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The War of the Worlds review: House of 1,000 corpses


If developer Other Ocean understood one thing about adapting H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds to video game form, it was the feeling of humanity's powerlessness that the original book created. Set in '50s London as it's being attacked by Martians, War of the Worlds: The Game sees protagonist Arthur Clark making his way past the invading army to find his family -- though that's a lot easier said than done. We are talking about Martians here.

Unfortunately, that adherence to the book's sense of near-constant defeat is the most frustrating thing about The War of the Worlds: Arthur is such a vulnerable little meat bag that just about everything kills him.

Gallery: War of the Worlds (XBLA) | 7 Photos

At times, The War of the Worlds is hauntingly beautiful -- the giant tripods assaulting London in the background and the burnt cars and toppled buildings dotting the landscape can be quite moving -- but the constant death made for one frustrating time overall.

If you played the original Prince of Persia or Flashback, then you should have a good idea of how the game controls: It's a meticulous 2D platformer. Arthur can run, duck and roll, jump and climb, though he does it all slowly. Curious, then, that there would be so many twitchy segments that call upon lightning-speed reflexes. For instance, you'll frequently come face-to-face (or, more commonly, face-to-back) with sentry bots who can (and will) fire a deadly laser from extremely far away. Nothing spells fun like being murdered by something you can't even see on your screen.

The game's checkpoint system doesn't help alleviate this frustration either. You'll usually be allotted one checkpoint at the beginning of a new area, but these areas can be quite lengthy. One segment has Arthur escaping poisonous black smoke by rushing into an apartment building, where he has to cover vents with boxes. Not only do the boxes slide around as if made of oil-slick ice, but the sequence lasts almost 20 minutes. Death thrusts you back to the beginning, where you have to listen to Patrick Stewart give his same scene-setting spiel again.

Patrick Stewart does a good job narrating the game as main character Arthur Clark, but his effectiveness is diminished with each retry. Some areas of the game are incredibly complex and challenging, but it's really hard to persevere when you have to hear Patrick Stewart ponder what these alien invaders want five hundred times.

The most upsetting thing about The War of the Worlds are the design choices holding it back from its true potential. The book by H.G. Wells is a sci-fi classic, and combined with the artistic style of the game and Patrick Stewart's voice work, The War of the Worlds has the trappings of a solid game. But because it's such a frustrating chore to play, in the end it only proved extremely effective at stressing me out with little reward. Good games just don't do that.

This review is based on a Xbox 360 download code of The War of the Worlds provided by Paramount.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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