H.G. Wells’ The War of The Worlds is a singularly interesting piece of literature. With the benefit of hindsight, one can see an incredible degree of prophecy, or at very least a keen understanding of the direction of science at the time of writing.
The basis of the story comes from a strong, if reasonably marginalised fear at the time, of invasion. If you look at the following 50 years or so, you can see why. But that’s not a fear we really have nowadays, and while The War of The Worlds is undoubtedly a great read, it doesn’t hold a huge degree of relevance today. At least not in its entirety.
And that, I guess, is the problem with The War of The Worlds adaptation for XBLA. It doesn’t have a huge amount of relevance to today’s attitudes toward gaming. It’s borne of an age when clunky controls and simple design were easily outweighed by pretty visuals and a slice of atmosphere that was rarely seen. That said, it does have a relevance to me, personally, being a huge fan of both Another World and Flashback, two games that it draws heavily on for gameplay and style.
Seeing a game like this in action brings back a lot of memories. The grim nature of the narrative, and the ultimate impotence of the lead, Alan Clark, makes for a story that, taken by itself, would be fantastically enjoyable. It pre-dates, in its original form, all the nonsense we have come to expect of modern-day narrative. This is a story about a man doing what he can, rather than someone with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Narrated by a somewhat lacklustre (although still superlative) Patrick Stewart, were it not for one gigantic issue, this would be an excellent purchase, if nothing else but to prove that videogames have the potential to deliver something that is both unexpected and worthy of note to those outside our particular sphere of media.
Sadly, that gigantic issue is, for me, nigh on impossible to overcome. It’s hard. Really hard. I’m sure, for some, the inherent repetition in gameplay is something of a boon – for those that enjoy the masochistic nature (and occasional reward) of titles like Pitfall, R-Type and Ikaruga. For me, given the collection of factors like the purposefully clunky controls and fantastic story, the singular harshness of the difficulty level simply doesn’t fit. The story plays out in small puzzle sections – graciously well checkpointed and speedy to reload for the most part – and failure to complete the puzzle in its entirety sees you head straight back to the beginning of the section to try again. The problem comes when you hear Patrick Stewart spewing out the same line over and over again. Similarly, when the drama hits and you are confronted by a rather more intimidating puzzle, all that power is lost as you witness the same – once powerful – animations until you manage to scramble past the problem.
And it is very much a case of scrambling past problems, pretty much the whole way through. There are some cleverly designed puzzles that I managed to zoom through without even giving thought to how I should proceed. I’m pretty sure, had I failed in these sections, I would have been retrying them for the next half hour. It’s this disparity between the bits you get stuck on and the bits that you breeze through that makes me feel a little negative about the developer, Other Oceans Interactive.
Some balancing and a little more polishing could have done wonders here, I think. This is not an issue I encounter all that often, as balancing and difficulty curves seem to be very much at the forefront of developers minds nowadays. But perhaps this is a harkening back to the days when developers tested their own games. I honestly don’t know if it was intended to be this hard, or whether it just came out that way. Either way, it is, at times, almost offensive to play.
As a platformer, it’s nonsense. Yes, of course, you jump from platform to platform, and the ‘puzzles’ I talk of are very simple, but the idea of labelling it a platformer doesn’t do justice to the thought that has gone into it. In terms of gameplay, it’s easiest to talk about it in reference to Another World than anything else.
I’m disappointed that I failed to enjoy The War of The Worlds. That’s the issue though. I failed to enjoy it. If you can get your head around it a little quicker that I did, and perhaps have exceptional tolerance for clunky controls and repeated breaks in gameplay, then you will get a lot more out of it that I did.
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