MEGATech Review: The War of the Worlds for Xbox Live Arcade

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The current generation may be more familiar with the Tom Cruise vehicle of the same name than the original science fiction novel by H.G. Wells. Maybe they know about the radio series performed by Orson Welles in the 1930s. Well, it’s time to revisit that tremendous tale again, but in the form of what could be a truly epic video game. This is The War of the Worlds for Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA).

Re-Imagining the Legend

To be perfectly honest, I don’t know a heck of a lot about the original H.G. Wells novel either, but the crux of it is that the Earth is being invaded by Martians and they’re not exactly friendly. We are treated to a horrifying tale from the perspective of a single narrator, frantically running away and trying to survive the alien apocalypse.

And that’s how the action begins in this XBLA video game. You take on the role of that protagonist, taking on the 2D platformer action in a beautifully film noir style environment. The controls are kept as simple as possible, offering a certain nostalgic feel that retro gamers will appreciate: you get the four directions and just three action buttons, one of which isn’t even used right away.

For the most part, you don’t even engage in combat with the alien invaders. You just run away. However, there are opportunities to take the offensive. For example, there are crates that can be pushed over ledges, falling on scary robot spiders like the one depicted above.

Limbo All Over Again?

Simple controls? Film noir styling? Lack of a health meter and repeatedly humiliating instant deaths? This is all starting to sound pretty familiar and there’s a reason. There is definitely something that is very Limbo-esque in this game. And that’s a huge compliment. The puzzle-platformer is widely regarded as one of the best XBLA titles out there.

The presentation is stepped up a few notches with The War of the Worlds, offering splashes of color in the form of green alien death beams and deadly red fires. This makes for a fantastically moody atmosphere that really draws you into the world imagined by Wells (and Welles). It’s not a superficial experience like what you get with Ugly Americans: Apocalypsegeddon. This is art.

Even the somewhat repetitive puzzle-like dynamic, not unlike what we got in Limbo, is richly rewarding. The platforming action is reasonably complex, letting you dangle from ledges, push crates into place, avoid detection by alien invaders and more. One misstep equals death; good thing you have unlimited lives.

Sir Jean-Luc Picard Makes It So

And this really makes this game special. They’ve enlisted the voice talents of one Patrick Stewart to provide the narration for The War of the Worlds and the result is incredible. Check out this brief gameplay trailer.

No, you don’t get quite the same kind of intense action-packed gameplay as you get in a game like Shadow Complex, but that’s the point. This isn’t so much a video game as it is an interactive short story. The narration is not just for cut scenes; Patrick Stewart’s voice joins you throughout your journey, narrating in the same kind of iconic voice as Orson Welles did nearly 80 years ago.

MEGATechie War Hero or MEGATechie War Victim?

Maybe it’s just me, but this kind of visual aesthetic seems to be picking up in popularity. We saw it in Limbo. We saw it in Closure, which we saw at PAX Prime 2011 earlier this year. And now we see it in The War of the Worlds. And this could be one of the best efforts to date.

I don’t anticipate there being a lot of replay value here, but finishing the tale from beginning to end is easily one of the best experiences you can have on XBLA. Games like this demonstrate that games are more than just that; they’re works of art. This is 800 MS Points ($10) well spent. Run away from the Martians, but run toward this title.

About

Michael Kwan is a freelance writer, button masher, published author, and professional gadget geek. Fueled by caffeine and Wi-Fi, he personifies the digital lifestyle. Follow Michael on Twitter (@michaelkwan) and Instagram (@beyondtherhetoric).

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