The main difference between Munch's Oddysee and the previous two Oddworld games is that this is the first in the series to feature a fully three-dimensional world. The positive side to that is that the game's environments are obviously brought to life much better in 3D and you're able to explore its wide open spaces, but the downside is that at times it's hard to tell where to go next. In the first two games, you were confined to relatively small sections in which it often became quickly obvious what tasks you needed to complete in order to move forward, even if those tasks weren't necessarily easy to complete. Here, the puzzles aren't quite so "clean." As in previous Oddworld games, solving many of the puzzles is contingent upon having solved the preceding puzzles, but puzzles that will have to be solved much later also appear in the environments, even if you are not ready for them yet. To the game's credit, those areas are blocked off in an attempt to keep from confusing you, but you'll still end up wasting time trying to figure out if you can access them or not. The solutions to the puzzles are often less straightforward than before, too. Instead of a lightbulb going off in your head when you suddenly realize what you need to do (as would happen in the first two games), sometimes you'll have to fumble around the environments until it eventually becomes clear.
The puzzles in Munch's Oddysee are also much more repetitive than in previous games in the series, where they were more varied. Some sections--such as the Paramite Run, in which Abe must drink the Oddworld equivalent of espresso and carry Munch to the other side of a course filled with mines and hungry paramites (which are part crab, part horse, and all bad)--are very entertaining, take full advantage of the series' shiny new 3D world, and are nothing like the level that preceded them. But they're the exception, not the rule. In many levels, you feel like you're doing the same thing as in the last, especially toward the end, in which the game falls off significantly. (The sections where you must use a crane to pick up and drop more than a dozen egg crates is especially monotonous.)
One graphical aspect of Munch's Oddysee that detracts somewhat from its gameplay is the game's 3D camera, which follows behind you after a short lag. It's hard to understand why the camera wasn't set behind you as in Rare's Banjo-Kazooie series or Crystal Dynamics' Soul Reaver line. Certainly, it's not fun or efficient to have to line up the camera in order to make a jump. There are also times when the shifting camera will cause you to accidentally steer the fast-swimming Munch into an object like a floating mine. The instances where the camera is a problem aren't great in number, but they're frequent enough to be an issue requiring more work to play around than it should.
Camera quirks aside, Munch's Oddysee is a fantastic-looking game--easily one of the prettiest games of the Xbox launch. It's full of sharp textures, numerous different pulsating light sources, and stunning water effects. As always, the game's CG sequences are some of the best we've seen, and this time the game's in-game graphics have almost caught up with those cinematic sequences that awed us in the past. From top to bottom, the developer's high production values shine through in the game's graphics.
The soundtrack is similarly strong, but the music tracks loop too much during combat and can drive you crazy during a particularly tough section of the game. Even a great song can begin to grate on you if you hear it long enough. And sadly, communication isn't as key to the gameplay as before. Granted, it started to get rather complex in Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, but the way that it's been simplified here makes it feel rather dumbed down.
Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee is a very smart game with great puzzles, yet there's not enough variety in those puzzles to keep it completely entertaining throughout. It's a good game in a series of excellent games that will likely be criticized more than it deserves to be due to its prominence as an Xbox launch title. Like the games that preceded it in the Oddworld series, it's much more of an art-house pick than a holiday season blockbuster. Only this time, it fell prey to not only the hype of being the next in the impressive series, but also to being a launch title for the coming Xbox. Regardless of its hype, Munch's Oddysee is a strong, imaginative game, although one that's held back by a few key factors.
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