Mars: War Logs

I always keep my ear to the ground for new Action-RPGs arising out of the ocean of game developers, independent and AAA alike. I’m constantly searching for a game with a compelling and malleable story line like The Witcher series, or a grand adventure involving a good mix of action, strategy and RPG elements like Mass Effect. While I’m generally not a fan of the stock-standard hack, slash and loot games, a strong basis on leveling up with some fun powers to throw into the mix will still compel me to play, sometimes multiple times like Diablo II.

Unfortunately, Mars: War Logs doesn’t quite live up to the standard any of these games set, though it sure does try. Mars: War Logs is a game developed by French team, Spiders. I was initially surprised to find I’ve played several of their games already, such as Faery – Legends of Avalon and Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper. But when I thought about it, I was unsurprised to remember that while I enjoyed these games, they weren’t going to be receiving any hypothetical awards from me. All of Spiders’ games use their self-created Silkweave Engine, allowing them weave their games (love their company imaging). This engine makes things look good from a distance, but doesn’t really stand up to close scrutiny, or the passage of time. I feel I was seeing games which operate better than this pre-2010, as opposed to 2013 when Mars: War Logs was released. 

Looking into a clear Mars sky, through the rust bucket of a roof this city has.

You begin following the story of Innocence, a POW in a war between two guilds which are actually two warring water companies. Though about 4 minutes in you meet Roy, the actual main character and the one you control. So begins a journey to escape the POW camp and return to a normal life.

Mars: War Logs is a game which truly represents the Icarian myth of aiming high but falling because of it’s ambitions. This isn’t to say this game is a complete write-off as I’m still playing it and enjoying it… most of the time. As I play it, I feel that the developers have taken great ideas from other games and then mashed them together, without fully developing any of them. The leveling up is based on experience gain and allows you to spent points on perks (like Fallout), and separate points on skills with a skill tree reminiscent of The Witcher 2. Though unlike The Witcher 2, there’s not real room for focus on one particular skill set as you need to utilise everything at your disposal such as dodging, blocking, attacking, traps, bombs, guns, technomancy (magic), healing and other party members to be able to survive through most combats. Because you need all of these, you need to spread your skill points evenly across the board. Though I will say that the skills have significant effects on what your character can do, as do the perks, meaning that your choice in either do matter.

The item system is pretty standard and while there are only a relative handful of weapons and armors in the game, most of them can have modifications crafted onto them to grant extra bonuses to help with whatever play-style your meant to use, though usually you just take the one that deals more damage or protects you against damage. The crafting system is important as it’s how you gain a lot of your items such as medkits, bombs and upgrade your weapons to something beyond rubbish, though the only thing that sets it apart from crafting systems is the use of Serum (water) which is also your currency.

Bad reputation? It was all self-defence!.

There’s a reputation system similar to that of any Bioware RPG which, as far as I can tell, is mostly based on whether you decide to kill the enemies you’ve knocked down (like Bioshock, killing them and gaining bad reputation grants benefits), though it does affect your interactions with a lot of people (even though your interactions don’t really affect your reputation).

The stealth system is a bit off as a lot of effort has gone into integrating it into the game and skill tree, though all it seems to let you do is sneak up on someone and knock them out, which then in turn alerts everyone else within 20 meters to your existence and starts combat. And I’ve already mentioned most of what you can do in combat which is generally all for naught unless you can figure out a way to stop more than two people attacking you at once. Combat can be hard at times and I’ve spent many frustrated tantrums in front of my computer after losing a necessary combat for the eighth time. I feel it would be a lot easier with a decent party system. You only ever really have one party member at a time (once I had two) who is normally Innocence, the narrator of this story yet not the protagonist. Unfortunately, all I can do for Innocence is tell him whether I want him attacking ranged, defending or attacking nearest. Otherwise I have absolutely no control over his items, attacks, detailed tactics, skills and perks, the latter three which I’m sure don’t exist. In fact, Innocence is only really useful during the first 10 seconds of combat as he gets the shit beat out of him, allowing me enough time to summon a shield around myself.

They have taken the modern approach of a lot of action-RPGs which is to focus on several different ‘levels’ which you can free roam around and complete the missions and side-quests, somewhat akin to Mass Effect or Deus Ex. I didn’t think we needed a cut-scene for every door opening and closing or climbing platforms as a transition.

I wish there some other planet I could live, more blue and green than brown and red… with less corporate suppression.

Mars: War Logs has a lot going for it, but I feel that most of it is under-developed and falls short of what it should be and what I expect. Then why do I keep playing? What’s driving me to put up with the clunky combat system, pointless stealth moments and pop-up windows that appear EVERY time you find a bit of loot?

The story is compelling; Roy is an interesting choice of character; the world is reminiscent of Red Faction, but still retains it’s own uniqueness. The world has a deepness to it which is delivered through dialogue, scenery, background imaging and general interactions. Exposition is only used between levels to explain changes in time and grant insight into the narrator’s own thoughts. There’s even times when Roy’s reaction to certain things makes me wonder whether he’s really the good guy or whether this is due to my ‘bad’ reputation. During my escape, a guard I went through great lengths to get on my side died. I felt pretty horrible about this since he just wanted to get home to his wife, more so due to Roy’s cold, uncaring response to the death.

Mars: War Logs aspires to be a lot of things, though doesn’t quite reach any of them. This all being said, this blog is called Icarus Reviews and I cannot fault a game too much for aiming high, even if it doesn’t succeed.

Mars: War Logs is currently available on Steam and their site for $14.99, XBLA for $9.95 and PSN for $14.45.


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