Review – The War of the Worlds

Review War of the Worlds
About a decade ago, when I first played the Dreamcast classic, Seaman, I was greeted by the voice of Leonard Nimoy. At this point, I was under the assumption that any game could be made great by adding narration from a Star Trek character.

Then I played The War of the Worlds on XBLA.

I think the difference is that, while Nimoy’s role was buried under the fact that the game was about a fish-man that you talked to with a microphone peripheral, The War of the Worlds wears the fact that Sir Patrick Stewart narrates it like a badge of honor – a shiny badge on an over-starched and uncomfortable jacket.

The War of the Worlds is about a British man named Arthur, who resists an alien force that wishes to dominate and destroy the Earth. I think his last name is Dent, but I could be wrong.

Wait, it’s Clarke – Arthur Clarke – a man who must flee from genocidal Martian technology, destroy it, find his family, and do it all while narrating his journey with the gravitas of Captain Picard. In his role as narrator, Sir Patrick Stewart doesn’t disappoint with his vivid yet bleak descriptions of the incoming Martian invasion, maintaining a tone of awe-stricken despair throughout. Trust me, if the gameplay were half as good as the voice acting, this would be a real gem of a title.

Unfortunately… well, I have a few paragraphs about the graphics before I can start tearing this thing down.


Review War of the Worlds
Foggy Martian-occupied London town, like certain other recent 2D platformers, is rendered in grey, with generous use of blurry silhouettes; it doesn’t look exactly like Limbo, but it’s certainly Limbo-ish. Quite frankly, if they were going to make a game based on H. G. Wells’ work that heavily borrowed from a popular indie platformer, I’d rather they made The Time Machine, using Braid’s gameplay mechanics.

Limbo comparisons aside, the game does look nice, and it has quite the cinematic presentation, which is code for “there’s dramatic music and no HUD”. There’s not so much as an arrow to point out where Arthur is amidst a crowd, though they do distinguish Arthur by making him dress really flashy; while all of the other fleeing Earthlings wear grey or black, Arthur struts his stuff in a BEIGE jacket.

Hell, he’s practically Liberace in this game! Seriously, the only real color on screen is provided by fire, electricity, and (for the lack of a better term) “alien effects”. While these effects sort of look out of place in a game that’s otherwise sepia-tone at best, they do a fantastic job of letting the player know which objects will kill them. Color notwithstanding, this game does have the vibe of an old 50s film, even if it’s a film where all of the actors are 100 feet away from the camera at all times.

Review War of the Worlds
War of the Worlds is a game that prides itself on being “old-school” to a fault. It’s a simple 2D platformer that uses only two buttons. Unfortunately, it wants to be more fast-paced than its controls will let it be. Imagine playing N+ as the Prince of Persia – not the new time-traveling wall-jumping Prince, but the circa 1989 2D Prince – and you have, more or less, an idea of what it’s like to play this game.

Borrowing one of the conventions of “old-school” games that I hoped would stay buried, the direction of Arthur’s jumps cannot be altered while mid-air. Add this to the fact that Arthur is just a slow man all around, and you have the recipe for a lot of frustrating and occasionally unfair deaths.

Even when running, Arthur moves too slowly to immediately react to openings in the random alien surveillance. It especially doesn’t help that after almost every jump onto the debris-formed terrain, Arthur is forced to either stumble around or hang onto a ledge and slowly climb his way back up, which is often just enough time to get zapped into dust or eaten by black smoke.

To a certain extent, I have to admire the tone that is set by having Arthur be a human of average strength and agility struggling against far superior alien forces, but such decisions should not be made at the expense of decent gameplay. This isn’t some radio drama read by Orson Welles meant to fool gullible Great Depression-era listeners; I’m willing to suspend some disbelief about an average man’s free-running abilities if it means that I don’t have to navigate another clunky puzzle where the slightest easily-made misstep is punished by constant death.

Review War of the Worlds
Fortunately, the hard-on that the developers have for unbearably antiquated gameplay softens up a bit when it comes to saving progress.

Arthur has infinite life, and there are checkpoints right before many of the more complex sections of the game, but the placement of some of them is purely asinine. Early in the game, there is a sequence where the giant machines fire a series of three sweeping heat beams that force Arthur to seek cover until they’re finished firing. The checkpoints of that level take place RIGHT BEFORE the firing of these weapons, so whenever you die, you have to spend somewhere around 15 seconds idly ducking for cover before the next attempt to escape them. Words escape me for how utterly horrible that design choice was.

I really wanted War of the Worlds to be good, partially because its concept sounded so awesome on paper, and partially to confirm my hopes that there were still decent games being released on XBLA for less than $15. But all of the dazzling graphics and celebrity voiceovers in the world can’t make up for such rigid and frustrating controls that make you die so many times that you get tired of hearing Sir Patrick Stewart recite the same line over and over, which believe me, is a lot.


Developer
Other Ocean Interactive

Publisher
Paramount Digital Entertainment

System
Xbox 360 (Xbox LIVE Arcade)

Modes
Singleplayer

Release Date
October 26, 2011

Price
800 Microsoft Points

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review

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  • EdEN

    Oh well. Don’t own  360 so that’s that. For a moment I thought it was also being released on PSN so I was considering at least playing the demo and taking it from there.

    Thanks for the review Kyatt!

    • http://www.gamesugar.net Jamie Love

      It’s suppose to eventually come to PSN and PC. I just don’t know when, hence listing is as just xbla right now.