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Video Game: Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds

We have destroyed many of them. But although their weaponry is primitive, we greatly underestimated the strength of their numbers. Success is no longer assured
— Commander of the ill-fated martian vanguard

This page is about the PC game. If you're looking for the Rock Opera that inspired it, click here.

Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds is a 1998 real time strategy game by British games developer Rage Software. As the name suggests, it contains a lot of the dialogue and music from the rock opera of the same name. It follows the invasion of Great Britain in 1898 by Martians who, exhausting all other options, have turned to conquest in order to escape their dying planet. Unfortunately, unlike in the original novel these Martians have remembered to take their flu shots, and so must be fought off the old fashioned way.

In many ways, the game resembles the later Total War series. Each campaign is fought over a completely non-linear Risk style map in which units are built and deployed, with engagements against enemy forces being handled on a separate real-time “battle map”. The battle map is also used to construct buildings and site defenses, giving players complete control of their bases. The battle map graphics are surprisingly good for the day, and the game is notable for being one of the first RTS to use 3D models instead of sprites.

The resource system also differed from the conventions of the time; there is no manual Resource Gathering, and instead of the resources being used to build or purchase units, each unit and facility has an “upkeep” requirement (which varies depending on whether it is moving, building, repairing or idle). The speed at which buildings and units are constructed decreases if the requirements are not met, forcing the player to strike a balance. Each side makes use of three different resources and each sector of the war map has these resources in varying levels of abundance. The player can construct facilities to extract these resources in sectors they control, leading to strategic maneuvers to control high-resource sectors and thus support bigger armies. The strategy doesn't end there however, as reconnaissance, hit and run raids, pincer movements, infiltration of enemy buildings (to gain strategic intelligence) or sheer brute force are all options available to the player. The ultimate objective of both sides is to destroy the enemy headquarters in their central sector.

The game can be played from both the Human and the Martian perspective. The Humans have strong defenses, greater ranged weapons, and a larger industrial base allowing them to produce lots of units rapidly. The Martians are less numerous but have fast and powerful vehicles with lots of specialized abilities.


The game provides examples of:

