It's hard not to be a science fiction fan and not be aware of H.G. Wells classic novel, 'The War of the Worlds'. Detailing a Martian invasion of Earth, it's inspired countless stories since it was published, as well as several adaptations. The War of the Worlds for Xbox Live and PSN is actually based on the 1953 film adaptation of the novel, produced by George Pal, and not the more recent Steven Spielberg incarnation. This allows the team, Other Ocean, to make this game a love letter not only to the classic movie, but to a particular style of nostalgic games - the challenging platformers of yesteryear.
Recalling games like Flashback and Another World, The War of the Worlds is a 2D platformer, with a unique style. The characters in the game are rotoscoped, as is the tradition, giving a very realistic and distinct look to the animation. However, the look of the game is a kind of pastiche of real photographs and textures, seemingly hand-drawn images and CGI. The reasoning behind this is that the game is told in retrospect, with Patrick Stewart narrating, and the images the player sees are drawn from the narrator's mind. As war erupts in London, the game gets darker and more monochrome, with elements of colour finding their way back into the game as the tide turns. There are also over 40 layers of parallax in each level, giving a great amount of depth and detail to the environments.
The plot is actually a parallel story to that of the film, which took place in California. The game's story takes place in London, like the original novel, and runs alongside the general timeline of events in the film, but has its own story arc, concerning a man trying to find his family as he escapes the Martian invasion. And he's not going to have a lot of help in doing so, either, as from what we could tell there are no weapons in the game. You must solely rely on your ability to outwit and outrun your enemies to get by. Environmental puzzles are the name of the game, as you find yourself evading enemy lines of sight, and waiting for the right gap in laser security fields to get by.
Some of it actually looks quite difficult, but that should be good news to those looking for a challenging platformer. Hints are actually occasionally subtly doled out by Captain Picard's narration, which is a nice way of lending a helping hand. The enemies you face range from the traditional 140 foot tripods, to smaller drones, mechanical spiders, the 'red weed' which the Martians use to harvest blood, and the smoke monster from Lost. Seriously, there's a lethal cloud of black smoke you have to escape. That's cool though, it's good to see he's still getting work after that weird finale that didn't explain anything.
The gameplay can get intense, as you run with army officers through the trenches in London, watching them get disintegrated by Martian heat rays. As the lasers hit their bodies, their skeletons flash in a very Dalek laser-like style, which is a cool retro effect. 'Retro' is basically the key word that could apply to the entire game, as at any moment in the demo we saw we could recognise hints of Prince of Persia or even Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. It's definitely not a game for the kill-crazy hyperactive masses keeping the Call of Duty franchise alive, but for people who appreciate a slow, well told and challenging eleven levels.
The War of the Worlds is shaping up to be one to watch on both XBLA and PSN, as it's making a lot of surprising and unexpected decisions. The decision to base itself on the older 1953 film rather than the more well-known Spielberg adaptation, along with the gritty pastiche aesthetic and the retro gameplay, make this a game that's being developed not to appeal to the masses, but as part of the creators' love and appreciation for all of these elements. If you're into the design, the original novel and film, or Flashback-style gameplay, keep your tri-coloured eye locked on this one.