Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Mars: War Logs Review

These costumes almost make me think I'm in a 1980's sci-fi film by David Lynch

  • Developer: Spiders
  • Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
  • Release Date: 26 April 2013
  • Time played: 12 hours

I originally heard about this game thanks to a fellow Whirlpool Forum user that suggested that Mars: War Logs was a sleeper hit. He mentioned that despite the game having low production values, for the price you could do a lot worse if you wanted some more Mass Effect-like action. As you know, I'm a big fan of the Mass Effect series so if a game is even remotely close in terms of gameplay, story and atmosphere, it'll get my attention. I managed to grab Mars: War Logs on sale, which means it must've been pretty cheap considering the game is only $15 USD full price.

Plot (4/5)
Mars: War Logs is a sci-fi role-playing game set on the planet - well you obviously know which planet it's set on - and it's a few hundred years since the planet was colonised. Terraforming projects didn't go quite as planned and the planet is one desolate hellhole where its inhabitants now fight amongst each other to secure the most precious resource on the planet: water. Fighting these wars are the Water Guilds and your character is from the youngest of the guilds known as Aurora. This guild has a tradition of naming its citizens after virtues, and your character's original name is "Temperance". Temperance however had other plans and decided to call himself "Roy" instead as he's actually not a big fan of the virtues nomenclature.

Enter Innocence Smith, a young man who is captured and sent to the same prisoner camp that Roy is incarcerated in. Over time they start to develop a bond, along with plans of escape.

I really think the game has a promising setting. There aren't many RPGs I can think of from the top of my head that are exclusively set on Mars, except for maybe Ultima: Martian Dreams and the game has managed to incorporate "space magic" into the game just like Mass Effect did (except instead of biotics and element zero, you now have "technomancy"). I like the backstory with the different guilds and while the characters are rather 2-dimensional most of the time, there is one particular scene (which probably gave it its R18+ rating) that is actually quite confronting as it involves a choice of encouraging sexual favours for saving someone's life or discouraging it. I can only hope that most players picked the latter instead of taking advantage of the situation. Games should do more of this - making us feel uncomfortable by giving us moral dilemmas or showing how easy it is to fall prey to morally reprehensible behaviour.

Unfortunately the moments of genius in the plot are few and far between. What makes things worse is that the scriptwriting isn't exactly top notch either with some lines of dialogue not exactly flowing as smoothly as they could.

Gameplay (3/5)
Mars: War Logs has similar gameplay to action RPGs like Mass Effect or Fable. You play the game from a third-person perspective and dispatch enemies using a combination of the WASD keys and mouse in order to move towards your target and attack them. You're also able to kite or roll around to dodge attacks as well as block attacks. When enemies are blocking attacks there's an alternate attack to break the block and that's pretty much melee combat in a nutshell. You're also able to use a nailgun in order to dispatch enemies from afar yet ammo is hard to come by earlier on in the game not to mention you're sometimes better off just using a club instead since they do more damage in certain scenarios, especially when attacking from behind. Finally, you're also able to invest points in Technomancy although I never ended up using it that much since I felt it was too fiddly and underpowered. By the time you were able to unlock the Technomancy skills, I had already invested so much into other areas - not to mention dispatching Technomancers (who are meant to be badasses) isn't too difficult if you can just throw sand in their face and clobber them to death while they're clearing their eyes.

The game also has a basic crafting system where you can quite easily come across various components that are used in upgrading your armour and weapons, as well as for crafting ammunition or health injections. Once you find merchants though I think it's actually cheaper to some degree to sell components and use the serum (serum being the currency on Mars) to purchase health injections and ammo from them instead. Still, the ability to craft ammo and health injections is always available if the need arises.

I keep asking myself the very same question

Sound (3/5)
Voice acting is amateurish with emphasis placed on the wrong words not to mention some words aren't pronounced correctly either. The sad thing is, I'm playing the game after they updated it with new voice acting. You heard right. When the game was originally released it had some poorly translated dialogue from the original French version of the game and hilariously bad voice acting to boot. While there have been significant improvements it's still nowhere near the quality of other RPGs such as Mass Effect, but of course games like Mass Effect have huge budgets, so keep that in mind.

Music (3/5)
Sadly, I didn't really get excited about the music. It's mostly an ambient, electronic music affair and while its functional it's by no means memorable or noteworthy. Thankfully, you can decide whether you like the soundtrack for yourself, even if you haven't played the game since it's free off the official website.

Graphics (3/5)
The game runs on an engine developed in-house called the Silk Engine and while the game overall runs smoothly enough, the graphics do remind me of older games that were released a few years before Mars: War Logs such as Mass Effect 2 and even the original Mass Effect. Also, while I'm sure Mars was made to intentionally look like a dump it would've been nice if there was some more variety with the buildings, background scenery and even the NPCs themselves. A lot of them look very similar to each other - in fact everyone on Mars seems to be white come to think of it... except for the Mutants. Not much diversity whatsoever, with respect to everything.

Replay (3/5)
I'm actually tempted to play a second playthrough of this since choosing which side to join happens around the middle of the game and I'm curious to see how different from each other they are (at the very least you'll have a different boss and a different option for your third companion). Besides that you've got your usual Steam achievements and Steam Trading cards to collect as well.

Polish (4/5)
Technically, the game seems to be rather well polished and I didn't encounter any serious bugs - however there are a lot of spelling and grammatical errors.

Score – 6/10

Mars: War Logs while flawed, is generally a fun game to play and if you're wanting to pick up a cheap RPG in the same vein as Mass Effect while you're waiting for Bioware's next offering, this is probably your best choice. It's just a pity that Mars is such a bland, dull and desolate place: the level design is uninspired, the NPCs are all carbon copies of one another, the voice acting is mediocre and the music is nothing to write home about. Despite these flaws, Spiders has a good baseline with Mars: War Logs and I wouldn't mind seeing a sequel if they could ramp up the production values.

Mars: War Logs is available from these retailers:

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[ LINK: Official Mars: War Logs website ]

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