  • Action Bomb - Drones
  • Aliens Are Bastards - Deconstructed. The Martians only invade Earth because their planet and their species is dying, all their efforts to maintain a habitable biosphere have failed, and the surviving population are so desperate that they have actually started lynching their leaders until they come up with a solution.
  • The All-Seeing A.I. - The computer is suspiciously good at jumping on sectors that you have just moved a lot of units out of (even if the reason you have moved them is to attack one of their sectors, which can lead to a rather amusing swapping of sides). It also rarely mounts an attack until it has enough units to stand a reasonable chance against the defenders, despite never reconnoitering first with scout units or probing attacks.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us - The Martians will do this to most of Scotland within the first week of the campaign.
    • As the humans, you can invoke this by sending an army of Tunneling Track Layers up the battlemap underground and resurfacing them in the middle of a Martian base. Risky (because certain Martian weapons can damage tunneling units, and they know where you are) but amusing.
  • Animal Testing - A Martian cow, mentioned in the novel but not featured in any other adaptation, is briefly seen in the intro movie being gassed with Black Smoke.
  • Artificial Stupidity - The path finding isn’t brilliant, which is the main reason fences are effective as a defence (and, on occasion, units will even drive through their own fences). Martian units also sometimes have the habit of walking in a circle before responding to an attack order, which is extremely annoying if they are already under fire.
    • As the humans, never give a move order to a group that includes both ground and naval units. One or the other will drive into terrain that instantly destroys them.
  • Awesome, but Impractical - Electric machines have devastating firepower, but are both short ranged and slow. On the human side, submersibles can go underwater to avoid enemy detection, but are only armed with a pop-gun. Averted by tunneling track layers, which are inherently cool Drill Tanks that can bypass enemy defences and unleash decent firepower when they resurface.
  • Back from the Brink - Can be done, but it's extremely tricky.
  • Beam Spam - Any sufficiently large group of martians can pull this off, but Tempests can achieve it alone by virtue of dual wielding heatrays.
  • Bonus Dungeon: The sector "Isle of Man" can be considered this when playing with the Martians. You don't actually have to conquer it to win the game, and if you do conquer it, it's basically worthless since only the flying machines can reach it so you can never construct a command center, buildings, defenses etc. The humans also never try to reclaim it once you have conquered it (because they can't get builder units to it either). When playing as the humans the Martians will never try to conquer it (not even when you blow up the cannons and leave the island defenseless) but it is somewhat more useful as it can provide a staging point for naval attacks all along the west coast.
  • Boring, but Practical - Human track layers. Quick to research, easy to mass produce, and decent firepower which is effective against all Martian units (even flying machines).
  • British Accents - Human units have a mix of English and Scottish responses.
  • The British Empire - The Human faction
  • Brits with Battleships - The Formidable-class ironclad did exist, although its firepower was significantly nerfed for game balance.
  • Bullet Hell - Attacking a well-defended human sector often feels like this. Once they get SPGs, they'll start bringing the bullet hell to you!
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp" - Tanks are “Armoured Track Layers” and armoured cars are “Armoured Lorries”.
    • Justified, considering the name's origin as a code word used on transports.
  • Canon Immigrant - Most of the Martian intro movie, which explains why the Martians are invading, was copied for Jeff Wayne’s live stage version. The game’s model for the flying machine was also used.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard - In either campaign, the other side will start with more units and structures than you would if you were playing as them, as well as extensive ready-built defences in their central sector.
    • This can best be seen with the sector "Isle of Man". When playing with the humans, the sector only contains a command center and a few ordinary cannons, and since you can't send your construction vehicles to the island you can't add any additional buildings or defenses. If you play with the Martians however and you attack the island, it suddenly contains anti aircraft guns as well (since flying machines are the only Martian vehicles that can reach the island).
  • Creepy Monotone - The Martians speak like this.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle - The Martians WILL be doing this to the humans for the first couple of months (for a bit of perspective, even scout machines can take on armoured lorries 3 or 4 to 1 and win). Balances out in that the Martians must stop and build comms centres to continue the attack, which gives the Humans time to build up.
  • Damage Is Fire
  • Danger Deadpan - Human ironclads, and all Martian units.
  • Deadly Gas - The black smoke.
  • Death Ray - Standard Martian weaponry is heat rays, which can be upgraded to microwave rays, which can be upgraded to x-rays...
    • And the constrictors have freeze rays, or rather, a chemical foam that they can use to temporarily immobilise enemy units (useful for stun-locking enemy ironclads).
