While film and comic books often find themselves adapted into video games, to see that treatment given to classic literature is far more rare. In large part that disparity stems from the difficulty of adapting a novel into an immersive interactive experience. The War of the Worlds approaches that issue in an interesting way. True, there have been a few The War of the World movies, but the game's contemplative tone is far more reminiscent of the H.G. Wells classic than a Hollywood blockbuster.
War of the Worlds is primarily a platformer of the Prince of Persia variety. No, I'm not talking about the time-altering, acrobatic prince -- what Other Ocean Interactive has created is more along the lines of the 2D original. In fact, the developers went all out and used the same rotoscope technology for character animations as its inspiration. Sadly, this leads to many of the same control issues that plagued Prince of Persia back in 1989.
Simple actions like climbing over a crate can become an overcomplicated affair, requiring standing still and pressing jump precisely next to the object. While frustrating, these slow, methodical controls could have still been manageable. However, when coupled with obstacles and chase sequences that require split-second timing, they quickly shift from cumbersome to unforgivable.
Not even Patrick Stewart's fantastic narration can save the experience. The narration is spoken in Stewart's heavenly voice, but dying in the middle of a line causes all narration to cease until you reach the next arbitrary, unmarked checkpoint. Death is a constant occurrence thanks to the archaic controls, resulting in large portions of the game's story and atmosphere going completely missed.
The result is the videogame equivalent of a period piece. It perfectly channels a bygone era, both in its literal representation of H.G. Wells' classic story and its design as a videogame. Unfortunately, such strict adherence to those design philosophies is also the game's downfall.
War of the Worlds is filled with puzzles that could have been interesting had they been paired with just a hint of responsive controls; levels involving toxic smoke and creeping red vines stand out as particularly novel. But even the best laid levels fall bare when I find myself dying seven, twelve, or sixteen times because the traps seemed to be designed with a more agile character in mind.
Other Ocean Interactive made its mark with last year's superb Dark Void Zero. That game too was a love letter to videogames past. One thing that can not be denied is the studio's skill and passion for the origins of the medium. However, the danger with diving head-first into the past is that there are sometimes very good reasons why those techniques are no longer in practice. For someone interested in videogame design or history, The War of the Worlds is an interesting case study. But is it fun? Dear god, no. Just, no.