That’s correct guys, you read the headline correctly. Last Friday I managed to pop up to Leeds to visit the guys at Just Add Water, developers of the HD remake of Stranger’s Wrath, for an exclusive hands on playthrough of the build of the game. While I was there I also held an interview with CEO of JAW, Stewart Gilray, for a chat about the game, the future for the Oddworld series and how they go about developing a game and transforming it to HD. But more about that later.
After a traverse to Leeds, which saw me get off at the wrong bloody bus stop and have to walk what felt like 87 miles, I finally arrived at JAW HQ, a lovely office situated by a picturesque river. After popping out for a great steak lunch it was back to the office and down to action. Their office was great. desks around with the programmers beavering away, a multitude of gaming-related action figures adorned the shelves (I still can’t get the image out of my head of Sackboy 69′ing Solid Snake) and a set off Oddworld posters that if they ever go on sale, you’ll by them in a heartbeat! I sat down on a huge sofa, in front of a gaming set up most gamers would give their left bollock for, picked up the controller, and sat with Stewart to dive right into the game.
Let’s get a few things out of the way. Currently, the game is finished, and has entered the beta stage. For everyone in the know, beta means the game is basically finished, there are just a few bugs to iron out before the game goes gold. If you read this report over at Big Shiny Robot where they say the game has been delayed because of the bugs THEY ARE WRONG! Beta testing means you’re ironing out the bugs before you finish, which is the stage JAW are at. I saw the bugs they are sorting first hand, and it’s nothing more than a few colour glitches on a couple of the live ammo critters and a bit of slowdown in ONE cutscene down to an audio issue….nothing more.
With Stewart mentioning that i’m the only person outside of the office to get my hands on the game obviously I was dying to get stuck in, so i jumped in and started a new game. Getting the introductory cut scene out of the way and getting into the game proper my journey began.
Now I don’t want to jump in and go on about the visual improvements straight away, but to be honest it’s the first thing that hit me. The game looks fantastic. It has the same DNA as the Xbox game, which seeing as how they are using a tweaked version of the original engine is to be understood, but the difference graphically between this and the Xbox game is huge. The first thing that fights for the attention of your eyeballs straight away of the model of Stranger himself. It’s an absolute leap over the original. In the original game Strangers poncho was on….kind of like a slice of brown cheese with not much detail, just a kind of blurry texture. Now, his poncho looks like a proper leather garment, with bits sewn on and attached to it, solid, chunky and it looks like it’s actually made of real material. The same detail extends to his gloves, the various belt attachments and his boots, now adorned with leather straps and buckles. His face too has been given a HD uplift, with great character oozing from his eyes and mouth animations. You can now, as you would probably expect, make out each individual lock of hair on his head, as well as his beard. It’s a daft thing to say, but he looks gorgeous.
The same detail extends to the graphics when you tap R1 and zoom into first person mode. Whip out his crossbow and the level of visual fidelity is striking. The crossbow looks very solid, made out of wood with brass attachments. The normal-mapping used on the brass (or whatever the metal is) looks pitted, used and almost so real you can feel it, the strings and various bits that hold it together come together to make a realistic-looking weapon and it sounds silly to go on about how good it looks, but you spend so much time in the first person mode looking at the bow that it’s just a great tool to look at. The same visual quality extends to the various species of live ammo that you find in the game. Selecting live ammo is as easy as pressing left/right on the D-pad, scrolling to the ammo that you want and hitting left/right to attach it to the bow, just as in the Xbox game. In the original game, some of the species of live ammo always brought a smile to my face, and with the extra detail that JAW have slapped onto the characters it’s almost like seeing them for the first time again. From the giggly, squeaking Chippunks, the creepy arachnid Bolamites and the high-voltage Zapflies it’s a pleasure gathering up all the critters from the environment.
