Platforms: PSN | XBLA (reviewed)
Developer: Other Ocean Interactive
Publisher: Paramount Digital Entertainment
I must admit to a healthy degree of scepticism when I first heard that Other Ocean Interactive was adapting The War Of The Worlds into a downloadable side-scroller. With so many companies pandering to the current craze of ultraviolent military shooters, I couldn't stop my imagination running riot with nightmarish visions of gung-ho US Marines shooting down Tripods with rocket launchers as rock music blared in the background. However, as assets trickled in, it became apparent that the game was staying true to the original H.G. Wells novel - right down to its London setting and late Victorian time period. The dev team were clearly determined to ensure that their work pays tribute to the classic work of literary fiction, and more importantly, does it justice.
I'm delighted to report that they've succeeded.
Players assume the role of Arthur Clarke (heh), an everyman who gets swept up in the alien invasion of London. In sharp contrast to most protagonists, he's just a normal, terrified human being - unable to leap more than a few feet, vulnerable to even the most basic hazards and incapable of surviving falls of over a single storey. He's desperate to find his beloved fiance and younger brother... but as part of the pathetic human cattle, he's capable of little more than running for his life. Arthur's frailty and the constant desperate need to keep running perfectly captures the feeling of being completely powerless in the face of an implacable alien menace, which is an impressively authentic and uncompromising angle for a downloadable game to take.
The ravaged remains of Victorian London provides the setting for some tough traditional platforming fare, accompanied by some simple platforming puzzles such as putting out fires with crates or utilising the red alien weed to cross gaps. Arthur's limited repetoire of jumps and rolls may be much less powerful than we're used to, but are used to excellent effect thanks to the cerebral puzzle solutions and an array of extraterrestrial enemies that all provide very different challenges and pacing. Every once in a while, all notions of subtlety are torn asunder with some gloriously cinematic set pieces as you desperately flee from the Tripod advance, the level crumbling around you and crowds of fellow refugees vaporising under the Martian heat rays. You'll always feel harried and hunted; under threat from a foe who won't stop until every human is dead.
But for every two fantastic set pieces, there's a section that falls flat thanks to the finicky grab mechanics and reliance on frustrating trial and error. You'll fail to make plenty of long jumps simply because Arthur refuses to grab onto a platform that's millimetres out of reach, and the controls can be painfully, annoyingly clunky during some of the timed escape sequences. These tense survival sequences are also impossible to navigate without having to die a few times and memorising each scripted hazard. At least the checkpoints are considerately placed, though you'll often have to listen to the same small snippet of dialogue over and over again after repeated restarts. Luckily this is the exception rather than the rule, and as any Super Meat Boy fan will attest, beating a difficult challenge is its own reward.
Other Ocean Interactive has pulled no punches when it comes to the presentation. Sumptuous hand-drawn visuals paint gritty yet awe-inspiring vistas, using silhouettes, fog and a rich colour palette to devastating effect. Character sprites could use a touch more detail, mind, and Arthur occasionally looks jarringly incongruous compared to the backgrounds and panicking hordes of NPCs. Sound design is equally impressive and helps to further immerse you in the experience. Well worth turning the speakers up for.
Where The War Of The Worlds ultimately shines is its deep respect for the original source material. I haven't read the H.G. Wells novel since GCSE English classes, but even so, I found it difficult to identify where the original prose stops and the new story arc begins. Patrick Stewart provides the best voice talent since Bastion; which features direct passages from the book as well as new content written in a contemporary style. The game feels like an entirely new way of experiencing The War Of The Worlds, and one that's much more relevant and reverential than the Tom Cruise movie or musical.
- Appropriate feeling of powerlessness and terror
- Fantastic set pieces
- Impeccable presentation and narration
- Controls and ledge-grabbing leave much to be desired
- Some frustrating trial and error
- Relatively low raw replay value
The Short Version: The War Of The Worlds is a brave and uncompromising adaptation that succeeds thanks to its exceptional presentation and respectful treatment of the subject matter. A surprise tour de force that deserves your time, attention and money.