Friday, 28 October 2011

Review: The War of the Worlds

I'm sure that many of you are familiar with The War of the Worlds by now. Starting off as an novel penned by the late HG Wells back in 1898, it's fair to say that HG Wells was definitely ahead of his time with this one. Alien invasions, futuristic technology and an all-out chemical warfare graced the pages within. It's scary to comprehend for people at this time. Even Orson Welles radio play based on this novel convinced enough listeners that the martians had landed.

Since then, there's been the famous (and excellent) Jeff Wayne composed rock-opera of the same name, a cheesy but fun 1950s feature length film, and most recently, the Steven Spielberg adaptation, which swapped London for America. Now, the latest in the long line of adaptations has arrived, in the form of an Xbox 360 Arcade game. But is it any good? Sadly, not quite.

The original screenshots and information in the build up to The War of the World's Xbox 360 release was promising, so I was honestly looking forward to the game. The HG Wells novel is one of my favourite books, and I've been enjoying the Jeff Wayne CD adaptation ever since I was a child. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I went into the game actually enjoying it. The stark black and white, reminiscent of the style Limbo successfully adopts really works in this destroyed 1950s London setting. Patrick Stewart's narration is compelling and well scripted, and the accompanying music is tense and rather grand sounding. As for the gameplay...well, that's where the problem lies.
Aesthetically, The War of the Worlds is very similar to Limbo. The game is shrouded in shadows for a large majority of it, with the protagonist, Arthur Clark, resembling a silhouette. However, as for the actual gameplay, the older Prince of Persia games are closer comparisons. Players traverse Arthur up a series of platforms, jump to avoid sudden deaths, and for the most part, die rather suddenly constantly. Sure, the sudden death thing isn't too much of a problem, after all, Prince of Persia thrived on this, as does the more recent Super Meat Boy. However, this starts to wear thin when you realise how frustrating the gameplay actually is.

Let's start with Arthur himself. For starters, Arthur is somewhat poorly rendered, and could have done with a bit more detail, especially as the scenery is brilliant. Secondly, I had a real problem with Arthur's running in the game. He runs like he is wading through treacle (either that, or he is really old), which really slows the pace down quite dramatically. Also, you cannot climb over ledges or traverse ledges unless you are standing at an exact straight line underneath the ledge. If not, Arthur awkwardly glances upright, and stands still until you try to re-align him once again. It's silly little errors like this that make the game incredibly frustrating. Also, it helps to add to your already high in-game death count.

Speaking of deaths, Arthur will die suddenly-a lot. This often happens from falling awkwardly from a ledge, the navigation messing up when you've just made it to a band of fire, or when Arthur refuses to move just as an enemy starts to attack him. If the controls aren't messing up, the deaths come from the games tricky difficulty. Whilst a challenge is not a bad thing, dying constantly starts to wear thin after a while. The checkpoints are also so spaced apart that there are often times when large chunks of levels have to be re-played. Unfortunately, this generally happened on the levels which required a bit more leniency with the checkpoints, such as the second levels escape from one of the walkers. Also, levels have to be completed in one sitting, as there are no save points until the level has been completed. So, you better be prepared to sit back and agonisingly watch your character die continuously on the harder levels until you finally manage to crack it. 
Not only are the escape levels difficult to navigate, the puzzles are just as tricky. One puzzle in particular has to be completed before the time runs out-which, if you've already caught on by now, is not an easy task. In all honesty, the fun of solving puzzles wears thin after dying (and consequently failing) the puzzle for the tenth time in a row. 

It's a shame that The War of the Worlds did not meet up to my expectations. The game does succeed in creating an excellent style and atmosphere, and the narration, voiced by Patrick Stewart is brilliantly scripted and a joy to listen to. There are some great background animations, such as the walkers blowing up the London scenery, and the accompanying rumbles through your controller add to the tension. However, it is hard to praise the game for these points when the gameplay is so poor in comparison. The War of the Worlds suffers from repeated dying, some clunky controls, frustratingly boring puzzles, a plodding character, and poorly placed checkpoints.Whilst the game definitely gets the feel of the apocalyptic London setting that HG Wells presented in his brilliant novel, for the most part, fans of the book may not enjoy this, due to the negative points I've already stressed about. It's disappointing, but this really did not win me over. 

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