25 years ago, a hugely ambitious puzzle platformer changed gaming forever

In the eyes of some people, video games are mindless distractions at best.

This is, of course, BS. And while the question of whether games are art is painfully exhausting these days, few even thought of bringing it up in the PS1 era. But even then there were games whose existence is such an emphatic “yes!” used to be. that they made even asking the question seem silly.

“This is Rupture Farms”

Although the setting is pure fantasy, the world of Abe’s Oddysee is just a lick of paint away from ours. Junk food factory Rupture Farms, where the game begins, resembles a hulking oil refinery: a mass of steel pipes twists beneath chimneys, spewing smoke continuously. It’s run by a gang of Glukkons, cigar-chewing executives straight out of a corny political cartoon.

Our hero is Abe, a Mudokon who works at Rupture Farms along with seemingly his entire species. As he explains in the intro video to Abe’s Oddysee, he’s basically a slave like the rest of the “workers” out there, but given the blurry line between labor and servitude, there’s a touch of pride when he explains that he was once employee of the year. Abe even muses on the deliciousness of his favorite snack products from Rupture Farms, despite the fact that they are manufactured with the endangered species of his planet. There’s a touch of sadness in his voice as he mourns the discontinued Meech Munchies, not because the Meeches were hunted to extinction, but because he’s missing his very favorite munchies.

The introduction to Abe’s Oddysee sets the tone for the grim adventure to come.

Abe is the perfect audience stand-in, caught in a post-capitalist dystopia. He knows he has a terrible job. He knows that his bosses are destroying the planet he stands on. But he doesn’t know if he can do anything about it yet, so he just enjoys the few pleasures he can. Then he discovers the name of a new product from Rupture Farms called Mudokon Pops. The main ingredient? You guessed it. The whole kind of Abe. (“It was us!”).

That’s when Abe’s Oddysee gives you the controls and your first task is to escape Rupture Farms with your life. Over the course of the game, you and Abe discover that some Mudokons have escaped from the clutches of Rupture Farms to keep their culture alive. As it turns out, the animals currently being turned into snack cakes have deeper ties to the Mudokons than Abe ever imagined, and they may hold the key to dismantling the oligarchy once and for all.

Throwing rocks

Oddworld came to life in the late ’90s at a time when criticisms of consumerism and capitalism were making their way into the mainstream media.

fight club and Office space were released two years later Abe’s Oddysee. Similar The Matrix, which went in the same direction of turning the real horrors of capitalism into sci-fi villains so that even people who aren’t receptive to the message could get on board. even the road The Matrix shows the nightmarish “real world” is quite similar to the smog-burping metal hellscape of Rupture Farms.

At that time, however, the revolution was just hitting the video games field. While Final Fantasy VII let’s play as a group of anti-capitalist eco-terrorists and precipitation epitomized a large-scale social critique, 1997’s biggest titles tended to be pleasant escapist dishes such as Super Mario 64. The idea of ​​a mainstream video game with a political stance was something most players didn’t want to take seriously. Despite, FF7, precipitationand Abe’s Oddysee were among the highest-rated games of the year according to Metacritic.

Look closer

The strong, subversive story of Abe’s Oddysee was partly responsible for that praise, but it’s not the only reason it stood out. Critics at the time were fascinated by the graphics and art style, which today are still a creative achievement even as they age. Likewise, the gameplay feels clunky by today’s standards, but remains as captivating as it is unique.

Oddworld’s environmental message stood out in 1997 and is still remarkable today.Oddworld Inhabitants

Back in 1997, most platform games were side scrollers, allowing you to run through levels as one continuous screen as in Super Mario Bros. On the other hand, Abe’s Oddysee is a single screen platformer where each screen is its own mini-level that must be defeated before moving on to the next.

The very first screen of Abe’s Oddysee contains a secret: your POV stays at a fixed angle and distance, and from your perspective there is a little machine blocking a patch of ground out of sight. If you stop right on the edge and crouch just as Abe disappears from view, you’ll discover a drop in a hidden part of the level with its own puzzle to solve. How would you know it’s there on the first run through the game? You wouldn’t. Only by scouring every screen for details like this can you be sure you’re seeing 100 percent of Abe’s Oddysee.

Finding those secrets isn’t just about being a completeist. The story of Abe’s Oddysee is that of Abe taking down Rupture Farms, but your real goal is to save the rest of the Mudokons. As you run and jump through the factory’s OSHA-violating meat grinders and laser grates, Mudokon slaves continue to work. Armed guards stop them from escaping, but you can free them! And only if you save at least half of it will Abe fully triumph in the ending cutscene. It’s a quirky gameplay that encourages exploration, but it’s also a major theme of Abe’s Oddysee: You can fight the man all you want, but only solidarity with your colleagues can really beat him.

More real than real

While Abe’s Oddysee ridden with the rising tide of consumer criticism, it was also part of a wave of relatively advanced AI in games. Some games were and are content to give NPCs set patterns to follow, but in the late ’90s, games were all about building more realistic AI, like the virtual pet sim. creatures. The Oddworld games used AI to make their worlds more alive and build a stronger bond between you and the characters on the screen.

To get your fellow Mudokons to safety, you had to summon them and direct them to either “Follow me!” or wait!” with different phrases assigned to different buttons. There was even an injunction to fart, which only served to make Abe and other Mudokons laugh. Developer Oddworld Inhabitants called this system Gamespeak, and although it was quite simple, it was incredibly effective.

Oddworld is still there, but the magic of Abe’s Oddysee is difficult to recapture.Oddworld Inhabitants

Admittedly, I was an impressionable 10-year-old at the time, but I was elated every time I freed a Mudokon and felt my stomach drop if I accidentally led one to their demise. The moment I finally beat Abe’s Oddysee after freeing all 99 Mudokons (the dutiful child I was) is forever etched in my memory, even more than most events in my actual human life.

The Oddworld series was intended to be a five-part saga, which now seems extremely unlikely. While the games have remained solid, the sequels just haven’t captured the same magic at the right time and in the right place Abe’s Oddysee.

My 10-year-old self would be crushed to learn that Abe’s adventures didn’t last forever and Oddworld didn’t become the hottest series in the world. Maybe it’s better this way, with Abe’s Oddysee remain a one-of-a-kind masterpiece rather than have his vision crushed and extruded like so many poor Meeches. However, I will remain forever grateful for the first video game to teach me that the medium – and the world – can be so much better, but only if we try.

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