Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath was one of the most critically acclaimed titles on the original Xbox when it was released in 2005, and yet at the time it totally passed me by. This Wild West inspired shooter (where the usual cowboys are substituted for all manner of alien creatures!) would have been right up my street, but at least I'm now able to rectify this gaming faux pas thanks to this HD remake by developers Just Add Water.
The first thing that strikes you about the game is what a stunning job has been made in bringing Stranger's Wrath to the Vita. The developers have forgone the usual route of just upping the original game's resolution, adding trophy support and slapping HD at the end of the title. What Just Add Water have done here is given Stranger's Wrath a proper high-definition remake. All the characters have been remodeled and retextured, the same goes for the environments and the sound quality has been given a major boost over the Xbox version. All this coupled with a rock solid frame-rate means we are left with one of the best looking games on the Vita and a benchmark for all future HD remakes.
As for the game itself, you take on the role of the bounty hunter Stranger who is trying to earn the Moolah (Oddworld's currency) to pay for a life saving operation. As you work you way through the scum of Oddworld towards that one big payday you'll discover more about this enigmatic stranger, but in the interest of spoilers I'll say no more! Stranger's Wrath combines 1st person shooting, 3rd person platforming and an open level design to give the payer freedom to tackle the game in any number of ways.
After completing a pretty lengthy tutorial level (where you bag your first bounty), you arrive in the first of three towns, each of which act as a hub for your bounty hunting endeavours. After a quick visit to the Bounty Store you will have acquired your next target, but do you risk trying to take them alive for more Moolah or sacrifice some cash and go in all guns blazing? The real strength of Stranger's Wrath is in the variety of ways it offers you to complete each mission. In the 3rd person mode you can take advantage of Stranger's agility and powerful melee attacks to stun your opponents before vacuuming up their unconscious bodies to be cashed in later. If you'd rather deal damage from a distance then stick to the 1st person view and fire off a few rounds of 'live ammunition' from Stranger's crossbow. This weapon can be loaded up with a variety of insects and small mammals (which have a habit of making sarcastic comments at you mid-battle) that you find around Oddworld, each with their own effect on enemies. As well as the equivalent of sniper rounds, grenades, mines and mini-guns, you also have Bolamites that wrap enemies in webs and Stunkz that explode into a plume of noxious gas that incapacitates enemies.
Stealth is also on offer and can be a very useful tool when faced with a large group of bad guys. Stick to the long grass and you will be hidden from view (the user interface will always let you know if you are hidden or spotted). You can take pot shots from your hiding spot or lure the enemies to your position with the help of the Chippunk ammo (a chipmunk like creature that infuriates bad guys so much they have to come over to squash them!). If all else fails you can always use the environment to your advantage, shooting the exploding barrels or dropping a wrecking ball on an unsuspecting bad guy's head. It is this variety in the combat that makes Stranger's Wrath such a rewarding game, as it gives you the tools to play the game however you want and then lets you get on with it.
Stranger's Wrath is a challenging game, but never frustrating, and with a generous checkpoint system you never lose much progress if Stranger dies. If you aren't sure what to do then press square for Stranger to give you a hint, or you can press square by an NPC and they will give you some advice. To regain health in the game you hold down triangle to make Stranger shake. This uses up part of your stamina bar which recharges over time. Melee attacks also drain stamina so it pays to keep an eye on your reserves in battle as you don't want to leave yourself without the ability to heal. You do get the option to upgrade Stranger's abilities by spending the Moolah you earn in each town's general store - as you progress through the game you can increase the potency of your ammo, buy armour, increase your stamina reserves and so on.
It also pays to fully explore your surroundings as you are free to wander around any area of the town you have unlocked. There are sources of ammo and Moolah to be found all round Oddworld, and it pays to listen in to the NPC's conversations for clues as to the location of these goodies. As the game enters its final act the story dictates that the level design becomes more linear, and it is disappointing to move away from the more open nature of the earlier areas. However, by this stage in the game you will be fully tooled up and in a position to deal out some serious damage, which is more than enough fun in itself.
The game controls very well on the Vita and once again shows what a great decision Sony made in giving the machine two proper analogue sticks. The touchscreen and rear touchpad have also been used sensibly by the developers. All the game menus are activated using the touchscreen (which should be a must for all Vita games), and it can also be double-tapped for changing between 1st and 3rd person view. The rear touchpad is used to punch in 1st person view and also bring up the binoculars for sniping.
Overall I would highly recommend this game to any Vita owner. Just Add Water haven't just given a classic Xbox game the HD treatment, they have totally remade it so that it stands up there with the best looking and sounding games on Sony's handheld. The fact that the gameplay is also superb is the icing on a rather sumptuous looking cake!
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