You probably haven't really heard much about Other Ocean Interactive, even though you may well have played a couple of the things that they made. Responsible for the XBLA version of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Dark Void Zero (the better one), the studio have also trotted out iOS versions of the Super Monkey Ball games and, more recently, produced the short, tongue in cheek promo Duty Calls that Epic appropriated for their Bulletstorm campaign, taking the piss out of a certain yearly FPS franchise. Some solid work, then, if a little unspectacular. But with War of the Worlds they're embarking on an arcade title that should certainly get them noticed if the final product is as promising as it appeared to be in the closed-door demo we saw at E3.
When Paramount came knocking with a stable of IPs from which to draw inspiration, War of the Worlds was quickly snapped up. 'We basically had Paramount's entire catalogue to choose from, but it had to be War of the Worlds,' said the studio's head of development, Mike Mika. 'We just loved the source material.' It shows.
Of course, we're actually talking H.G. Wells' original novel here, but the game also draws inspiration from the Orson Welles radio drama as well as the 1958 movie, pleasantly ignoring the shiny shrug that was the Spielberg remake. If you're unfamiliar with the story, it's really quite simple: Martians invade Earth and start taking over with the aid of massive machines called Tripods, the action in both novel and radio drama using an unnamed narrator to describe events from an almost journalistic perspective. It's a classic alien invasion thriller, and makes for perfect source material for a side-scrolling action-platformer.
'We didn't really want to make a regular action game,' said Mika. 'We wanted to respect the source material so this isn't a game where you storm into battle, or anything like that. It's far more about evasion, remaining undetected and avoiding attention to sneak past the Martians.' Indeed, this feeds into the gameplay, the demo we were shown exhibiting the as yet unnamed central protagonist desperately avoiding the searchlights of marauding Martian drones, a forward roll and some nifty climbing abilities the only dedicated moves at his disposal.
Being so rooted in retro source material, it seems fitting that the game is presented in a stubbornly old-school style. The old-fashioned Paramount logo at the game's start is just a taste of what is come. 'It's a nostalgic game in many ways,' continued Mika, 'and we wanted that to come through in our presentation so we went for a very retro, garage kind of feel harking back to the days of rotoscoped animation.' Don't let the word 'garage' put you off, though, the game looks glorious; the shadowy backdrops of Tripods and large scale battles on the distant horizon - the are forty layers of parallax effects ('We made a few modern concessions,' explains Mika) - are somewhat reminiscent of last year's gloomy puzzle-horror-platformer Limbo.
As the mellifluous tones of Patrick Stewart waft over the game's opening minutes, his narration a nice throwback to the original source material, we begin to realise that Other Ocean might well be onto an arcade gem. It's clear from the outset that mankind is most definitely on the back foot. The landscape is relatively barren, London transformed into a battlefield already showing signs of defeat. Corpses of tanks litter the ground for cover, the sounds of lasers and fearful commotion fills the air alongside a score inspired by Jeff Wayne's magnificent original. Occasionally civilians and soldiers pop into shot, running for their lives alongside you, although they tend to get zapped by the drones more often then not, their idiocy a telegraphing mechanism rather than just lazy programming.
And you need it. It's not just the look of the game that's retro, the difficulty level looks like it will appeal to fans of a more hardcore yesteryear too. Indeed, our demonstrator snuffed it a number of times trying to evade the drones, at least proving that is was a live demo rather than a clever little pre-record. Searchlights sweep the ground and, if you linger for longer than a split second under their gaze, its parent drone is swiftly upon you and death rays follow. Other Ocean tell us that there will be plenty of waypoints but, even so, don't expect an easy ride.
The game will allow you to get your own back, however. After ducking behind debris and crawling through underground trenches to avoid being seen, we got to see how one can turn the tables on the drones using their own weapons against them. Triggering Martian mines sends them floating into the air, whereupon any drones hunting you down meet a somewhat explosive end. There'll be more opportunities to use Martian tech against your foes, but that'll come later.
Turning the tide of the war falls to you and, after seeing our hero navigate five sets of mines, five fire pits and five very persistent drones all at once, our demo jumped forward to a mission where you are tasked with scaling the nearby alien cylinder and taking out the transmission system controlling the drones. Again we were privy to a combination of drone evasion and some well-timed platforming, this time having to deal with intermittent laser rings that moved along the very same structure our hero had to traverse. In spite of a few very hairy, close moments, our demonstrator moved through relatively unscathed the first time around, and was able to place all three explosives successfully before racing down the other side of the alien tower and blowing the thing up.
There were a few aspects to the game we didn't get to see. I spotted a 'Leaderboards' option in the main menu and, when pressed, Mika revealed that the game will indeed support time trial play and players will be able to compete in the leaderboards against their friends. The famous Martian red weed - the growth that starts to take over the Earth's ecosystems - and black smoke will both feature in later stages of the game as well, shaking up the gameplay a little bit.
From the way Mika speaks about the game, it's clear to see that this is something of a labour of love for the studio. The game looks fantastic, both stylistically and in terms of how it plays, and it sounds great too. Paramount came armed to E3 with a couple of games that I went in to check out with no small amount of scepticism (more on Star Trek very soon), but it looks like they've got their hands on a some really good stuff and here at least, Other Ocean appear to have something of an arcade gem on their hands.
The War of the Worlds will be out on XBLA and PSN this summer.