  • Difficult but Awesome - Human sapper lorries are ostensibly builder units, but if taken on an offensive can also Infiltrate and use Explosives to quickly demolish enemy buildings (and their high speed makes them surprisingly good at this). The "difficult" part comes from their low HP and the AI always treating them as priority targets.
  • Do Not Run with a Gun - The main way of balancing the fact that (just like in the book!) Martian machines on the move are very difficult to hit with artillery.
  • Drill Tank - The tunneling track layer.
  • Dummied Out - The game was originally going to include a player-vs-player option, but sadly this was never completed.
  • Easy Logistics - Mostly averted. Resource facilities have more effect if positioned closer to the sectors that need them. Sectors cut off by the enemy usually suffer crippling inefficiency. The more awesome units can take months to research and build.
  • The End... Or Is It? - After winning the game as either faction, a voiceover that plays over the credits implies that the war is far from over. For the victorious humans, we hear Epilogue Part 2 from the original musical (the audio of an astronaut going to Mars and finding out it's not entirely dead yet...oops). For the Martians, a scout chases some unconfined humans into a massive underground complex crisscrossed with train tracks and facilities, which is fully staffed. ("My, they have also re-armed themselves." KABOOM)
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin - Both sides tend to name their units this way.
  • Forgot I Could Fly - AI builder units are always on "Avoid" behaviour by default, and even the ones with weapons will never shoot back at their attackers. Hit and run attacks with single units of armoured lorries to assassinate handling machines are only effective for this reason.
  • Fragile Speedster - Armoured lorries for the Humans, flying machines for the Martians. Both are excellent for scouting and for hit-and-run attacks. Flying machines can also be used to draw fire, or to spot for bombarding machines.
  • Friendly Fireproof - Averted.
  • Geo Effects - Different types of terrain affect movement speed, vulnerability to damage, and sometimes sight range. Night time does not affect gameplay per se, but includes some nice visual effects such as Human vehicles casting headlights, and the Martians viewing the battlemap through a green nightvision filter.
  • Going Critical: Downplayed; according to this, martian Heavy Element engines are so heavily shielded as to be left intact after a Fighting Machine is destroyed because if the casing were breached, the resultant radiation leak would kill everything in the area.
  • Hey, It's That Voice! - The lead Human general is played by Nigel Hawthorne.
  • Humans Are Ugly - "Many humans had gathered around, and the proximity of these hideous creatures made me aware of our vulnerability."
  • Human Resources - Human blood is one of the three resources the Martians extract.
  • I Love Nuclear Power - The Martians’ machines appear to be nuclear powered, given that they all run on heavy elements.
  • Infant Immortality - In one cutscene, a Bombarding Machine guns down fleeing humans, but briefly pauses over - and then spares - a young girl. Of course, see Human Resources for why this might not be as much of a blessing as it appears...
  • The Juggernaut - Tempests.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence - A martian commander in the intro cutscene, which convinces the elders that humans are not so puny after all.
  • Life Meter - It only changes colour and doesn't retract or extend, though.
  • Mighty Glacier - Fighting machines, which are powerful but slow.
  • Mind Rape - The Xeno Telepaths.
  • Monumental Damage - Destroying the Houses of Parliament is the Martians’ victory condition.
  • Moral Myopia - The Martians see humans pretty much as cattle, although they do develop a healthy respect for their fighting abilities after their first pod (sent in a direct attack on London) is destroyed.
  • Mythology Gag - The game begins in 1898, which is the year that the original novel was published.
    • In a Shout-Out to how the Martians meet their end in the source novel, the cheat code for destroying all Martians in a sector is "Atchooo" (a sneeze).
  • No Delays For The Wicked - Averted; the computer-controlled side can suffer from the same resource deficits as you, and you can exploit this by using hit-and-run tactics against their resource structures.
  • Non-Entity General - The player. Your adjutant, however, appears in the side’s respective intro movie.
    • It’s possible that the human player is one of the officers around the war room table, whereas the martian player could be the martian who is seen travelling to the elder chamber.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Destroying a command centre in a sector will automatically result in the destruction of every other building and all non-mobile defenses (barbed wire/plasma fences, cannons etc.). So it's necessary to put a lot of defenses around your own command center, and it's often a good strategy to focus all your firepower on the enemy's command center when attacking. Machines are immune to this though (except in the "headquarters" sector) and keep fighting even if the command centre is lost.
    • Also; both the Martians and the Humans have one "headquarters" sector (Grampian Mountains and London respectively), which when conquered will result in an instant victory for the group conquering it, no matter how many other sectors are still in Human or Martian hands.
  • Officer and a Gentleman - Your assistant during the Human campaign.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting - In the Martian victory movie.
  • People Farms - Literally. One of the Martian resource structures.
