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E3 2011: The War of the Worlds preview – whatever you expect, it’s not what you expect

The War of the Worlds is not what we were expecting when we heard that Paramount was debuting a game based on the property at E3. We figured the game would be a 3D action game of some kind, perhaps one based on Spielberg’s Tom Cruise film. We’re happy to report that this isn’t the case—citing the early rotoscoped PC adventure games of the ‘90s, the developers have crafted The War of the Worlds as a 2D puzzle adventure that takes place around the same time of the 1953 film, now set in war-torn London.

The brief gameplay sequence we saw opens in Hyde Park, with an unknown man in a business suit running through the decimated ruins while Martians reduce the scenery to rubble. The look of the game is striking: true to form, it bears a strong resemblance to Flashback or Out of This World, only with a slight painterly style, a dismally gray color palette and several layers of action going on in the foreground and background.

Silhouetted Martian craft deliver massive bombardments in the distance, and as the narrator runs through the scorched earth, tanks and other objects pass in front of the camera. Meanwhile, NPCs are vaporized—the team at Other Ocean is going for a unique look that mimics the fakery of old-school special effects—while the landscape is continuously obliterated in real time. Even with all the cinematic visual effects, perhaps the best aspect of the production is that the narration is provided by Patrick Stewart, who keeps a running monologue of the protagonist’s thoughts as he witnesses the chaos while struggling to find his finance and brother. This added atmosphere creates a real sense of drama, particularly with the game’s effectively moody score and appropriately classic sound effects.

From a gameplay perspective, War of the Worlds has been built for core gamers. As the narrator made his way through the Hyde Park battle zone, he had to contend with numerous alien craft, environmental hazards and puzzle-like traps while continuously moving forward. Timing and platforming play a large role in the game, with the protagonist making jumping out of the way of alien vaporizer beams and crouching under tanks.

Though the demo was linear and faster-paced, it had a definite feeling of the original Oddworld games, an interesting design and potentially engaging choice for an adventure game in 2011. Moving through the park, the narrator decides to form an alliance with a group of soldiers holed up there. It’s a dangerous mission; the narrator has to plant explosives at the top of an alien transmitting device riddled with energy traps that blink off and on intermittently, and the combination of patterns and timing skills doesn’t look that easy.

However, as the game progresses, you’re also able to use some of the Martian technology against the invaders, so the entire game won’t be running for your life. Though they weren’t shown off in the demo, other elements will apparently involve door and switch puzzles, more exploration and even ethical decisions, like whether or not to give a gasmask you find to a helpless woman. With the juxtaposition of Patrick Stewart’s brilliant, real-time narration against the gameplay of a more classically-styled 2D adventure game, there’s a lot to be excited about with The War of The Worlds. We’re definitely interested to play more when it hits PSN and XBLA this summer.

Jun 16, 2011

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