War of the Worlds Review (XBLA)
The War of the Worlds has seen a number of adaptations over the years, ever since the classic reading of the original Orson Welles radio drama from so long ago. It’s probably the Steven Spielberg film adaptation that most relate to, as it shows what would happen with a full-scale alien invasion in graphic detail. This time around, Other Ocean Interactive is giving the franchise a try with a game based on the series, putting you in the shoes of an average joe trying to survive the nightmare as he attempts to locate his brother and fiancée. He’s got a lot of work ahead of him – and oddly enough, the aliens are only part of the problem.
Upon starting up War of the Worlds, you’ll see that some great inspiration went into its design. The backdrops look like something taken out of Playdead’s world of Limbo, but with the presence of large, tentacled aliens walking about and frying everyone with lasers, you can see it fits the distinct style of both the radio drama and the film. The game looks like a gloomy 2-D side-scroller, one with vivid details and plenty of tense moments, such as when a big walker comes chasing after you, threatening to stomp you flat. Other Ocean has definitely done its homework when it comes to design.
Audio is a huge plus, too. As the company has stated in press releases and interviews (repeatedly), Sir Patrick Stewart provides the dramatic narration for the game, and his forceful yet emotional delivery are pitch-perfect for the product. (But then again, the guy could read Twinkie ingredients and get recognition.) He gives the character some much-needed drive, as do the ambient sound effects and dramatic music tones.
So everything’s cool with the presentation. Why then does the game get such a low score? Well, that’s easy – because when it comes to playing it, it sucks. Other Ocean was shooting for something that kind of stood between Limbo and Prince of Persia when it came to the main hero’s maneuverability. Unfortunately, it fails to capture the nuances of either, instead relying on an overly frustrating set-up that never really becomes fun.
In the first puzzle, you have to get over a huge fire in order to proceed, and you’ll need to jump on it and grab a nearby ledge. Seems simple enough, right? Well, the game’s inaccuracies make it anything but. For instance, if you push the crate too far, you catch on fire and have to forcibly roll around to put it out; then you need to reach the crate again without catching fire again. Now, if you DO manage to find the proper place for it, you’ll find that making the jump isn’t quite easy, as the game doesn’t properly explain how to grab the ledge. As a result, you fall – once again – into the fire, and so on.
This is just the beginning of the game’s problems. Later puzzles require you to do so much – and do it perfectly – that it turns into an exercise in futility. We never had so much stress trying to move a crate around and gain access to a later part of the level. Also, the AI is cranked up so high, it’s ridiculous. There are so many cheap shots in this game, you’d think the aliens were WWE heel wrestlers. Seriously, how many laser obliterations do we need to take? We get it. You guys are all powerful. Jeez.
The worst part is the checkpoints. See, the game’s got a lousy set-up when it comes to regenerating you at checkpoints. Even if you pass one, you’ll sometimes be warped back to one at the very beginning of the stage. Even worse, the game doesn’t save your progress from individual checkpoints, but rather the start of each level. This is a huge problem, especially after you’ve solved a near-impossible puzzle, shut the system off, return and – surprise – have to face that challenge all over again. Hey, Other Ocean, a little warning next time would be nice. Y’know, one that says, “SAVE OFTEN.”
War of the Worlds has a lot going for it when it comes to style, but good game designers should realize by now that style is merely half the battle. A game needs strong, sustainable controls in order to be a worthwhile product, and that’s something this game completely lacks. When you can’t solve something as simple as trying to grab a ledge, you know you’ve got a problem. This is one battle that we can easily let the aliens win.