The War of the Worlds Review (XBLA)

The absolute staple and beginning of all video game adventure and platforming games started with the basic 2D side-scroller. Everything from Atari to Sega had a platformer for their system, and while they were the mainstay of gaming systems for nearly twenty years, the advent of the 16 bit systems took gaming to a whole new level. Gone are the days past where 2D was all you needed; now cutting edge technology is on the verge of 4D televisions in high definition while burning your eardrums out in surround sound that can rival the volume of a heavy metal concert. But what if you could jump back in time and play it all over again? I’ll tell you it’s built with next gen technology, using a 123 year old novel as a storyline and developed by a group of diehard classic gaming enthusiasts. Still interested? Thought you were. Get your game face on, and let’s see if The War of the Worlds from Other Ocean Interactive will stand tall in the face of a full scale Martian invasion, or be wiped clean off the face of the Earth.

The classic story written by H.G. Wells depicts a classic anybody traveling towards London on May 26th, 1953, during the very beginning of a Martian attack and depicts the struggles of surviving to find a younger brother and a wife, still deep in the heart of the city during the attack. The story is narrated from the point of view of our ‘anybody’ by the all well known Patrick Stewart, and adds a real touch of class and projects the story right out in front of you while playing. On top of not only providing our storyline for us, he can also give hints as what to do in certain parts of the level if you listen carefully. The environment is very gritty and dark, painting a picture of silhouettes of the people around you, in panic, clawing desperately to life, or tears at the loss of life and what has become of the city. The destruction depicted in game is very detailed, and the environments appear to all be done individually unique, as no two panels or places look or play the same. The soundtrack plays similar to an old b-movie horror film, and fits perfectly for the dark and strange things happenings throughout. It really does look like the whole world is ending, and it only gets worse the further you progress through the game.

The gameplay mechanic itself is obviously why we’re here though, and it plays well for the challenge that is given to the player. The basic controls are responsive and fluid, although at times it became difficult to manipulate the character down from obstacles without falling too far and getting killed. There is no real need to use the thumbsticks here, as it was designed for basic d-pad functions and a two button layout like the old school games of years past. The addition of the sprint button on right trigger works well and it becomes clear that sprint will become a very used mode of travel, especially after playing a level a couple times and knowing exactly where to go. Our little ‘anybody’ can do some impressive feats of strength, clearing large gaps and landing into a tuck-and-roll to clear dangerous objects in the environment. The rather ominous challenges you will run into, other than the daunting gaps and occasional burning areas and downed electrical lines, are the Martians and their impressive weaponry they possess. The standard drones and mechanical spiders are able to track and hunt down the player into some rather cramped areas and either attack physically or use the Martian Heat ray. Other enemies like the Tripods can vaporize an entire section of buildings and can snatch people up if they get too close to the legs of this beast. The last few enemies we meet aren’t so much mechanical, but more biological, as the dreaded Black Smoke can fill entire streets and buildings and choke the player out. The Red Weed grows in furious vines and can attach to the player and remove the blood from his body if you can’t get them detached in time, but can also be used to solve puzzles and clear obstacles if used right.

Everything is designed to give the player a sense of dread and impending extinction the entire time you are playing, but that doesn’t come without a price. The fear that comes with trying to evade Martians also comes with the frustration of being atomized, fried, electrocuted, or just flat out falling to your death; over and over again. The game at least has the common courtesy to restart you close to where you were, depending on the length of the puzzle or area you are passing through, but sometimes it’s just a process of trial and error where you will spend ten to twenty minutes trying everything you can think of to cross an area until you get the timing down right, or find the right way to go, or the right switch order. Other Ocean made it clear they wanted to represent the old platforming games to their best, and that does include the challenge and frustration that comes with it, so I really can’t be stingy about the difficulty. However, the rate of difficulty becomes significantly higher within just a few levels, so it’s initially very confusing and discouraging to be playing and come to a grinding halt for several minutes while you try to figure out what it is you need to do to progress.

Sometimes there’s no indication on what to do at all. For instance, in one particular scene, you need to acquire a gasmask to pass through one part of the level, and then proceed to give it to an NPC girl named Jenny so you can proceed past the drones without dying. Twenty minutes later, I stumbled onto the gasmask at the very bottom of the level, and then had to figure out that in order to give the mask to the girl, you have to crouch and wait for her to take it from you. Anytime you normally approach her she just runs off scared, but if you sit there and wait, she will slowly step towards you, one step at a time, until she finally takes the mask. It took me a half an hour to figure this out, and this could have been as simple as putting up a prompt, or having Stewart tell you “Hey! She could use a gasmask like that!” I know it would break character; but seriously, it’s hard enough to dodge spiderbots, sentries that home in on you like missiles, and Red Weed vines that relentlessly attack. Give me a hint and save me the trouble of a minor technicality that can seriously stop the progress of an already impossible level.

While it’s certainly challenging, and looks very well done on top of that, it’s a game that takes a different kind of player to really enjoy. I’m not personally sure that I am, being the well rounded FPS player and full-throttle gearhead that I am, but I can see that the effort and detail put into this title really stands out where most other side scrolling plaformers would normally just forget that aspect and focus on the challenge itself. Taking and adapting a classic novel to something as technical and elaborate as video gaming is a feat in itself, and to do it with the basic storyline and key points of interest is more than can be said for some of the game’s glaring faults. Regardless, at 800MS Points ($10 USD), The War of the Worlds is still an entertaining title, but don’t expect to beat this one without putting in some real effort and time in completing it.

Rating: ★★★★★★½☆☆☆ 

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