H.G. Wells made one thing very clear with his 1898 novel The War of the Worlds, being that if Martians ever invade or attack earth, humans don’t stand a chance and we’ll have to hope pathogenic bacteria will do the job for us. This is where developer Other Ocean stayed true to the source material. This 2D side-scroller is far from casual; it’s one of the hardest titles I’ve ever played. I found myself holding back from throwing my controller across the room multiple times and most sections ended with me growling obscenities and insulting the narrator Patrick Stewart for being stupid and bald. Yes, this game brought out the worst in me.
The game is set in 1950s London with you taking control of protagonist Author Clark, who is going to be dying, a lot. Patrick Stewart does a fantastic job of narrating the game and it’s very authentic to the style of the original novel. However, you will grow tired of hearing Mr Stewart speaking the same lines over and over each time you die, and with the difficultly of some areas being tremendous, this can happen upwards of fifty times. Despite that, Patrick Stewart does a fantastic job and really adds to the game’s atmosphere.
The visuals can look down-right gorgeous at times, with scenes of giant tripods destroying the city of London and people running for their lives in both the foreground and background. The mix of dreary greys and blacks thrown in with a hint of neon shooting from the invader’s crafts, the colour scheme looks and feels true to the style of The War of The Worlds story. The only problem I had with the visuals is with the main character himself. Character models look smudged, blurry, and out of context with the rest of the game’s visuals.
In terms of gameplay this is where the title falls flat on its face, into a pit of fire. What almost feels like a different take on the gameplay of the great indie title, LIMBO, War of The Worlds sadly lacks the fun and the yearning to overcome that LIMBO had, with more areas having you blaming the game rather than yourself, and with good reason. The controls are clunky and extremely slow, and with nearly the whole game consisting of running away from something, it can at times feel as if you’re hauling an elephant behind you. Mix that with pixel-precise jumps, literal split-second timing, obstructing views blocking the location of your character and enemies, and you’ve got a game that is challenging in the worst way; with needlessly annoying sections that you can find yourself repeating for well over half an hour and almost always due to controls not doing what you intended, rather than you yourself failing.
Very reminiscent of the original Prince of Persia, in order to climb ledges or ladders your character must be perfectly lined up with the edge. There are many points in the game where you’ll barely escape an intense and difficult area after your fortieth attempt, only to miss a jump by two pixels, fall to your death, and have to do it all over again.
Although there is a checkpoint system, it can cause more trouble than it prevents. If you’re not saving your checkpoint progress, you must finish the entire level in one sitting or be forced to start the level all over again. On more than one occasion I found myself in an infinite loop of death due to the checkpoint being set while either in mid-air of a death drop or with a laser beam aimed directly at my head. This of course left me with no choice but to restart the entire level.
The game also has the bad habit of not alerting you on what to do. While some people may prefer a game not hold the player’s hand, and for the most part I enjoyed figuring out what I had to do, in some areas the game seemed hell-bent on misleading you. At one point I had found a gasmask and reached the top of an apartment building – here I found a little girl who would run away when approached, and the rooftop exit above was blocked by an inescapable drone who vaporized me nearly twenty times as I attempted to evade his aim. I had a hunch that I was supposed to give the gasmask to the small girl, due to the fact an achievement details this act, but after slowly approaching, crouching, and running up to the girl for over ten minutes, I began to second guess that theory. Only after seeking advice from a forum did I learn that it takes a good while, but you do in fact give the gasmask to the girl. After trying again, it took me a mere five additional minutes to trigger the scene. This is where I feel the game crossed the line between letting the player figure out things on their own and misleading them due to design flaws.
After completing the game in just under four hours I decided to check the leaderboards. Usually finding myself somewhere near the very bottom, I was surprised to see in completion time for the entire game I was listed seventh. I quickly scrolled to the bottom to discover I was ranked seventh out of a mere seventy. Figuring there must be a cap to the names listed, I decided to check the leaderboards for completion time of the first level. Strangely there were well over eighteen hundred listed here, some players taking upwards of an hour to complete. I feel this may show just how frustrating the game can be, scaring off most people within the first few levels. This would also have been the case with me, had I not been reviewing the title.
The developers themselves even seem to know how challenging the game is, boasting that only “1 in 148,000 gamers will unlock all the achievements”. With ludicrous achievements such beating the game without dying in one sitting, I have a feeling 148,000 is wishful thinking.
The War of The Worlds is a stylish looking and sounding game that tells a story any H.G. Wells fan would be satisfied with. Sadly, the game is brought down by poor controls and design choices, making it extremely difficult for the wrong reasons. If you’re a hardcore War of The Worlds fan or you miss the challenging 2D games from yesteryear, you may want to pick this up. If you’re looking for a casual and fun side-scroller that doesn’t include side-effects of extreme anger and possible brain aneurysms, look elsewhere.