It's war. Or if it hasn't been declared at your place yet, it will soon. The War of the Worlds is now available on Xbox Live Arcade and Gamersyde did not hesitate to face the Martian invasion to propose a full review of the game. Ocean Interactive's title will also be released on Playstation 3 and PC but no date has been confirmed yet to my knowledge.
As everyone knows, before it became a movie directed by Spielberg, The War of the Worlds was an excellent book written by British novelist H.G. Wells in 1898. A novel ahead of its time which even scared the hell out of Americans when Orson Welles took part in a radio drama adapted from it in 1938. With the end of 2011 getting closer, Other Ocean Interactive pays tribute to this milestone of literature with a video game, and what better way to do it than to have Patrick Stewart as the narrator of the story? The first thing that strikes when launching War of the Worlds is how well it conveys the sense of urgency and panic to embark the player upon a true interactive nightmare journey. More than ever, the end is near, death around every corner and time running awfully short. As a result, the player finds himself as lost as the main character, thrown into a world which is falling apart and will most certainly drag him down with him.
A world of pain
The War of the Worlds takes you on a painful journey, a journey to a world one had almost forgotten ever existed. A pitiless and unforgiving world which will not hesitate to make you kick the bucket. This world, so familiar back in the days when Rick Dangerous was king, had practically vanished with time, as challenge is now something players do not want to experience the hard way. Games like Limbo sort of brought back "die and retry" to the game but here it feels a lot more like "die and redie". Other Ocean Interactive's title indeed plays with your nerves, testing your sanity at every single second.
So basically yes, The War of the Worlds is a very difficult game, despite the numerous check points, because it sometimes isn't clear what the player is expected to do to move on. Therefore, you sometimes get stuck because you just can't figure out what to do. For example, at some point you enter a building chased by some black smoke and you see a little girl running away from you. It is impossible to know if the kid is there for a reason or if she's just part of the scenery, so imagine how long it took me to find out that I had to crouch next to her in order not to scare her away - which actually allows to clear the way so you don't get fried by a nearby sentinel. Nothing to give you a hint, not even after long minutes of unsuccessful attempts at avoiding the sentinel, dying is part of the experience, patience too. Some will find it excellent, others will probably be discouraged.
Another problem is that, for a game which is so demanding in terms of precision, there should be very responsive controls, but it's not always the case. That's why it feels like being back in time playing on old 8/16 bit computers, that's why the game can get very frustrating too. With "a bit" of patience it is of course possible to complete the different levels but you must put some effort into it, especially because the traps are as vicious as they are many. And if there's one thing the game does well, it is when providing the player with a great variety of dangers and enemies: robotic spiders, lethal tripods, spreading weeds and so much more.
Because it is an invasion, the player becomes the prey, which involves a lot of running away from the Martian threat. Like I said before, losing time is not an option here, as hesitating usually leads to a certain death. Again, in these moments, it is very difficult not to die at some point as anticipating, say, the next laser attack, is close to impossible without Jedi reflexes and foresight. Don't expect to stay alive for too much then, as you would be in for a pretty big disappointment. In the great tradition of games like Another World (aka Out of this World), you must learn to accept that dying is indeed necessary to progress.
In the video below, to reach the end of the level, it took me so much time I almost felt like giving up (which would have meant starting the level all over the next time as check points are not permanent inside levels). So, to be able to complete it in one shot like in the video, you must know it by heart. That being said, it can't be denied how efficient such sequences are, the sense of chaos overwhelming you as if you actually were there. Also, the satisfaction that comes with the completion of a level is just priceless but that's usually the case with nerve-racking games, isn't it?
Aesthetically, The War of the Worlds looks great and aside from the hero's animation and a few framerate issues, the game's presentation is praiseworthy. The problem is that, however appealing it may look at first, this is clearly not a game for everyone. If you don't like your patience to be put to the test, if trying some sequences again and again is not your thing, then it is probably best if you stay away. Despite all the frustration that can be felt, the sadomasochistic need to move forward is still there though, like in the good old days. I am fully aware that I am not the best player out there, so there's a good chance you will do better than me, but I do think this is a war you'd better get prepared for before you decide to wage it. With its cinematic presentation, one thing is sure, not only does the game pays tribute to the novel which inspired it, it also is a great homage paid to Eric Chahi, Paul Cuisset and Jordan Mechner.