“The chances of anyone finishing this game are a million to one” they say.
The War of the Worlds, the classic tale of the Earth being invaded by alien beings from Mars, has now become a hardcore platform game on XBLA, with an incredible narration by Sir Patrick Stewart. But even Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself would have trouble getting to the end of this tale.
I don’t particularly have a problem with hardcore platform games, by which I mean games that have an incredibly high difficulty level. I know well enough to avoid them for the most part as too many controllers have suffered as a result of my failure to progress in such games. But The War of the Worlds takes things to a whole other level. Let me explain…
The War of the Worlds, by Other Ocean Interactive, is an action platform game that follows H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel. Just like the novel, the game begins on a train and then continues with the player making their way through London, all while under attack by alien machines. As a side-scrolling platformer, the player generally moves from left to right across the screen, leaping from one safe place to the next, avoiding obstacles and hazards such as fire, electric and, of course, the alien machines themselves.
One of the things that the game does really well is follow the story. Whilst the player is busy making their way across the screen, the tale is being narrated by the recognisable voice of Sir Patrick Stewart to great atmospheric effect. As the player enters new areas they are greeted by the next part of the story in describing what is going on and our hero, Arthur’s, motives for heading back into London. Something else that may impress the player are the visuals.
The game is mostly quite dark, with the occasional splash of brightness that usually signifies something dangerous. The actual gameplay area is the middle layer of three, a war-torn landscape of derelict buildings and destruction. It is along here that the player must run, jump and solve puzzles. The backgrounds show silhouettes of buildings and the alien machines, the Tripods, as they go about their business of wiping out mankind. Interestingly, the foreground is also used, with the shadows of people running for their lives obscuring the view of the play area. The entire set up is used to great effect, but some may find the distraction of the foreground somewhat distracting, especially given the additional difficulties in the game.
Anyone who remembers Another World will have an idea of what to expect. Precision jumping to platforms, pulling up to higher levels and solving various environmental puzzles to progress. That and staying alive, of course. But this is where one of the games problems becomes apparent. The game demands precision and speed, yet offers a slow to react character and somewhat loose controls. This combination moves the game from satisfyingly difficult to controller-throwingly frustrating.
It also seems like the game is heavily weighted in the aliens favour, as if Other Ocean Interactive have already thrown in with the evil alien overlords and are just preparing us for what is to come. Very early on, in a section where I had to climb over a wall and run like hell to avoid the death ray from the advancing Tripod, I decided that someone, probably in a UFO deep in space, was watching me and laughing their head off. Once you manage to get over the wall, it is a mad rush for cover from the next death ray blast, but at no point is it apparent where the player can actually take cover. I will not tell you the number of times I attempted this section, it would be embarrassing.
The War of the Worlds offers some interesting puzzles as/if the player progresses, and keeps the action moving with a good variety of different hazards, or hazards used in different ways. It is not the longest game, but it is likely people will not realise this as they will spend so much time heading back to the sadistically spaced out checkpoints to try sections over and over again. I never thought I would say this, but I was getting quite fed up with Sir Patrick Stewart’s voice.
With an incredible atmosphere of despair and destruction, interestingly gorgeous visuals and a good variety of levels, The War of the Worlds actually has a lot going for it. But the incredibly high difficulty and less than impressive controls suggest that only those of infinite patience will actually enjoy this game the way it is meant to be enjoyed. If you finish it, wear the badge proudly, as that would be no mean feat.