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The Great Martian War Mobile Review: Not One for the History Books

Platform: iOS/Android                 Developer: Secret Location                 Release Date: 28/01/2014

Yet, across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.

I like H.G. Wells. There’s something about his use of language that’s compelling; he spins his words around him into a great maelstrom of dramatic tension. He’s corny at times, and rarely to the point, but never fails to draw you along, word by word, until you’re lost in his fiction. In the War of the Worlds this style of narrative is particularly useful for recreating the confusion and mayhem of a wartime conflict. The reporter describes suddenly noticing soldiers bursting into flame, and deducing the aliens had some sort of “invisible ray”, whilst all around him the world starts to combust; trees, buildings, people, all in a cacophony of fire and death.

In The Great Martian War, they have tentacle dicks.

The game is based on a History Channel short film of the same name. “Historians” attempt to give a real, “historical” account of what they believe would have happened if H.G. Wells’ famous aliens attacked Earth prior to the outbreak of the First World War. The film is shot in mockumentary fashion, presenting the fiction as fact, although with the History Channel you can never really tell if they’re being serious or not. Furthermore, it seems their approach to literature is every bit as respectful as their approach to history, and very little remains of Wells’ masterpiece save for the Tripods; with less actual killing, more ineffectual walking about and the aforementioned tentacle appendages, of course.

We’ve come off track a little here, but it serves the purpose of explaining how far down the rungs of the ladder this game actually is. First we had The War of the Worlds; intellectual discourse disguised as fiction. Then we had The Great Martian War; fiction disguised as intellectual discourse. And now we have the game; a ten-a-penny endless runner, failing to disguise itself as relevant.

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The game comes with two basic modes- running away from the camera or running towards it. There are two control schemes for moving left and right- tilt or press- though the second of these is unplayable. The interface seems incapable of distinguishing between any different inputs, and trying to turn right could leave you jumping, ducking, or simply quitting the game. In order to progress, you must dodge explosions, barbed wire and trees. Exactly which of these items is deadly and which will let you clip through them like a friendly, gas-mask-wearing ghost seems to be based entirely on pot luck, so it’s best to try and avoid them all. Occasionally you’ll encounter an alien, but its waggling tentacles do little more than slightly perturb the player character, which is disappointing to say the least. In a game featuring (by degrees of separation granted) one of the most terrifying and iconic aliens in all of science fiction, the alien should not cause less anxiety than a goddamn tree.

Once you finally run out of luck and die (because, you know, who doesn’t run so hard into the side of a tank they kill themselves at least once in their lives?), you’re given two options. You can either quit to the upgrade screen and get ready to try again, or you can exchange points for a res, an option which is infinitely available on death for a fixed cost. These points are obtainable by completing challenges or spending money in the store, meaning that the total distance you can run in-game is a number proportionate to the number on your bank balance.

The game is presented in a ‘shades of brown’ pallet, with touches of deep red fog and bright orange flame; a fair choice given the source material, but the low-res, sloppy textures mean that the game remains an eyesore. To make it worse, the constant spikes in lag whenever an explosion happens or a new distance is reached mean that each of these awful textures gets to come under careful scrutiny.

At times I suffer from the strangest sense of detachment from myself and the world about me; I seem to watch it all from the outside, from somewhere inconceivably remote, out of time, out of space, out of the stress and tragedy of it all.

Woah. Maybe the lag was intentional after all?

My love for H.G. Wells notwithstanding, this game is simply bad. The gameplay is derivative and monotonous, it’s ugly as sin, and poorly implemented microtransactions make progress meaningless. Furthermore, issues with inputting controls and major fps problems make the game virtually unplayable. The Great Martian War simply doesn’t deliver anything that a dozen other games on the market don’t already, and butchers great source material in the process of that failure. I honestly can’t think of a reason I’d recommend this to anyone. Except maybe the Martians.