PC Gamer: Enter an odd world [1997]

Date: January 1997

Author: Steve Faragher

Source: PC Gamer, Issue 39, pp. 22-23

Could this possibly be – aargh! No! – the future of videogaming?

THERE’S A KIND OF HOLY grail amongst hard-core computer gamers, an experience that we’re all desperate to try because we’ve heard so much about it. So whenever computer games journalists are forced to travel to the west coast of America to look at a game, there’s always a clamour for a trip to Universal Studios theme park in Los Angeles, and a go on the Back To The Future ride. Okay, it’s not strictly a game, but the Back To The Future ride is a brain-shorting, exhilarating experience. And the reason that we all love it so much is that one day we hope computer games will be that exciting.

So when news came to us in the PCG office that the project manager of that ride, Sherry McKenna, and long-time partner Lorne Lanning, had turned their backs on years of being at the forefront of Hollywood computer technology to create — you guessed it — a PC game, we were naturally very interested.

Oddworld: Epic 1 — Abe’s Odyssey, to give the game its full title, looks set to break the mould of PC games. What will set it apart from the others is that Sherry and Lorne are trying to create a living, breathing ‘world’ behind the computer screen.

This first game, in the planned series of five, focuses on the adventures of Abe, a peculiar being who you can see dotted around these pages, and his revenge on the evil Sligs who have kept his race in slavery. To exact his revenge he travels to three temples to learn their secrets, and finally returns to the meat-processing plant from where he escaped at the beginning of the game and kills all the Sligs. So far, so good.

The game has a sort of Flashback feel to it, being at its heart a platformer. But it’s important to understand that this mechanic is secondary to the rest of the game, in fact it’s quite likely that the other games in the quintet will use different formats to get the all-important story across.

What makes Oddworld so special is the degree of interaction with the other characters in the game. You can talk to them all, obviously, but they’ll also respond to your emotional state, by reading between the lines of what you’re saying. And they’re smart too. Shoot a gun without a silencer and it’s likely that someone will come to investigate. Follow a smart creature around and you could find yourself walking into an ambush. And these reactions are not part of the plot, they’re spontaneous reactions to what you’re doing. You can also order friendly creatures to do things for you, like ‘wait here’.

The puzzle solving is a bit special too. As well as the usual exploration elements of the game, where you just have to find things and manage to jump over chasms and so forth, there are also Abe’s special abilities. For a start, he learns from each of the three temples he visits how to morph himself into another creature. But even more interesting than that is his ability to ‘possess’ the other characters in the game, which he often has to do to get past guards and visit places he could otherwise never get to.

But most impressive of all, could be the way that the game moves seamlessly from one scene to another and introduces bits of FMV without it ever breaking up the action, giving you a much more involved feel when you’re playing. It sounds like Heart Of Darkness‘ aim all those years ago. To this end you’ll also notice that there are no health bars or pop-up inventories, or any of the other hallmarks of this kind of game.

Providing they succeed is tying all these elements together into a believable whole, Oddworld could definitely usher in a new era of storytelling games on the PC.

Oddworld: Epic 1 — Abe’s Odyssey will be released in August 1997.