Getting onto the subject of the environment, it looks great. It’s still the same Strangers Wrath that you know and love….it just looks a whole lot better. Textures have been improved, and the general look of the game is just more….natural. The trunks of trees, which in the original game had a corners look to them, like a stack of wood coloured Lego, are now rounded off, and in some cases have been completely remodeled, with proper looking foliage and leaves. The same goes for the various pipes and mechanical items that are scattered throughout the world. Pipes now look like pipes, with no squareness to them, and the various levers, machines etc also look a lot more realistic. Grass sprouts where you would imagine it to, making those sections where you hide from the enemy a bit more pleasurable to play. The water also looks a whole lot better in the HD update. Steward told me that they actually haven’t done that much to improve the water effects,. they were so well done in the original game…the whole reason it looks better is simply just down to the upgrade to high definition.
The visual upgrades aren’t just to Stranger and the landscape. The various enemies have had a visual bump too. Just have a look on the screen to the right to see what I mean. Headgear, belts, guns, they just look brilliant. The faces and bodies of the bad guys are also great to look at, and with the admittedly “great-as-they-were-in-the-original-game” voices of the characters the enemy take on a whole new level of character. I played through to the second bounty that I had to collect, and each bad guy and his posse were even more of a joy to fight and capture as they were in the original game. The HD upgrade really does make each character shine.
As I have mentioned, the game is running on a tweaked version of the original Xbox game engine, and it’s a testament to the original team that it still plays like a blinder. Controls are slick, whipping out the bow and fighting in first person mode is as smooth and silky as it ever was. The game as played on screen looks a whole lot more “current” gen, as the original game ran in 4:3, so the team at JAW have tweaked the engine and it now runs in widescreen. It looks even more spectacular as it’s running at an almost constant 60 frames per second (there was one moment where it dropped beneath 60FPS, but that was down to one of the bugs i’ve mentioned and a clash with the audio….it will obviously all be sorted when the game is released). Being the Oddworld fans that they are, the team at JAW have also gone in and altered a few bugs that they found in the original game, and for anyone out there who is wondering if there is anything new that’s been added, rest assured. The only thing I can really talk about are a few Easter eggs, and even though i’m saying this I still don’t know what they will include. All Stewart would tell me is that there are Easter eggs hidden throughout the game, and that fans of the Oddworld series will be very happy…….the tease.
After a couple of hours with the game, Stewart then jumped on and showed me some of the further levels in the game, as with it being the finished code everything was unlocked. And suffice it to say that the same visual quality continued throughout the game. From Mongo Vally to the dam facility to Bloody bay it all looks extremely impressive. And seeing some of the later levels in action you do really forget just how hard a game Strangers Wrath is! One section, which sees you bombarded with ordinance from flying airships while dodging dozens of ground-based enemies just looks impossible, but this all may be down to the visual clarity of the game just making it look slightly harder than what it is. All this going on without a drop in the frame rate too. Very impressive.
So basically guys, the game is great. Graphically it looks completely gorgeous, with amazing characters and environments, it sounds brilliant too (all the original sound samples and effects have been quadrupled in quality) and all in all Stewart and everyone at JAW has taken a fan favourite and improved it in almost every single way. I for one, cannot wait for it to be released, and i’m sure, no…I GUARANTEE that if you’re a fan of Stranger’s Wrath and the Oddworld series in general you’ll be more than happy that the series is in the hands of everybody at Just Add Water.
If you have missed it (and shame on you if you did) check out the official first trailer for the game down below.Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is currently scheduled for a fall/Autumn release, hopefully in the next few weeks, and the price is TBA, but i’m told will be reasonable.
So what next for the Oddworld franchise?? Is Stranger’s Wrath going to appear on the Xbox 360? What about Munch? Are we going to see a new game with Abe? Well, all of your answers about all of that (and some EXCLUSIVE NEWS you won’t have heard ANYWHERE ELSE) will possibly be answered in my exclusive interview with Stewart Gilray, which you will be able to read on this very blog TOMORROW! So get bookmarking guys….if you’re an Oddworld fan you DO NOT want to miss what Stewart has to say.
Until tomorrow people…enjoy the video.