Review: Mars: War Logs

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Spiders Software, the minds behind last year’s Of Orcs And Men, are back with their new title Mars: War Logs.  Mars: War Logs is a gritty 3rd person RPG set on Mars.  The story is intense, with tactical real-time combat, various skills to customize your character and an interesting crafting system.  Will Mars soar into the stratosphere, or should it just be buried under red dust?

 

30 Second Review

(+) Beautiful graphics engine

(+) Interesting crafting/upgrade system

(+) Gritty, interesting story

(-) Uninspired voice acting

(-) Repetitive backtracking and fetch quests

(-) Unbalanced combat

(-) Lack of depth in character skill tree

07

Seeing Red

Mars  borrows heavily from many games and genres, which is not a bad thing.  The combat is somewhat similar to that of the Arkham games with melee weapons added.  The steampunk elements, wasteland landscape and questing system seem to hint at the Fallout franchise.  The rest of the game bears a clear imprint of some of the magic that Spiders Software is known for.

You take the role of Roy Temperance, housed in the prison camp simply known as Camp 19.  You are greeted by a new, young prisoner in the yard who is being heckled by one of the prison gangs.  After a quick tutorial and a thrashing laid upon the gang, you and Innocence are off to find a way out of the prison camp.  Mars is in a bit of chaos, still recovering from a war and the catastrophic failure of it’s atmosphere.  Technomancers blend military knowledge and science to be a powerful force quenching the resistance.  The deeper you go, the more layers of Roy’s past are peeled back, and Roy is not what he seems.

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Spacewalking On Mars

The game plays out over three chapters across many different settings.  Thankfully, you won’t be relegated to the drab halls of Camp 19 for the entire game, but we’ll leave the spoilers out.  Each section has you and your companion completing various main story and side-quests in pursuit of freedom, answers and help.  The real-time combat plays out with three offensive maneuvers – an attack, a counter and a block-breaking attack.  Rolling and dodging are also staples of your combat repertoire.  Roy starts with a crude weapon, but scavenging materials and parts will help you upgrade simple melee weapons into axes and stun rods.  Similar crafting elements will help improve your armor pieces.

Roy’s skill tree can be customized to suit any of three areas-stealth, combat and technomancy.  Yes, Roy will gain the ability to wield the dark arts of technomancy, like shock attacks, a blast similar to a “force push” and a self-encompassing shield.  The stealth elements aren’t quite so useful in combat, but a quiet, smooth-talking approach works wonders in the conversation system.  Mars will give you more than one way to attack a quest and weigh your choices against the game ending you receive.

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Lost In Space

On paper, all of these elements sound fantastic: branching storyline, loot and crafting system, tactical real-time combat and RPG elements.  The problem I’ve had is that they just don’t come together.  None of these elements feels completely fleshed out.  Combat is unnecessarily difficult, usually finding you outnumbered and succumbing to frequent deaths at the hands of combos you can’t stop or dodge.  Your enemies attacks deal considerably more damage than your own; counters must be precisely timed, or they will not work, resulting in another unstoppable combo onslaught.  As combat often involves groups of 3-8 enemies, the stealth tree is almost completely useless. Sure, you may get the drop on one enemy, but his 5 companions will usually make that victory seem rather empty.  If the combat doesn’t frustrate you,  the camera certainly will.  Even when using the lock-on feature within combat, your character frequently gets stuck off screen or in poor view.

The story is very interesting, but it plays second fiddle to the monotone voice acting and the frustrations of the combat mechanics.  Further muddying the story is the constant backtracking and confining spaces of each chapter.  The loot and crafting systems are fantastic ideas; they are cut off at the knees, however by a lack of variety.  The combat and crafting seemed to find a constant cycle of limping along until I could craft new upgrades, pouring all of my resources into new armor and a weapon that would make combat barely passable for a time, then repeating said cycle.  Near the end of Chapter 2, I had only seen a handful of weapons and armor and had accumulated a pile of crafting items I had no use for.

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Final Thoughts

I like the direction that Spiders intended to take with Mars: War Logs.  I think there is the foundation for a great game within it.  The problem is it could’ve used a few more floors erected before the ribbon was cut and the patrons allowed in.  I liked their previous work on Gray Matter and Faery: Legends of Avalon.  Mars just never quite took off for me.  There were great moments where the story did shine, such as the consequences of my morality decisions at the end of the second chapter.  Sadly, those moments were rare and brief, and overshadowed by a frustrating combat engine.  The aforementioned problems clouded my experience, and I would’ve cut my time short on Mars had this not been something I was playing to review.  I do understand that this is a budget priced game, but even at a $19.99 price point, I simply can’t recommend it.  I appreciate the scope and vision that Spiders Software had for this game, but I think those aspirations just weren’t fully realized.  Each of the ideas in the game didn’t seem to reach their full potential, reminding the player of how they could have been used better. Because of these faults holding it back, Mars: War Logs gets a 4 out of 10.

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