By Sam Coles:
If you know me on Twitter or in person you would know I love atmosphere in video games, it’s a major factor for my enjoyment in certain games whether they are horror, RPGs or even first person shooters. A game that sticks in my mind even 20 years later is Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. It’s a game that even over two decades later still holds up with its visual style, gameplay and atmosphere. It’s a game that I had played a lot as child and I remember it scaring me. Now of course that is different now as I’m a grown man and games don’t scare me (for the most part), but I want to talk about the atmosphere in this game.
Oddworld takes place in a world that has been gripped by capitalist greed, where a corporation called Rupture Farms have almost butchered all animals towards extinction. Abe is a worker at said farm, but there is one catch he is a slave and works long hours with no breaks. It’s one evening when he is cleaning the floors he stumbles on a meeting, it turns out they are running out of animals to farm, Abe being naïve thinking they have plan (which they do) doesn’t think anything of it. That is until it is revealed that they are planning on killing Abe and his race, where they want to turn them into meat lollypops. Understandably Abe flees the scene and tries to escape, making himself a wanted criminal in tandem. The story for original PlayStation standards is rather engaging, yes it’s dark but there are scenes of levity where the game can swap out the serious mask for a more humorous outlook.
Gameplay is slow, intentionally slow as it encourages you to take your time as Abe has the durability of a block cheese left out in the hot sun as he can take as many hits as asthmatic bong user. The point of the game is to take your time and be methodical about your approach, as stealth is key as well saving your fellow Mudokons.
Gameplay is not the discussion of this editorial; I want to talk about the environments and atmosphere from the different areas, sound design and music. The environments are what truly stand out in this game, even over 20 years later these pre-rendered backgrounds hold up really well. The different areas you explore are varied, oppressive and sometimes beautiful, from the blood soaked and rusty floors of Rupture Farms to the ever stretching trees of the forest of Paramonia. Each area is distinct from one another, and these can fill you with dread or make you relax it is truly is a testament of how creative the level design is in this game.
The music and sound design is something that has stuck with me throughout the years; it even begins before the game starts. As the game loads you get a noise which I can assume is being made by Abe, then the ominous main theme slowly chimes in and you see Abe’s adorable face appear greeting you with “Hello”. Honestly as a child this main theme scared me a bit, it was due its unnatural sounds with that deep bass note in the background constantly droning. It’s something that carries on throughout the game, from the industrial and metallic tones of Rupture Farms to other worldly realms of the temple of the Mudokons.
Sound design is something that haunted me as a child as well; the team at Oddworld Inc. did a fantastic job with sounds. This can be the more comedic sounds of sneaking around, which sounds like someone to trying to break in a pair of rubber pants to the heavy breathing of Sligs as they sleep. The sounds that get to me to this day are from the wildlife, the hisses that the Paramites make as they defend their nest truly get to me or the Slog’s barking and growling as they chase me down left me in a state of panic. Speaking of panic, the noise that Sligs would make when they spotted you terrified me, coupled with when I’m running away I can hear their mechanical legs getting faster and louder as they chase me down.
It’s easy to see why people still talk about this game in a good light, even over 20 years later people reference it whether be certain lines, noises or the soundtrack. Abe’s adorable little face has been solidified in gaming history, which it makes me want more from the titular Mudokon. If you haven’t given this game a play, I would recommend the original as I think the art style is better but the remake is also good.