13-Aug-2001 Paul Mallinson is odd, damn odd. He plays role-playing games in his boxer shorts. Or so the rumour goes.
Rupture Farms - the largest, most productive meat processing plant in the entire galaxy - is not the place to be if you're a veggie. Which the hero of this game, Abe, most certainly is not. Abe is a Mudokan, a race of green-skinned aliens that have been enslaved by the evil Glukkon to work inside their ghoulish slaughterhouse. He's also a fully fledged meat-eater, having tasted Meech Munchies (sadly discontinued due to the extinction of the Meech), chomped on Paramite Pies (mmmm) and occasionally tucked into Scrab Cakes.
With Scrab stocks plummeting and Paramites on their way out too, Rupture Farms are on the lookout for a tasty alternative, and - as Abe inadvertently finds out - Mudokan meat is next in line for 'processing'. Cue much bother as Abe makes good his escape, with the evil ruling Glukkon and their sinister army of robotic guards hot on his heels.
Comedy arse gas
When the excellent opening video subsides, control of Abe reverts to the player and the game moves seamlessly to a familiar side-on platform format. It's here Abe's problems really begin.
Trapped inside a labyrinth of machinery and monsters, Abe must lead his Mudokan co-workers to safety through the power of his own voice. Gamespeak, as Abe's in-game vocal repertoire is known, is activated by hitting various keys on the numeric pad (if you're playing with keys, that is) and can be useful in a number of situations. The phrases 'hello', 'follow me' and 'wait' are self-explanatory and come in handy very early on in the game, but growls, whistles and the occasional fart (complete with comedy arse gas) serve their purpose later on when Abe escapes the confines of Rupture Farms. There's also a multi-faceted 'chant' which does everything from ring bells to take over the body of an enemy (tres cool). It's all very cute and will no doubt have the girlies cooing in the background as you play.
However, little else in this platform adventure could be described as cute. Oddworld is inhabited by some of the most disgustingly hostile creatures ever seen in a computer game, all of whom will tear Abe's head off given half a chance. There is help pretty much the entire way through the game, although progress does seem to rely on trial and error, which involves much replaying of levels and gnashing of teeth. All this can be frustrating at times, especially when Abe is plonked right back at the start of a level when he dies. But fortunately Abe is an agile creature and if you spend time learning how to control him there's plenty of magic to uncover throughout the game.
Looks the business
The developers have created an outstanding visual environment for Abe to leap around in. Gigantic buildings and grandiose statues work well to put across that 'discovering a lost civilisation' feeling. They've also made good use of depth and movement - check out the cool speed blur for aesthetic attention to detail.
The shroud of darkness enveloping many of Oddworld's gigantic levels is inspiringly atmospheric - and having to use that darkness by dodging in and out of shadows to avoid the enemy is even more inspiring. Some in-game situations can be very tense, as well as quite chilling, at times.
There are buckets of brilliant touches, from the hugely comical and violent explosions, to the point in the game where you get to ride an Elum, a docile mode of transport and constant source of fun. The whole game is impeccably presented. Even though much of it is shown in only two dimensions it never looks dated. The music is spot on, the animation second to none and for a change the pre-rendered movie sequences actually add to the overall experience. In short: Abe's Oddysee looks and sounds bloody brilliant.
Put those hours in
What prospective buyers should watch out for, though, is the level of commitment this game requires. It is hard. It can hurt you. Psychologically. You have to be prepared to put the hours in - especially later in the game - as well as be ready to compensate for a few of the game's misgivings. The slowdown - particularly when Abe enters a new room - does invoke the odd bit of panic (a dog's bollocks system may help, although the game still 'reared' on our office P200), and the lack of a proper save system may be a little too much for some ('back to the start?! You f*****g b*****d! You b*****d!' will become a bit of a catchphrase for some people), but if you can handle these problems then Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee is an interesting enough game to warrant your attention.