Christmas 1998, at the tender age of 7 I was blessed with a Playstation. With it, I received the age appropriate (but still brilliant) games of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon, but perhaps partly due to my father’s own intervention, I also received Oddworld: Abe’s Odysee. Released the year before, I was sadly deemed too young for a games console in 1997. Yet only a year later, in my father’s purchase of Abe I was apparently ready to understand such profound themes as mass slaughter, extermination and the war between the working classes and the anti-humanitarian ethics of some naughty capitalists.
Obviously then, it was perhaps just the toilet humour that compelled me to stay up late that fine Christmas Day evening and commit myself to this ingenious action-puzzler, but ever since then, Abe’s Oddysee has fascinated me, captured my imagination and scared the living hell out of my very soul. It isn’t a horror you say? Well, I personally challenge you to escape from Rupture Farms, whilst being confronted by both the terrifying silhouettes of the Scrabs, as well as the panic of disarming those deadly mines. The tension is screamingly unbearable. Essentially, Abe’s Oddysee remains a puzzler, but the way in which it blends with action contributes to the drama of the story.
Playing Abe now though, makes me understand what it was that must hae captivated me as a child, and this is the sense of imagination that is brought to life in just a 2D game. The artistic vision of the beautiful and peculiar natural world of Oddworld makes an intriguing backdrop, but the way in which this environment contrasts with the dark industrialisation of Rupture Farms really emphasises the theme of liberation and the sense of exploration that so defines Abe’s story. This is also realised in the near un-noticeable ambient score by Ellen Meijers, whose subtle, empty strings emphasise the wilderness of Scrabania. While the rich use of animal calls and tribal drums contribute to the sense of life in Paramonia.
The ultimate climax in the story of Abe using the power of nature to free the inhabitants of Oddworld from the tyranny of the Glukkons is, perhaps, a trifle cliché. However, the sense of humour and modesty in Abe’s character removes any sense of self-righteousness in the narrative, instead creating a simple story of good vs. evil that is so brilliantly formed and told, and so fully realised in the craftsmanship of the game design, that it even achieves merit of a literary standard. It was also so challenging, that it took me and my father months to track down all the secret areas and save the Mudokens from the various death-threatening situations. But when we finally rescued all 99, I felt like king of the world. Or perhaps just King of Oddworld.