Nov 122011

Imagine a story of alien invasion so intensely real, that when an adaptation of it was read on a radio show, many people thought Earth was actually being taken over by Martians. That sort of hysteria may not occur today in 2011, but it did in 1938 thanks to a reading of an adaptation of HG Wells’s The War of the Worlds. The story, which is supposedly one of the earliest points in literature when the aliens vs. mankind motif is explored, tells the tale of an unnamed man as he travels through London while it is being invaded by Martians. The story has been the basis of countless movies, TV shows, and video games. Now a new video game from the creative team at Other Ocean Interactive has materialized on the scene, hoping to invade our homes with this classic tale once again.

The Good
The War of the Worlds is a cinematic 2D platformer whose story roughly follows the story of the 1953 movie of the same name. It is told through the eyes of the main character, named Arthur, and voiced by one of my favorite actors, Patrick Stewart. His voice is not only perfect for the role of a lone Englishman trying to survive this sort of brutally violent attack, but also hearing it makes one think of things involving outer space and science fiction thanks to his heavy involvement in Star Trek: The Next Generation, so he seems like the perfect choice for this role. Typically, he is known for having a strong and authoritative voice, but he was able to easily adapt his tone to fit the game’s protagonist — a man whose whole world has been turned upside down in the blink of an eye, and is just trying to survive and find the people he cares about. Having a constant voice over in a game is rare, but it was implemented well. Not only did Mr. Stewart relay plot and his character’s inner thoughts, but he also served as sort of a hint system as the game progressed.

Just about everything that is colored is dangerous.

The visual design of this game is superb. The art style is truly unique, and casts and appropriately dark and dreary tone over the world the game is set in. Clever use of light, shadow, and color really drive home the feelings of loneliness and danger one would expect to feel in a game of this sort. In the gameplay department, War of the Worlds is clearly an homage to retro platformers. The entire game is played with just the d-pad, and two other buttons; one for jump and one to perform an action/run. This is not an uncommon theme for Other Ocean, as they have established a very clear reputation as being lovers of old school games.

The Bad
There are games with brutally punishing difficulty that can be appreciated because they are designed well. These games make it is easy to see that the reason you are failing is because of your lack of skill and not because the game is designed poorly. Unfortunately, such is not the case in The War of the Worlds. Most of what makes this game so difficult is the fact that the main character seems to be incredibly crippled in terms of movement and action. He runs slow and jumps low, which may have been a decision made for the sake of realism, but all it really does is detract from the game’s fun factor. When one considers the fact that there are no weapons in the game to defend yourself against the Martian horde, realistic movement is the last thing you want. This realism seems to get suspended for the sake of making the game even more difficult than it already is. For instance, if you inadvertently do a roll when pushing a crate (a task you will be performing often), you may die. Falling from too high could kill you, or it may not, but it’s hard to gauge the distance visually so you will find Arthur’s body broken on the ground below often.

Frickin' laser beams.

The real problem with The War of the Worlds is it just isn’t very interesting. The pace of the storytelling is very slow, a lot of the environments repeat over and over again, and the variety of enemies you will encounter is not very deep. It seems as though the developers tried to make this a game where the protagonist is a regular guy without any extraordinary abilities that anyone should be able to relate to, but in that process made Arthur seem like he was hindering the game more than helping it along. Great art style, retro inspired controls, and the fantastic voice acting of Patrick Stewart aren’t enough to save this game from being vaporized by the fiery gaze of the robotic Martian army.

The War of the Worlds

Good art style, excellent voice acting cast.Slow paced, crippling character design, repetitive environments and enemies.
VerdictThe War of the Worlds game may not send crowds running for shelter from alien overlords like the 1930s broadcast did, but it probably will send them running to the video game store to buy a better game.

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