Recently released Xbox Live Arcade game The War of the Worlds combines a side-scrolling puzzle-style game with a top-notch orchestral soundtrack, imaginative graphics and a well-written story narrated by acclaimed science-fiction actor Patrick Stewart.
While the game is published by Paramount and has the familiar robotic tripods laying waste to humankind, its story is altogether independent from the 1953 version or the more recent Tom Cruise incarnation. The main character, an unnamed London resident, is on a train when the aliens attack and decides to head back to the center of the city to save his loved ones.
While the actual gameplay is two-dimensional, there are multiple layers of the 2-D graphics. There are active backgrounds of burning skylines or alien ships while Martian drones scroll across the foreground. So while you are scrolling sideways, you don't have the flat feel of a 1980s-era Super Mario Bros. game. The graphics, while not overly detailed, are creative and set a dark, apocalyptic mood.
As you guide your character into the war zone that is London, you must avoid ray-gun-carrying drones and various obstacles. There are no health bars, so any damage results in instant death. Unfortunately, checkpoints that save your progress can seem few and far between. There can be multiple chances to get shot, fall off a high building or catch fire before you reach the next spawning point.
Much of my strategy was just trying to time runs and jumps to avoid death until I made it. That's tough, though, because sometimes the scene is so dark and the graphics so layered that you can't see your character. In some parts, I kept getting killed under a tank or in a sewer pipe only to eventually make it out without ever learning what was getting me.
One major annoyance is that even if you can make it to the checkpoints within a level or chapter, you have to start from the beginning of the chapter the next time you play if you exit the game. I couldn't find a way to force it to save.
But the narration by Patrick Stewart adds a great story element to the game (and it can include instructions to make it to the next checkpoint).
Overall, The War of the Worlds serves as a unique and challenging game.