  • Puny Earthlings - Invoked almost by name in one of the game’s cheat codes. The code results in all human vehicles and buildings in a sector being destroyed.
  • Ridiculously Fast Construction - Averted, except for the Martians setting up an elaborate base in the Grampian Mountains in the time between the second and third pods landing (about 24 hours).
  • "Risk"-Style Map
  • Rock Beats Laser - In general, it is easier to win the Human campaign than the Martian one.
  • Scenery Gorn - The Martian victory movie shows London on fire, and Big Ben crashing down on top of the camera.
  • Schizo Tech - The game is broadly faithful to human military technology of the time, with tanks only being invented a decade or so before real life (justified as a war would have sped up military research), but the game embraces the Rule of Cool for tunnelling track layers and submersibles.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale - The “no units given” example is cleverly averted by having alien tech measured in ambiguous "Martian" units. Heat ray power is measured in krk, explosives in dno and armour thickness in dko.
  • The Siege - Sometimes the course of the war will leave certain sectors isolated, resulting in this. The most extreme version is when you are down to just your HQ sector (which the AI will always attack last).
    • Another situational but noteworthy example for the Human faction: the sectors that the Martian pods land in are randomised each game, which can sometimes lead to certain Scottish sectors (such as Edinburgh) being untouched but isolated. If you were farsighted / lucky enough to get some builder units up there, then you get this trope as you race to build defences before the Martians get their comms centres up and running and launch an attack.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: It is actually possible to give the command to blow up your own vehicles and buildings. Doing this to your own command center in the main sector will result in a game over.
  • Shock and Awe - Electric machines.
  • Shoot the Medic First - The AI generally targets the weakest units first, and as a result gives high priority to destroying builder units. Martian flying machines (with their long sight range and high speed) can be a particular threat for this when attacking your sectors.
  • Short-Range Long-Range Weapon - For balance reasons, the Martians' heatrays are quite short-ranged compared to the source material.
  • Spam Attack - There is no particular cooldown on special abilities, so it is possible to do this. One of the more notable examples is spamming Black Smoke to mitigate the bombarding machines' lack of close-quarter defence.
  • Spanner in the Works - The humble armoured lorry can be quite good at this if used correctly. If they can evade the martian war machines they can snipe builder units or outlying structures, crippling the enemy right from the start of the campaign.
  • Spider Tank - The game expands from the original Tripod Terrors to include Martian walkers with 2, 4, 5 or even 6 legs.
  • Standard Snippet - The remixed version of The Red Weed heard in the Martian intro video is blended with Gustav Holt's Mars, the Bringer of War.
  • Stuff Blowing Up - All vehicles and buildings go out with a bang, as well as trees, civilian buildings, bridges…
  • Take Cover - Human vehicles can do this in woods, affording them a few seconds extra protection against Martian fire.
  • Tank Goodness - 90% of the human arsenal.
  • Tech Tree - Played with. Both sides have a broad range of research options, some of which have to be researched hierarchically. However, sometimes new technologies become available as counters to new enemy weapons - for example, after your first battle against Flying Machines, you are able to research AA guns.
  • Terraform - The Martians do this, seeding Red Weed in sectors they control.
  • Telepathic Spacemen - All Martians, though the Xeno Telepaths weaponise it.
  • Units Not to Scale - Impressively averted.
  • Wake-Up Call Boss - For the martians, the first time you run into a human ironclad.
    • And for the humans, the first time you run into the iconic fighting machines.
  • White and Grey Morality - The Humans are fighting for their home and their way of life. The Martians are fighting because their home and way of life is dying. This allows the player to have some sympathy for the aliens.
    • They do however Kick the Dog a bit in their victory movie, what with gloating about how “soon we shall farm and feast upon these animals” while the camera shows a human girl cowering away from a Bombarding Machine.
  • You Have Failed Me - The Martians as a society do this to their Senior Elder by way of "mass telepathic execution" shortly before the war begins. Indeed, it is this unprecedented event that shocks the other Elders into extreme action (i.e the invasion of Earth).
    • If the Martians lose, it is implied that his replacement meets the same fate. Which seems like a bit of a Blofeld Ploy given that the martian general in question was only your adjutant, and not the one calling the shots.
  • You Require More Vespene Gas - A variation, where the amount of resources you are producing does not affect what you can build, just how long it takes to build it. The Humans use steel, coal and oil, while the Martians use blood, copper and heavy elements.
  • Zerg Rush - An effective tactic for the Humans once you’ve got track layers.
    • The Martians can also pull this off at a tactical level once they get flying machines; by blitzing the sector's command centre they can exploit collapsing lair syndrome and get rid of those pesky defences.

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alternative title(s): Jeff Waynes War Of The Worlds
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