The Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds is an oddball offshoot of the RTS genre. I am a bit of a real-time strategy freak. I’ve played a lot of RTS games. The Dune II game from 1993 became my first encounter with the genre and hooked me from the outset. For a while I played them all. Good, bad, and mediocre–it didn’t matter. Must . . . play . . . all!
Along came the Jeff Wayne’s WOTW game in 1998. Adoring the novel as well as the RTS genre, I jumped on it.
This game came out an an uncomfortable time in the RTS game advances. It couldn’t be played online during a time when that was the growing rage. It looked–and sounded!–nifty, but its formula varied from the established formula.
In a nutshell, it is neither fish nor fowl. It’s a duckbilled platypus.
First, a little background. The music on this game comes from Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of the War of the Worlds techno-music, art rock album from 1978. If you have never listened to this album, do yourself a favor and check it out. Anyway, I don’t need to elaborate since it is a kind of cult classic album. The music gives a nice sense of eeriness to the proceedings in the game.
In the game, the player can play as either the humans or the Martians. Unlike in the 1898 novel, the Martians are destroyed in England and divert their landings to Scotland. (Picture the amusing thought of a Martian in a kilt, with a blue-painted face, screaming “Freedom!”.) I assume they did this to give the war a definite front, rather than scattered Martian battles.
Instead of merely a RTS, the game also has turns. Sort of. You have a strategic/production map where you look at all your sectors. Time is halted on this screen until you advance it, usually by days. The feature allows you to pick your research and production. Like many RTS, each side has multiple resources they must use. Humans have steel, coal and oil, while the Martians have copper, heavy elements and human blood! (The most ghoulishly amusing resource I’ve seen in any RTS game.)
British war technology in this is quite a bit more advanced than in the novel, despite being set in the same year of 1898. A necessary change if you want the humans to have a prayer. A steampunk vibe appears to be what they were going for and, for the most part, it works. The game had sufficient entertainment value that I played it through once both as the humans and Martians.
The graphics and gameplay are adequate, if uninspired. Fighting as the humans is rough at the beginning, with no vehicles capable of defeating anything. Your only chance is to build artillery–a lot of it. You must simply endure Martian attacks until your technology is advanced enough to go on the offensive. Try an early offensive will see your vehicles evaporate like a fart in the wind. Playing as the Martians is more active, as you have an advantage right off the bat. If you wade into a bunch of gun emplacements, you definitely can lose, though.
What I suspect truly doomed this game to obscurity was its lack of online options. Honestly, I’m not sure it could have worked with the turn options.
JWWOTW isn’t great, nor is it terrible. The highlight is (unsurprisingly) the soundtrack. Production turns are an interesting idea, but clunky. Multiple scenarios would have greatly expanded the playability as well.
Any fan of either H.G. Wells War of the Worlds or Jeff Wayne’s musical album ought to check it out. There are multiple sites online where one can download it for free.