Review: Turmoil on the Red Planet in Mars: War Logs
Mars offers a tempting setting for creative minds everywhere. Settling and colonizing Mars has been the subject of interest for many, scientists and entertainers alike pondering whether man could create comfortable living on our neighboring planet.
A third-person action RPG, War Logs contains elements from a bevy of recent games and executes them quite well. While not perfect, Mars: War Logs is entertaining and overcomes slight flaws to deliver a gripping experience. Continue on below for the full review.
Mars: War Logs
7.5 out of 10 Buddhas
(PC version used for this review)
- Realistic, relatable characters
- Decision-based story, fitted to the decisions of the player
- Crafting system and skill-tree lets you play your way
- Satisfying melee combat with a dash of tech and weapons
- Good-looking character models and backgrounds
- Bleak soundtrack meshes well with atmosphere
The Not So Awesome
- Dialogue can be somewhat hokey
- Movement issues get you and your companions stuck on terrain
- Mini action scenes slow down your game and mask loading
Buy or Pass: This is a buy for action RPG fans
War Logs begins with a scrawny young man on a train, the thoughts in his journal telling us about the harsh realities of Mars. Our narrator is ushered into a prison camp and instructed to clean off with the rest of the new arrivals. Thrown to the shower floor by a man three times his size, it appears this young man is about to get the dreaded “prison treatment”.
In steps Roy, the protagonist of War Logs, who saves the young man fittingly named Innocence. Taking control of Roy, the player interacts with various NPC’s around the prison and gets to know his young companion. The two form a quick bond as they learn about the trials and conquests of each other’s pasts. Their journey begins in prison, but how it continues hinges on your actions.
If you choose to go down a darker, more violent path, options to intimidate people become more viable. You won’t be the toast of the town, and companions will question your motives, but your fearsome presence will aid your adventure. Your in-game reputation hinges on conversation choices and actions, much like the Mass Effect series, so tread cautiously when making decisions.
Character development was a clear strength in War Logs. Spiders Games did a great job creating interesting characters with realistic roots. Instead of populating Mars with caricatures typical of the sci-fi genre, the player interacts with people they could imagine meeting in real life. Thoughtful prison guards who lament the war and “working girls” who suffer from abuse are real, sympathetic characters that evoke emotion.
The story can get a bit muddied with various factions mucking together and creating a me against the world atmosphere that I don’t think Spiders intended. Though I had a lot of choices to make, I didn’t feel venom towards any particular group, and drifted along like a mercenary. Part of this can be attributed to the somewhat cheesy dialogue; several characters were a bit over the top and seemed out of place amongst the more grounded citizens.
Fans of action RPGs will find a lot of familiar mechanics in War Logs brawling style. I was reminded of a lot of recent hits like Fable, Mass Effect, and the Batman: Arkham series as I smashed my way through enemies.
Fortunately, there is enough of a difference from these titles to make playing this game worthwhile. In games like Arkham and Assassins Creed, I have completed entire play throughs and felt like I was never challenged.
War Logs is not a game you’ll run through without some struggle – if you don’t watch yourself in combat, you WILL die. Enemies adjust to your weapon swings and defense breaking, not allowing you to fall into a pattern. In addition to fierce melee, Roy eventually learns Technomancer powers that allow him to either supercharge his equipment or attack his enemies directly.
All of this is supplemented by a level-up system and skill tree. Players can pour points into one of three categories, whether they want to be a brawler or a powerful mystic. Pulling up your ability hot wheel freezes the game world a la Mass Effect, letting you switch abilities to suit the situation. In addition, an extensive crafting system allows you to make customized weapons and armor that can accentuate your strengths.
A few things took away from the package. There were a fair amount of movement issues in the game that hurt immersion. Invisible walls would occasionally block me from completing simple tasks like walking, which became a hindrance when I was in the midst of battles. Even the smallest of gaps were unable to be traversed, the world is very rigid and unfriendly for explorers. Companions got stuck on pebbles on more than one occasion, forcing me to backtrack and retrieve them.
Companions provided valuable chatter and personality, but displayed little variety in gameplay. No matter who was assisting me in an area, the results were frequently the same, with partners providing not much more than a meat shield. These problems didn’t ruin the experience, but they showed the distance between War Logs and the AAA titles it borrows from.
Beautifully drawn-character models are the perfect complement for the game’s well thought out cast. Roy’s multi-colored eyes allow him to stand out from the pack, and Innocence’s scrawny build plays perfectly on his name and personality.
Rusted, twisted architecture blends in with the red rocks, giving the world an organic feel. Buildings look like extensions of the world and characters are covered in dirt and dust. Mars’ inhabitants look like the weary, war-torn citizens you would expect to find on a planet in turmoil. Weapons and armor take on distinct looks depending on the modifications you add to them, a nice touch to make your crafting feel unique.
There are some low-res textures on objects, like the nests you destroy in the prison section, that take away from the environment around them. Backdrops become a lot harder to appreciate when a non-descript blob is taking up a big portion of the screen.
Another issue which relates back to gameplay, is the constant use of mini cut scenes for events like opening doors, climbing ladders, etc. It became clear as the game wore on that this was done to mask some loading times, as the game paused to process the environment a few times in the third chapter. These events being skippable is nice, but the couple seconds wasted (and these events are frequent) drove me nuts by game’s end.
The graphics won’t be competing with PC powerhouses like the Crysis series, but they hold their own and were fairly impressive for a budget title.
Get used to hearing the swirling winds of Mars: they are with you every step of the way. Hearing nothing but wind during some sections is a reminder that Mars is not man’s home planet. Players will feel insignificant when they realize the wasteland beyond city limits offers nothing but death and starvation.
Voice acting is hit or miss. Several characters, like Bob the prison guard, really sounds like the broken down fighters we’re told Mars is filled with. Others come off corny and exaggerated, like the spacey blond Mary. Roy is the central figure, and comes off fairly neutral. Since the different paths you can take are based heavily on dialogue options, Roy has to be able to pull off different emotions. His even keel that makes him a believable character serves as a limit on how much I could buy into his more impassioned speech.
Mars: War Logs was a satisfying ride from start to finish. By the time the end game rolled around, I was heavily invested in how my journey would come to an end. Flaws in the game’s construction did not hinder the overall experience, and I found myself wishing we could have seen the game go further, with more visible impact from my choices.
This isn’t a game that’s going to overtake the big boys, but the top dogs could actually stand to learn something from the combat used here. Counter-spamming games like Arkham City could use an injection of combat difficulty to bring their gameplay to another level. I’m also a firm believer in branching story paths, a trend which more and more companies are starting to implement.
Mars: War Logs is a worthy purchase for action-RPG fans. I give it 7.5 out of 10 Buddhas, and recommend looking into it further if you like what you’ve heard. Mars: War Logs is out now for PC, and will be available soon for PS3 and Xbox 360. Check out the trailer below for a sneak peak at the hostility waiting for you.
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