoddus seems to have made a lot more of an effort to add some flavourful characters to the roster this time around, my favourite examples being the Newscaster Slig, the sneering, monocle-sporting Vice President Aslik, and the preposterously French-sounding Brewmaster Glukkon. The plot comes off a lot stronger thanks to the addition of new characters such as these and even just regular enemies who get some new lines in some of the FMV cutscenes.

Abe’s story arc in Exoddus is perhaps not as impactful as it was in the previous game. Originally, he went from being a cowardly slave at RuptureFarms to becoming the saviour of the Mudokon people, straight up wiping out the meat processing plant’s board of directors at the end. Here he seems to go from committed but somewhat wimpy hero to, well, committed but somewhat wimpy hero. It’s a real shame that Abe himself received no further fleshing out yet the world around him received some serious upgrades in that department.

Thematically, the message remains mostly the same: mass industrialisation is wiping out the indigenous species of Oddworld along with their habitats, much like in our world. Though Exoddus also shines a light on the idea of respecting the cultures of others, manifested in-game by the way that the Magog Cartel is happy to raid a very sacred burial site to harvest Mudokon bones for their own nefarious purposes. It is only through taking the fight to the Glukkons that Abe can stop such desecration and restore peace to Oddworld.

Replayability icon Replayability: 9/10
Exoddus’s overall difficulty should offer fans of difficult games plenty of excuse to pop that disc back into their console and have another bash at it periodically. The overall “pick up and play” feel from Abe’s Oddysee is still very much alive here, the addition of quick save massively helping in this regard. The ability to save the game wherever you desire and come back to it later takes away a lot of the frustration that came with the prequel’s checkpoint system.

With the addition of an extra 201 Mudokons to save this time around, there are even more secret areas to look for and even more fiendish puzzles to solve. This game is a completionist’s dream, that golden goal of saving every single slave is not only very hard to achieve but will also take plenty of time and experience in order to pull off. Many a playthrough I have spent scouring every screen of every level for secret areas.

challenge Challenge: 8/10
The challenge in Abe’s Exoddus can best be described as more of the same, a lot more, with extra bells and whistles on it. The challenges Abe will face along the main path of his quest are fairly similar in difficulty to those of the first game, though they do seem to get a little harder around the FeeCo Depot stage; indeed I remember some of the Slig barrack puzzles being particularly nasty. Players of Oddysee that have come to this game fresh will have some setbacks whilst feeling their way around the new obstacles and abilities too, which is guaranteed to add some extra deaths to Abe’s long, long list.

Once again, it is finding and subsequently conquering all of those hidden areas that present the most challenge, however. Some areas are absolutely evil, especially ones involving Fleeches, awful things that they are.

It must be said, however, that the game never comes across as unfair. The puzzles can be worked out quite logically; it’s all down to player ability and timing to get through a lot of them alive.

Uniqueness icon Uniqueness: 8/10
Even after the success of it’s prequel, no other publisher tried to copy Oddworld’s unique style, so Exoddus still maintained that fresh feel in 1998 that Oddysee did 9 months beforehand. The character designs are still as out there and surreal as ever, as are the levels with their beautiful backdrops and that clever, always changing soundtrack.

And maybe that is the elephant in the room here. Part of me feels that this adventure into Oddworld is maybe a little too much like the last and that it loses a bit of that fresh, unique feel in that respect. The new additions do add some variety here and the locales are instantly different to those in Oddysee, but the overall feel remains the same.

And now for the other slice of bread in the criticism sandwich. The plot in Exoddus does set it apart from Oddysee quite a bit, thanks to the quirky, nuanced personalities of characters like Brewmaster Glukkon, the Weirdos, and of course Abe’s buddy Alf and his rehab centre for Soulstorm Brew addicts. Oddworld is at its best when it fully embraces the unusual creatures that live and breathe within it and it genuinely pleases me to see them all fleshed out this time around.

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my personal grade My Personal Grade: 9/10
It may have debuted on a system three generations old, yet Abe’s Exoddus withstands the test of time very well.

Whilst I understand the complaints that the game received for its similarities to Abe’s Oddysee, for me it is merely more of the good stuff, the ingredients that made Oddysee so good. The new ingredients simply improve the metaphorical cake even further, adding more depth to the ever brilliant GameSpeak, more types of Mudokon to rescue and more things to shoot, cut or explode Abe as he attempts to do so. As a lover of games with strong stories, I was well and truly absorbed, loving the banter between characters during cutscenes and the more fleshed out approach to story telling in general this time around.

The game is still a beautiful, well-crafted piece of art with strong gameplay, challenging levels, and plenty of heart and I would happily recommend it to any fan of platformers, weird universes and, of course, any fan of Abe’s Oddysee. I absolutely love Abe’s Exoddus 24 years on and here’s hoping you do, too.

Apart from Fleeches. Nobody loves Fleeches.

Aggregated Score: 9.0

 

Stepping from the shadows into the light, the Bizzaro Mage somehow functions as an average human being most of the time, just one with a fair few retro games cluttering up his tiny house. Check out his rambling attempts at sense over at winst0lfportal.wordpress.com.

 

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6 replies »

  1. Both your debut posts have made me really happy, as I missed out on these games back in the day and I always felt a tinge of sadness that I never played them and likely never would. Because you were really awesomely detailed in your critiques, I felt like I finally got a taste of Oddworld myself!

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