War of the Worlds is one of the earliest and best-known science fiction novels to be written, having been published in 1898. With the original novel, an infamous 1938 radio adaptation, a concept album by Jeff Wayne and numerous film adaptations, War of the Worlds is a classic example of a timeless story. Other Ocean Interactive, developers of a new adaptation for Xbox Live, have decided to skip out on the well-known narrative, and have instead introduced a new story, new characters and new locations into their game, although the events do run parallel to what occurs in the book. Taking the guise of a 2D platformer a la Flashback or Prince of Persia, War of the Worlds attempts to introduce H.G. Wells’ novel to a new generation of gamers. Does the game cause mass panic in a similar manner to Orson Welles’ radio broadcast, or is it weaker than the common cold?
There Must Be Something In the Atmosphere - War of the Worlds gives an interesting take on an invasion from another planet, and the atmosphere matches the feeling of helplessness and certain doom that would probably be felt by anyone unfortunate enough to live through such an event. Presented mainly in black and white, only the main character shows any real colour, although the alien weapons are given an unsettling green hue. The music is well done and adds to the sense of loneliness and desolation, and the calls of the giant Martian walkers striding ominously in the background will send shivers down your spine.
Zero-Gravity Parkour - Invasions from another planet invariably lead to everyday people doing extraordinary things, and in War of the Worlds, this sees you jumping across rooftops of collapsing buildings, climbing a huge alien structure in the middle of Hyde Park, and running for your life from huge Martian death machines. These moments of frantic pacing are interspersed with slower, stealthier areas where you play cat and mouse with a single, smaller instrument of death. The pacing is handled well, as you’re not constantly running or stalking, and some of the set pieces are pretty awe-inspiring.
Cat-Pain Picard - I never thought I’d have to put Patrick Stewart in the negative section of a review, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I become ostracised from society for doing so, but I found his performance in War of the Worlds genuinely disappointing. Acting as the voice of the main character, his narration was often wooden and disconnected from the game, almost as if he wasn’t really interested in what he was doing. The narration does serve a purpose, as it gives the player insight into the protagonist’s motivations, but a little more enthusiasm would have worked wonders.
An Other-Worldly Being - I mentioned above that the protagonist is the only real character with a dash of colour in War of the Worlds, and whilst this allows players to easily keep track where he is on-screen, it makes him seem disconnected from the world as a whole. This isn’t aided by the fact that on multiple occasions, it seems as though the main character is floating half a foot above the surface that he’s supposed to be running along. Also, whilst the environments look as if they belong to the same art design as Limbo, the protagonist looks like he’s been been torn straight from a Tintin animation, and these two art styles go together about as well as you could imagine the two worlds wouldn’t.
Paper-Thin Heroics - Human beings are notoriously fragile creatures, and when faced with an alien invasion, this only becomes more apparent. When gaming, however, you want your character to at least put up some form of resistance. If that isn’t possible, then you should at least be able to repeat a sequence fairly easily. If both of these elements fail, then it would be a little less frustrating if you could realise that the problems are all of your own doing; you know where you need to go, you just haven’t figured out how to get there yet. War of the Worlds falls flat on all these counts. The protagonist dies with the slightest brush of danger (of which there are many types), the checkpoint system is unforgiving, and a lot of the time it is unclear where and/or what you’re supposed to do. WotW hits the holy trinity of frustrating gaming, and hits it hard.
When I read the previews for War of the Worlds, I couldn’t have been more excited or intrigued, if not a little apprehensive. A game based on a classic piece of fiction, narrated by a premier modern-day thespian sounded like a dream come true in an industry not exactly well-known for top-notch storytelling and artistic merit. Unfortunately, Other Ocean’s valiant attempt falls flat due to poor design and frustrating gameplay mechanics. WotW still contains an awesome sense of atmosphere and helplessness, but this is marred by the game itself just not being as good as it could be. If you can’t get enough of Patrick Stewart’s voice, or Victorian science-fiction, then War of the Worlds may be worth a look, but if you have anger-management issues, then steer well clear, unless you have a healthy supply of back-up controllers.