With a wealth of film and other slightly more obscure adaptations of H.G. Wells' seminal 1898 novel War of the Worlds (Jeff Wayne's rock opera anyone?), Other Ocean Interactive's first hurdle when making its Xbox Live Arcade game must have been in its choice of which of the many settings to use. Therefore, it was actually quite refreshing to find it has instead gone down its own path. Set in the 1950s, in line with the American War of the Worlds film, and though it does carry some of the same design touches of that movie like the tri-coloured eyes of the machines, it distinguishes itself by placing all of the action squarely in London.
War of the Worlds looks gorgeous. As soon as the game begins and you see your nameless protagonist walking through an ill-fated train, your jaw inevitably drops. I'd seen the preview videos and all, but when this game turns on the style, it's really very impressive indeed. Patrick Stewart's narration also fits the game like a glove, driving the story forward with a good rhythm and tempo. I've been having quite a hard time trying to describe the art assets in this game. It's got a touch of Limbo about it, but it reminds me most of the old Amiga game Flashback. This comparison also holds water when describing War of the Worlds' gameplay proper.
Back in my day, when all this was fields, games used to be hard. I'm not talking 'oh no, these dudes are bullet-sponges!' hard, but 'put a foot a pixel wrong and you'll be dead' hard. Other Ocean Interactive clearly remembers these heady days as War of the Worlds is old-school through and through. It's an old-fashioned 2D platformer, with multiple layers of beautifully-retro parallax scrolling. You even have survivors running across your field of view in the foreground, which can make it just a little bit harder when you are trying to hide from a deadly Martian heat-ray blast.
Considering the game is a pure platforming experience, Other Ocean Interactive has managed to vary the experience greatly. You'll find yourself evading the previously mentioned heat-rays while hurdling cars and walls, dashing across crumbling roof-tops as a Martian tripod looms ominously in the background and avoiding sentry drones as you attempt to place dynamite on a force-field protected Alien-installation. These aren't even half the surprises that lie in wait for you, but I don't wish to spoil any more of the game for you, just trust me when I say it keeps getting better.
War of the World's controls tend to have a slightly wooly feel at times, but with a little play you can acclimatise well to them, and any deaths, and boy will you die, can't really be attributed to them. I spent a good while dying over and over trying to place some explosives in one of the earlier levels, and I got well and truly frustrated, but when I took a couple of deep breaths and started timing my jumps and runs, I eventually managed to complete the section quickly and easily. And there it was. That feeling of accomplishment that only comes from beating super-tough games. The palm-sweat, the hunched back, but most of all, that elated shit-eating grin spreading across your face. Each level also comes with its own leaderboard, so you can see how long it took you to finish it, and then compare it to your friends' pitiful times.
This a cracking game, and it achieves exactly what it sets out to do, which is to give you an old-fashioned, but cleverly updated platforming experience. At 800 points it's a bit of a steal too, so get yourself downloading the demo sharpish, as this is one alien invasion you won't mind being part of.