Jeff Wayne's: The War Of The Worlds
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It's not often that a game comes along that's based on an album. Incredibly, War Of The Worlds actually retains much from Jeff Wayne's big seller of the same name, notably the music (most of it remixed) and the Martian war machine artwork that graced the cover, which many of the units have been based on. Also, the introduction is lifted straight from the album and is made PC-friendly by adding some fitting FMV to set the scene. Richard Burton's narration is a definite highlight, along with the synthesised sounds of the Martian invaders. Anyone who fondly remembers cries of "oolah" will be well pleased.
Is There Life On Mars
Although the game takes many of the ideas originally found in Command & Conquer, there is one major difference that makes it feel entirely refreshing. Imagine if you will a version of C&C whereby you could establish a centre of operations in any region you wished, instead of just running through the missions in linear fashion. If the enemy doesn't hold a region you want to control, then your advance is unopposed and you can merrily start production as soon as you move the necessary hardware into place. If the enemy have been entrenched for any length of time, then battle ensues in the usual C&C manner.
The idea, if you choose the Martian side, is to eventually take London. If you're the humans, in this case Britain, you need to destroy the alien base in central Scotland. The battle map is limited to mainland Britain, which is divided into roughly 30 regions.
Depending on which side you choose, your strategy is entirely different. Both sides, of course, need to expand production into as many regions as possible, but it's the humans who are on the defensive. Initially with only armoured trucks, the Martians can attack with little resistance.
Go too far though and their resources become stretched and poorly defended. Britain's research eventually finds a way to cripple the alien tripods.
Playing through the main battle map, the game can be played out at a pace defined by a clock which can either be paused or set to fly by at about six hours per second. Play stops if one of your production centres is idle or if one of the sides is forced to defend a territory. Because of the non-linear way in which the game is played, you can zoom into the „ sector map and place units in defensive positions prior to an impending attack. You also have to go to the sector map to place buildings, although mobile units can be built from the main map, which is essential, as it takes a few seconds for maps to be loaded. These waiting times can be quite a pain, especially if you want to start production on just one building in one sector. Annoyingly, you can only access resource information from the main map. If you forget what you need when you go to build it, you have to wait 30 seconds just to go back. Frustrating isn't the word.
When Mars Attacks
Unlike most games of this type, research and production of various units can take anything from four days to a couple of months in game time, depending on what resources are available. During that period, counties can change hands a number of times, and the order you put in for those construction vehicles might have to be scrapped as the Martians go on the offensive. Building units on the fly is not an option. Presentation-wise the game is excellent. The Martian screens have an organic-metallic feel to them, while the human screens are typically Victorian. Nigel Hawthorne provides the voiceovers for your generals, who proudly announce when units are built or destroyed, and compared to most similar games, you get the feeling that due care and attention has been given to even the most rudimentary elements. The music is a love/hate affair that depends on how fondly you remember the original soundtrack album - if you were even alive back then. Graphically, the units look superb. In 3D they're just as smooth as in TA and certainly more detailed. As night falls, the humans' trucks even light up the road in front of them. The Martians, of course, have little need for headlights, and night time battles are played out in an eerie green twilight.
Of course, as the score suggests, War Of The Worlds is not without its faults. For one thing, you can't attack a region from two sides, which makes the real-time battles more a case of attacking en masse, rather than co-ordinating a two-pronged assault. Also, the range of units is uncharacteristically slight, especially at the start, although there is a fairly deep research tree that changes things later on. The savegame feature is also weak - actually, it's practically non-existent. If you exit the game, it saves your position for when you return. If you get things horribly wrong in a marathon session, there's little recourse but to start again from scratch. Which at least rams home a basic law of warfare: that errors of judgement and poor planning have to be put right, and quickly. There's no winding back the clock in this game.
The Way Ahead
War Of The Wars is about as nonlinear as this type of game can get. At the very least, one can imagine many developers taking many of the features and incorporating them into future titles. It marries in-depth resource management with one of the oldest and best sci-fi stories ever told. There are no skill levels or multiplayer options, but that doesn't mean you won't be playing the game again and again. Both sides are radically different, and many strategies need to be tried out before success is achieved.
War Of The Worlds may have it's flaws, but in a year that's seen little in the way of innovation it's a major advancement from the usual C&C clone, and comes highly recommended.
WOTW - The Facts
The game of the album of the film of the radio play of the book...
Along with Jules Verne, HG Wells was the most famous sci-fi author of his day. The two never got on, and Weils has been quoted as saying: "Verne couldn't write himself out of a paper sack." Charming. After a slew of classics - The Time Machine (1895), The Island Of Dr Moreau (1896) and The Invisible Man (1897) - Wells eventually topped the lot with War Of The Worlds In 1898.
In 1938 in America, a radio dramatisation of the book narrated by Orson Wells caused panic as thousands of listeners thought a real Invasion was in progress. Typical Yanks.
Probably the most uncool album you could ever hope to own, at least everyone over the age of 25 should have memories of the musical version of War Of The Worlds. Released in 1978, over six million copies have been sold worldwide. The album compiled the various talents of David Essex, Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott and a host of others. Spanish and German language versions were also recorded. In 1989 a dance version of'The Eve Of The WarI topped the chart. So there you go, pub qulzzers, your War Of The Worlds factfile is now complete.