Mars: War Logs is an action RPG game developed by Spiders and published by Focus Home Interactive for XBLA, PSN (coming soon) and PC. The game is unsurprisingly set on Mars but quite some time after the original colonies there collapsed, it is a story heavy RPG filled with as much combat as there is dialogue and questing.
The game begins focusing on the introduction of the character “Innocence”, newly captured after taking part in the war between Abundance and Aurora, two factions derived from the Water companies that operate on Mars. After reaching the POW camp he is soon set upon by a local bully with deplorable tastes (which some people may take offense to). Before any harm or actions are taken against him, Roy Temperance, the main character, intervenes and saves him and takes him under his wing almost instantaneously.
From this point onwards Roy uses Innocence to help him finish up preparations for his inevitable escape from the POW camp. You’ll spend most of this chapter running around the camp making sure everything is in place as well as teaching you the basics of combat and backstory of the world. It starts at quite a low difficulty but because you aren’t forced to do everything in a completely linear way certain easier things might be bypassed making you miss out on easy levels when you need the most.
The combat is completely real time but uses a selection wheel for items and abilities, which also slows down time, making it easier to aim at targets of the said abilities and items. It makes things a little easier in the heat of battle, but unless you have already locked onto an opponent, you can’t take aim at some of the rear lines particularly easily as other opponents block your line of sight.
You have standard attacks, guard breaks and counter attacks at your disposal as well as the array of abilities that are few in number early on until you unlock more in chapter two. Throwing sand in the eyes of your human enemies works a charm early on, practically locking them down until you beat them senseless (non-lethal) but enemies with goggles and helmets will be unaffected, which is a nice touch despite making the combat more difficult. Wounding enemies cripples them for a short period, slowing them down and allowing you to finish them off more easily or moving off to other targets.
Technomancer abilities tend to be electrical in nature but have a decent spread of uses. From shooting lightening from your hands, to charging your weapons with extra damage, to shielding yourself from damage they all have their uses but here isn’t many more than this. The two outright damaging abilities are the electricity and the “force push” move. Both tend to bolstered by the same traits in the skill tree and besides being more costly to use the electric attack has far more benefits than the push which doesn’t always seem to damage nearby enemies or knock them back like it’s supposed to.
Humans are the staple enemy of the game but there are two others unless you wish to count Technomancer and the mutants among those ranks. You have the “Dogs” and the “Moles”, both of which have a passing resemblance to the creatures they’re named after. Dogs bark and bite but have alien features and can’t be hurt from the front due to their thick armoured hides. Moles on the other hand are humanoid moles with have insectoid nests that they spawn from in the tunnels below the Martian surface. Both tend to be more difficult to manage than the standard humans and both have immunity to some debuffs such as wounds and blindness in the case of the moles. Companions are knocked out incredibly fast against these opponents and with their ability to deal high damage and take a lot in return; they are both formidable and annoying to fight.
Despite getting ever more powerful, enemies still are a slog to fight against; they are powerful even on lower difficulty settings and will beat you down quickly but take a few hits to many to take down yourself even with the odd critical hit. This high health threshold is the main problem with combat, and while it does make every fight a potential defeat (something that most other RPGs lack) it does wear you down quickly. Hence why Dogs and Moles are annoying to fight, Technomancer shields also fit into that particular gripe.
The crafting system is actually one of the more interesting features and it is a little shallow but still very useful and easy to use. You collect various components throughout the game via enemy loot drops, quest rewards, merchants or scavenging from the various boxes and piles of debris. These can then be used to create the various items you need, like med kits and grenades or you can also use it to upgrade your weapons and armour (if they have the capacity for upgrades). It gives you a wider range of changes to the weapons and armours that you can adjust to suit your playstyle, which is much appreciated.
The game tries to implement a reputation system that roughly equates to the morals of good or bad that some RPGs use. There isn’t any hard evidence available to you to see what actions affect it and by how much, instead you have to use your own moral compass to judge whether something is conceived as good or bad enough to affect your reputation. Once your rep has hit a certain level on one side of the spectrum you unlock a bonus from it, merchant discount and companion health and damage boost for the good guys; and critical hit chance and chance to wound enemies for the baddies. Some repercussions for moral choices happen later in the game but it tends to be mostly the upgrades that will effect what you decide to go for in the end.
You will have companions follow you around in the game, or you can leave them behind if preferred. They tend to be little more than a distraction for the other enemies, as they lack the ability to win most one on one fights. Also if they have Technomancer abilities they can hurt you with them if you don’t watch yourself as they have the tendency to not care whether you will be damaged by them or not.
While the basis for the story has some solid ideas, some of which are rather interesting; it isn’t particularly well written and often falls into boring tropes or contradicts itself. Roy is portrayed as a grumpy and silent character but he ends up talking a lot, even the “evil” dialog tends to be more, loud mouth/joke-like. Some of the integral characters are positioned to be important in some way but are generally lacking in presence on screen in a way that makes them hard to equate to how other characters talk about them. The POW camp Technomancer is a prime example of this, you hear about how terrible he is and in the few scenes he appears in, appears to be far from similar to the way he is described.
Presentation and Audio
The game looks the part for a game set on Mars, red and dusty is the general theme and the few patches of greenery give a little bit of the sense that they are trying to rebuild but some locations feel a little sparse. The music is generally fine but the voice acting is just bad for a lot of characters, some of this is due to trying to fit English voices to the characters mouth movements but some is just poor voice acting, flat and/or poorly spoken. It makes it impossible to take any empathy with characters during the “emotional scenes” and combined with the number of shots of people glaring at each other leaves the evil characters lack any presence on screen.
You could argue that the combat is difficult and therefore the fun is in complex manoeuvres but it still devolves into mashing the attack button to kill enemies after stunning/countering/attacking from behind. The Technomancer abilities are reasonably interesting but access to them is walled off until the second chapter and by speccing into that mastery tree you miss out on damage from other sources, ones which are more reliable and can be used more often.
While there are aspects of the game that are interesting, the two core elements to an action RPG need to be consistently better than those within the game. The game does get a little better towards the end as you become more powerful but that’s mostly because your increased damage shortens the length of encounters. The crammed English dialogue is irritating to listen to at times and it might be a different case for other languages, such as Spiders native French. If you can get past the writing and cumbersome combat, then there are some redeeming features but they are few and far between.
Mars: War Logs has some decent ideas and if they do decide to make a sequel, hopefully they will remain in there. While I didn’t enjoy the combat on the most part there were times that it was quite good, one particular boss late in the game, was really well done and fun to fight against. I only saw one of the endings as my third chapter was based on my faction allegiance, whether or not the other side was better or not is something I might get around to doing later down the line.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.