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Mars War Logs Review

by Fluent, 2013-05-02

When I first heard about Mars: War Logs, the first thing that jumped out at me was the setting. An RPG that takes place on Mars? Sounds pretty cool, right? Not many games have ventured to the red planet, and the idea of exploring a new, hostile, inhospitable world really sounded good. Together with the promise of RPG systems like lots of looting, crafting, and leveling up, the game immediately sounded pretty appealing to me. So, where did the train go flying off the tracks? Let’s take a closer look and see.

Get used to the scenery, it all looks like this.

The first and most important thing I want to talk about is my disappointment with the setting. Now, on paper, the setting of Mars sounds wonderful. However, in execution, the game simply fails to deliver.  The locations are dull, and 90 percent of the map is comprised of closed-in corridors. Being a game full of corridors does not automatically make the game bad, but when it’s executed the way it is in War Logs, it takes away a lot from the game. The different areas don’t really differ much in architecture or look from one another, and are just boring to explore. The beginner location showed promise, but the next locations you visit are just plain bland.

Another major disappointment I had was with the story. To put it mildly, “What story?” The game just wanders along without ever having any strong goals or meaningful intentions.  It also feels as though you are rushed along with not enough back-story to let you know what is happening. Many times I felt confused about the names the characters were throwing around, and you are treated as if you know these things well, even though it’s your first or second time hearing about them. The plot is both muddled and confusing, and just not very good.

The story dialogue is told in a cut-scene style, and occasionally you get a choice to make, ala the Mass Effect games, which is a good thing, but I never felt too interested in what was going on. Believe me, I tried to immerse myself in the lore of this world, but all too often the conversations were poorly written and not natural at all. I actually laughed out loud quite a few times at lines of dialogue that were simply awkward and out of place, wondering to myself how they made it into the final cut. You can delve deeper into the dialogue and learn a bit of back story about the characters, but I found myself having a hard time caring as the characters themselves were just not that interesting or fleshed out.

Hey, a little color and something visually-interesting to look at. The game needed more of this.

All that said, Mars: War Logs has some bright spots. The place where the game won some points with me was the part that you will be spending the most time doing; the combat. Combat is fast and fluid, and while most of the time it devolves into a button masher, it really was satisfying to clear a room of enemies. Unfortunately, for the decent fun of the combat, the game then turns around and loses points with the companions. They are utterly useless, often being incapacitated immediately, or they struggle to even damage one enemy to half their health, let alone kill anything. The best thing about your companions was that sometimes they would take the attention of enemies away from you, so for a few moments you had a chance to deal with the others. Other than that, they didn’t really seem to do much of anything.

What did make combat worthwhile was the fact that every encounter is dangerous. You will find yourself reloading quite a bit for some of the trickier fights, yet after you reload and try it again, you will often find that things are turned in your favor much more when you apply a little strategy to the battle. Getting surrounded by enemies is a sure-fire road to a reload. The end result is a combat system that is pretty fun to play and challenging, and you actually look forward to bashing in some skulls with your copper pipe that you fashioned into a makeshift war axe.

That’s one hip mutant.

Yes, you can wield a makeshift war axe. The game features a fairly deep item customization ability that allows you to upgrade weapons and armor using spare parts that you scavenged in the game world. There are many different options for upgrading and you can definitely have some fun combining these options and crafting a new, interesting and powerful weapon or armor. The bonuses you get from item customization make a big difference in how the combat plays out and it’s cool to see your weapon or armor change based on the choices you made in upgrading it.

While combat is mostly fun, it can become a chore fighting the same group of enemies in the same locations, as they respawn back if you don't kill them. Yes, you have the option of permanently ending their lives and collecting their serum (the game's currency), but that leads you down a dark path of evil, which you may want to avoid. There are special bonuses you recieve depending on the choices you've made. For example, if you choose to be the good guy and not kill anyone, you will receive a leadership bonus in combat that makes your companions do more damage and last longer. If you decide to kill everyone and generally be a jerk, you will recieve bonuses of a darker nature.

That leads me to the next point, choices and consequences in the game. There are some choices to be made with consequences for your actions. I've outlined one of the bigger choices you can make above, but there are also choices to be made within the plot that affect how the story plays out. One choice I made had very severe consequences, and I actually failed a quest because of the choices I made. This aspect was pretty refreshing to see, and those who love choices and consequences will find some tidbits to nibble on here. Do you help the mutants steal food so they can survive, or do you side with the humans who want to keep them in poverty? It's your choice. That said, most of the actual choices you can make were largely forgettable, and the story is still not done well enough that you will care much about the choices you make. The largest choice in the game that affects the main story was so under-developed that I ultimately did not care which group I sided with because neither were that interesting.

A more solid aspect of Mars: War Logs is the skill tree. It’s done well, and every skill and passive ability you invest in actually feels like it has weight and makes a difference. Often in RPGs with skill trees, I sometimes feel as though there are not enough worthwhile investment options , or I’m just not too excited with the skills themselves to really want to use them. In War Logs, seemingly every skill was interesting, and I often found myself having to make tough decisions between a few different skills that all sounded good to me. Thankfully, the game does a good job of supplying you with enough skill points that you can easily upgrade the skills that sound interesting to you and jump right back into the gameplay, a bit stronger and better equipped for battle than before.

The bottom line with Mars: War Logs, is that the game fits the “budget title” label to a T. It’s as if you’re playing a Mass Effect game, only one that had about 1/10th of the budget and polish of a real Mass Effect game. If you like developing your character and participating in fun combat, then you will find some fun here for the 14 or so hours it lasts. However, if you’re looking for a compelling story, interesting characters and exciting locations, you’re not going to find that here. I had to force myself to finish it and near the end I really wasn’t enjoying myself too much.

Verdict: The combat is fun, but you’ll really be missing a story or any reason at all to keep playing. Skip it.

Box Art

Information about

Mars War Logs

Developer: Spiders

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Sci-fi
Genre: Action-RPG
Combat: Real-time
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Voice-acting: Full

More information

Summary

Pros

  • Interesting skill tree with some useful skills
  • Fun and challenging combat
  • Crafting of weapons and armor

Cons

  • Uninteresting and muddled plot
  • Poorly written dialogue
  • Dull, repetitive environments

Rating

Review version

PC - Steam (courtesy of Focus Home)

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