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The War of the Worlds is based off the 1898 novel by H.G. Wells, but takes place in 1953, the year the original War of the Worlds film came out. The game isn’t a direct adaptation of either the novel or film, following a new character, Arthur Clark, as he attempts to survive the Martian invasion of London and find his family. The game is meant to be another story occurring concurrently with the events of the 1953 film. The plot itself is nothing terribly original, but the way it is told is what makes it really stand out. All throughout the game, there is continuous narration by Arthur as if he were telling the story years later. All the narration is done by Captain Picard himself, Patrick Stewart, and he does a fantastic job. The writing is excellent and the emotion and feeling with which the lines of dialogue are delivered really give weight to every situation and turns a fairly standard plot into something much more enjoyable. The game also has a great atmosphere and really feels like you are running through a city being destroyed by aliens. There are also several radio broadcasts you hear throughout the game that have a much lighter tone than the narration. This tonal shift seems a little odd, but it is worth it to hear such lines as “Sir Edmund Hilary had to cancel his attempt to climb Mt. Everest due to Martians at base camp” and “The Welsh Rugby team maintains that the destruction of their stadium by Martians will not halt play this season”.
As I said before, The War of the Worlds is a true platformer and pretty much nothing else. There are some light stealth and puzzle solving elements and extremely rarely there is combat. The platforming is quite challenging, with a lot of trial and error required to complete the game; you will die, and die, and die. The checkpointing is fairly generous, though there were a few occasions where a felt they were too far apart. The main challenge is really just finding the right path and executing your jumps. There are also some obstacles that require accurate timing to get through, and due to the nature of the checkpoints and unlimited lives, you just have to keep trying until you get it. The game took me about 5 hours to complete my first time through, though a second playthrough would likely be significantly shorter once you know level layouts and the correct means of completing each challenge.
There is also a cinematic element to the game, with some set piece moments and great animations. The game utilizes rotoscoped animations, an early form of motion captured used for 2D sprites and seen in such classic games such as the original Prince of Persia and Out of This World (called Another World in Europe), and this allows for some very emotive character animations for such small sprites. For the most part I found the platforming to be quite fun, and it rarely got to the point where I was frustrated with the difficulty. The stealth parts were less enjoyable, as it could just get boring waiting for the enemies to be in a position where you can safely move forward. There were a few puzzles throughout the game, and none of them took that long to figure out, but they do provide nice variety from the platforming and stealth parts. Combat is very rare in The War of The Worlds, as you don’t even get a weapon until about halfway through the game, a fire axe, and even then it is used more for destroying barriers than fighting enemies. Most enemies you see, you can do nothing against, and I like this, as it contributes to the feeling of futility present in both the narration and the source material.
Some problems that can often arise in games that use these rotoscope style animations, is that the animations can take too long to complete and the controls can have a sort of delayed feel to them. Luckily, these issues are not present in The War of the Worlds, for the most part. The controls are very responsive, and allow for extremely precise and accurate platforming; which is good because many of the game’s more challenging segments demand this kind of precision. The only instances of animation priority I saw were swinging the axe, where he lifts the axe over his head real slow and swings, and pulling yourself up while hanging from a ledge. The axe thing isn’t much of a problem, because the only enemies you can kill can’t really kill you. I never found an instance where pulling yourself up from a ledge required speed, so that isn’t really much of an issue either. My one complaint on the gameplay side is that the game has two functions, use and run, mapped to one button. It’s a minor annoyance that doesn’t hurt the game too much, but it just seems utterly pointless when half the buttons on the controller are unused.
Visually, The War of the Worlds is mostly good, but not perfect. The game is completely sprite based, meaning it’s not 2.5D like many modern sidescrollers. This allows for some instances where there are literally dozens of sprites on screen at a time. The art is mostly good, with some striking scenes with tripods in the background destroying the city. However, some of the art, mostly in interior settings, can just seem bland and no better than something you would find on the Super NES. I did encounter a few instances of slowdown during some of the game’s set piece moments, but it didn’t last very long and was extremely rare. The audio is without a doubt the high point in The War of the Worlds. As I said, Patrick Stewart turns in an unsurprisingly great performance narrating the whole game, and the radio announcer also nails the “50s radio host” style. The music is also fantastic, with a fully orchestrated score that always seems to fit each situation perfectly. The only problem I encountered on the audio side is that sometimes when you are in a position where you are replaying a section over and over, you have to listen to the same narration each time you respawn.
The War of the Worlds is a great throwback to classic platformers. It doesn’t try to throw tons of enemies at you or hook you with some gimmick; it just presents a challenging platforming experience that I found to be quite fun. The game can have some cheap deaths, with instances where you are pretty much guaranteed to die the first time you attempt them, but for the most part the game is fair but difficult. The game makes interesting use of The War of the Worlds license, and uses atmosphere and narration with great effect to tell an engaging story. Any fans of the good old days of hard platformers should definitely check this one out. The War of the Worlds is available now on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 MS points ($10).
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- Well Designed Levels
- Precise Controls
- Patrick Stewart
- Amazing Music
- Can Get Frustrating
- Inconsistent Art Quality