Remind me never to visit Mars.
Once again, the red planet comes across as somewhere no one would ever want to visit, let alone live. In Spiders’ imagining of the planet in Mars: War Logs, you have war, suffering and a whole lot of martian sand. Mars: War Logs is currently available for PC and will soon be coming to Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 as a downloadable title.
The war logs of the title refer to a journal of sorts being kept by a young lad called Innocence who begins the game having been captured by the opposing faction in the war and being shipped off to a prison camp. It is here that he meets the player’s character Roy, who was previously known as Temperance.
It is also here that the player gets a glimpse of what is in store for them in this budget RPG. There is a short tutorial that describes the basics of the game, including the combat, but the player will also be able to witness the questionable writing from the game.
Basically, Innocence is about to have something rather unpleasant happen to him in the sand showers, courtesy of the local bully. But then Roy walks in and stares. A stream on unpleasant dialogue is thrown at Roy by the shower-loitering prison gang, with the camera occasionally turning to Roy for a response. He just stares. And apparently his stare is enough to scare away the gang of bullies, at least for the time being.
I understand that the developers are trying to set the nature of our hero – he is mysterious, hardened and worldly-wise (apparently with a killer stare),but the way in which Roy, and indeed other characters, interact with each other in the world leaves a lot to be desired. The limited dialogue and abrupt relationships that the player will form with other characters or people in the street make it very difficult to become immersed in this role-play game. And for once, the voice-acting cannot be blamed – for the most part this is very good. Instead, the fault lies with the script and, I would guess, budgetary constraints.
The story that follows, which begins with the pair breaking out of the prison, will feel familiar to most players, but is entertaining in its own right. Visually, Mars: War Logs seems once again to suffer from the limited budget involved in making a low-priced game. The variety in the environments are very limited, featuring small play areas with a bland overall theme, and the character models have trouble expressing any kind of emotion.
Perhaps this is not painting a very nice picture of life on Mars, but then life on Mars is not very nice. As players carry on through the story, or take on the various side missions that become available, they will find themselves involved in more than a few fight situations. There are times when fighting can be avoided all together, but combat will still take up a large amount of the players time in Mars: War Logs.
So it is fortunate that the combat is actually quite enjoyable. It all takes place in real time, with the player actively attacking or blocking what is almost always a superior number of enemies. The player will often have a companion in combat, who can be given limited orders, but should really get used to dealing with these situations alone as the companions have a terrible habit of dying. Hot keys can be assigned to different skills/actions that are unlocked through the skill trees, such as the impressive Technomancy skills, and the keyboard layout will be familiar to PC gamers. That being said, I can’t help but feel that the fast moving combat will perform better on the consoles with a dedicated controller.
The weapons available within the game are limited, concentrating more on upgrading what you have for small improvements. This is, after all, a grim world so shiny new tech just wouldn’t be available. The game also packs in a reputation system which can change the game to a small degree depending on how the player acts. This system mostly revolves around the harvesting of Serum from fallen opponents. Harvesting the Serum from an unconscious opponent will certainly benefit the player, but will result in the opponent dying, which is probably not good. Whilst there are benefits to having a good (or excellent) reputation, the game does give the player a choice and having a bad reputation doesn’t change the game substantially.
Mars: War Logs certainly has its fair share of problems. The core mechanics of the game, including the combat system, are almost there, but the game needs more variety, both in the setting and the missions, and better interaction between the characters. However, as a budget action RPG, it is not a bad little romp and will keep the player entertained for the 12 or so hours it lasts. It will be interesting to see how the game fares when it arrives on the home consoles, and if Spiders make any changes between now and then. Check it out if action RPGs are your genre of choice.