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War of the World 360 is a loving literary homage to HG Wells' novel with a simple and addictive control style.
In the early 90s my friend and I had a running joke about movie licence games, particularly those made by Ocean Games for the Amiga. It seemed that they could take almost any film premise and deliver it as a platform game. Even JAWS, we suggested, would feature a Great White Shark walking on its tail-fin, collecting fruit, tins, keys and bits of Robert Shaw.
I was reminded of this memory after I had been ushered into an ultra-secret presentation by Paramount Digital Entertainment only to be presented with what is, essentially, a platform game based on War of the Worlds. However, it's a measure of how much modern consoles have changed how we experience games that it's also a very promising take on the classic story.
Viewed from the side and controlled with only the direction pad and a single button, War of the Worlds plays like an update of the landmark classic, Flashback. The developers are huge fans of Flashback and have even resorted to retro methods to create this game, including a preference for hand-drawn animation (via rotoscoping) over modern motion capture methods. By providing such a simple control method, the player is freed to focus on the objective to be completed: pick the right timing and stay alive. Much of the action revolves around negotiating past the deadly hovering alien sentinels.
The driving narrative accompanies the character's progress through the apocalyptic landscape.
Despite the basic design premise, the action on screen is anything but, with 40 layers of parallax scenery providing a window onto a world in the process of being destroyed by an alien fleet. The ground explodes into a shower of mud, soldiers hurl themselves forward only to be illuminated and then destroyed by alien energy weapons.
It sounds simplistic, but what makes War of the Worlds so compelling is the driving narrative which accompanies the character's progress through the apocalyptic landscape. Voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart, the game becomes more of an interactive performance of the story. Events in the narrative match neatly with events on-screen and give a gripping insight into the experiences of the character.
What impressed me most about this version of the story is the quality of the spoken word. At the end of the presentation I had to ask if the voice over was reading from the original book. To my surprise the text was actually a new version of the story, written by an as-yet unnamed British writer. I was amazed. The language and character used sounded as though it had come straight from the pages of HG Wells.
The player is freed to focus on picking the right timing and staying alive.
This delivers a storytelling experience which provides a perfect fit for the action on-screen. It also gives the game the immersive fiction experience which so many gamers enjoy without distracting from the core interaction of the gameplay itself. The hero hides in sewage pipes, climbs alien structures to plant explosives, triggers proximity mines to destroy alien probes all while begin accompanied by a beautiful and perfectly delivered internal monologue.
Its a compelling mix which feeds into my own love of animation, adventure, 2D platformers and radio drama and it's definitely a story I can't wait to follow to the end.
War of the Worlds is currently due for release on XBLA and PSN in the late summer of 2011.
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