This review first featured on the now offline 1P Start.
Welcome to Mars, where you can find just as much war and oppression as you would on Earth. Mars: War Logs is an action RPG that will have you trekking through the colonies of the red planet in order to free the people from the power-hungry reign of the Technomancers.
Mars: War Logs comes to us from the studio known simply as Spiders (Of Orcs and Men, Gray Matter) and is available for PC download on Steam. This is an action RPG which pits the colonists of Mars against the ruling class, called Technomancers. It begins with the monologue of Innocence Smith, as he is transported to the prison complex in Abundance. During this he’ll talk about what dragged him into the fighting and how he was easily impressionable. Afterwards he realises that it’s not all honour and glory in fighting. The idea of a war being fought among the factions living on Mars seems a compelling one, but at no point does the game give any kind of detail as to the events leading up to this point. It’s all very bare bones and as a player all you can really say that you know about the history is that there was an unspecified catastrophe, and now there are warring factions hitting out at each other.
Very quickly, Innocence finds himself very alone in this prison and is about to become the plaything of a prison thug, when you’re introduced to the brooding hero of the story; Roy Temperance. He uses his ability to look quietly menacing, which results in Innocence being able to keep true to his name. So as Roy and Innocence are thrown together in this quest to become free men, there’s something that niggles throughout, and that’s the voice acting. The voices are very clear and easy to understand, but there seems to be very little emotion showing through in the reading of the lines. This is more noticeable when you see the physical gesturing of the characters on screen compared to what’s actually being said. Still, it’s one of those things that will lessen the immersive experience, while not being a game breaker.
On the subject of game breaking, I’m happy to say that Mars: War Logs is a technically sound title. Over the course of playing through the game, I didn’t experience any crashing, freezing, or any kinds of glitches and that’s with just a couple of updates, since its release. As well as this, the graphic quality is also good, while not being outstanding. Everything is clear on the screen with no noticeable background pop up. The system requirements are also not too demanding, so the majority of PC players should be able to run this without any slow down. Clipping issues are minimal, in fact no more so than any big budget AAA title. The back drops however, can become tedious after a while. There is very little respite from the dusty reds and oranges. However, this is not really the fault of the developers. Mars is known as the ‘Red Planet’, so what else could you expect?
Back to what kind of trouble you could get up to in this game, and you’ll find a great variety of weapons, combat manoeuvres, and Technomancy abilities that can be upgraded, though Technomancy won’t be available to you from the outset. The melee weapons can be upgraded either by purchasing new ones or through the crafting menu, but only if you’ve pick up the right ingredients on your travels. Unfortunately, this all seems to fall down when it comes to using these weapons and abilities as there is very little difference in the effect of the weapons that you use on the enemies. The Technomancy abilities are slow enough to charge, that the faster paced combat of the game renders them almost as useless as the various companions that will ‘fight’ alongside you. Innocence seems to be there mainly as cannon fodder to get beaten up while Roy does the real fighting and the other companions that you’ll come across aren’t much better. Too many times I’d look around after a fight only to find them just getting up after being knocked unconscious soon after the start of battle. The fighting itself is functional, but nothing special. It’s mostly a case of combat rolls to position yourself behind the enemy, so you can do slightly more damage than from the front. The enemy AI seems to have been programmed with group combat in mind (no bad thing), but it’s very easy to adapt to. Couple this with the fact that most of the main quest and side quests consist of combat, and you’ll notice that it becomes a bit of a grind as you journey between missions.
Moving on with the story, you’ll come across a fair number of interactive NPCs, all of whom are solid enough in that they make it clear what they want you to do, but there just seems to be this generic quality to them. It’s a similar state of affairs for the companions that you pick up; they’re very basic in their personalities and there’s nothing about any of them or the main protagonist that makes you want to know more about them. It’s nice to have the different conversational choices throughout the game, and sometimes they come across as quite amusing. You can be polite, jokey and somewhat sarcastic (my personal favourite), or just downright nasty. Unfortunately, Mars: War Logs falls afoul of the same issue that other RPGs have in the past. The conversation options don’t make any difference to the overall outcome. There are minimal visible consequences to your actions.
One thing that does shine through with this game is the music and overall sound. It creates a wonderful atmosphere of being in a wasteland, even though you might be in a town at the time. Hollow sound effects and echoes create a very real picture of being alone and stranded. Coupled with the Blade Runner style soundtrack and it has the potential to create a very immersive experience. The sound experience is there to support, but it never intrudes on your current actions and that’s how it should be.
So all in all, Mars: War Logs promises much, but seems unable to deliver. The story could have made the whole experience more compelling if there had been more than a vague outline. The same can be said of the characters. If they had more back story to discover, then maybe they wouldn’t seem so generic. What does give this game a hint of promise is the earlier mentioned overall sound and music quality along with it’s zero bug game world. Not many studios can boast such a glitch free experience. It’s an experience that should take around 15-20 hours to finish if you go for the side quests too, but you’ll find the going tough as you grind through the last 6-7 hours.
Technical: The graphics of the game are very clean, with no draw distance issues and no bugs. Movement can be frustrating with a camera that doesn’t have an option to auto centre, so sprinting and turning is annoying with a gamepad, unless you are double jointed. The option of saving anywhere is also useful, but the game autosaves when moving to a new area anyway. 3.5 / 6.0
Presentation: The story hints at a rich history, but tells nothing of it, covering just enough for the characters to exist. In turn this also limits the characters and their development, having no depth to create any kind of unique personality. This is topped off by the voice acting, which comes across as not quite emotionless, but very close to it. The music and sound however, are the high point, really immersing you in the dusty martian wasteland. It creates the feeling of being truly trapped, with no hope of escape. 4.0 / 6.0
Gameplay: The UI is functional, but the limited number of hotkeys on screen, (4 for keyboard control, 3 for gamepad) can frustrate as you unlock more abilities in game. You’ll have to memorize them to be able to use them. Once you get used to the combat AI, the game becomes very easy, with very few boss battles to change things up. 3.0 / 6.0
Overall: To sum up, this game had so much potential, but failed to cause me to say ‘wow’ about any single aspect, although the music came close. It’s certainly not a bad game by any stretch, but a few tweaks here and there could have made all the difference. Still, for a game weighing in at 19.99€ on Steam, you could do far worse. 3.5 / 6.0
AVERAGE SCORE: 3.5 / 6.0 | (58%)