"Mars: War Logs can be best described as a Mass Effect and Dragon Age hybrid with a Red Faction overtone."
Prior to the sales banner debuting on Steam, I knew nothing about Spiders' cyberpunk role-playing game Mars: War Logs. There were no ads, barely any game coverage, almost nothing to promote the game before launch…and it’s a shame because this little diamond in the rough shouldn’t go unnoticed, especially if you’re a science fiction fan. Mars: War Logs can be best described as a Mass Effect and Dragon Age hybrid with a Red Faction overtone. Bioware’s dialogue mechanics are an apparent inspiration with the combat being very reminiscent of Dragon Age, but with a heavier emphasis on melee. It’s a budget title, but its praiseworthy ambition provides a surprisingly immersive adventure with beautiful environments and challenging (albeit sometimes frustrating) gameplay.
Set on Mars a century after a great uprising, Mars: War Logs puts you in the shoes of escaped prisoner Roy Temperance who finds himself in the midst of a battle for water between various factions. The first third of the game revolves around planning your prison escape with Innocence Smith, a young army recruit who also serves as the narrator and your partner AI. During its early hours the game feels much like Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. You run around the refugee camp gathering supplies and recruiting help for the escape while familiarizing yourself with the combat and the game’s lore. The story itself won’t win any awards for originality, but the setting and characters are intriguing enough to carry the narrative throughout.
"You can sneak up on enemies, but you can’t really take them out silently. This approach only serves as a preemptive attack that deals additional damage, but nothing more."
I decided to use my Xbox 360 gamepad instead of the keyboard as I find third person games functioning better with analog sticks. On the surface, Mars: War Logs is an RPG brawler, but simple button mashing won’t get you anywhere. Observing your enemy’s body language is key to figuring out how to react properly. You have your basic attacks, dodge/parry maneuvers, and a command wheel that pauses the action and lets you assign further skills to the shoulder buttons. Guns and necromancy can be used for ranged attacks, but most battles encourage the use of modified clubs and batons.
The game is tough…excruciatingly tough at times. Regardless of your upgrades, you always feel underpowered when approaching a group of enemies and most encounters take several tries before you can come out victorious. Enemies can beat you down with just a few swings yet it takes a dozen strikes to take out a single opponent. Furthermore, you always find yourself surrounded with distant enemies using ranged attacks to deal damage. It wouldn’t be so bad if your partner AI were actually useful. He’s taken out within seconds and does almost nothing to help out during combat. He’s merely a temporary distraction. However, my biggest gripe is the broken stealth mechanic. You can sneak up on enemies, but you can’t really take them out silently. This approach only serves as a preemptive attack that deals additional damage, but nothing more. It’s a real shame because the level design begs for proper stealth gameplay. Ultimately, you find yourself rolling around the environment avoiding the vicious attacks while practically petting your opponents to death. It sounds worse than it actually is…and I’m only being critical because underneath the frustration lays a blueprint for superb gameplay that’s being bogged down by questionable design decisions. Nevertheless, I still had fun beating down baddies with modded clubs and special powers and honestly, the balancing can easily be patched and I really hope the developers provide some future updates.
"Mars: War Logs has plenty of problems, but it’s still a worthwhile, at times even excellent, science fiction venture."
Where the game stumbles in the gameplay department, it makes up in its art direction. The sepia covered environments are crammed with detail and each block radiates with personality. For a budget title, the visuals are quite impressive and it’s nice to see so much effort went into crafting a believable world rich in aesthetic extravagance. Roy and the supporting cast are equality well presented, but the same can’t be said for the rest of the characters. Many are derivative models with small permutations in their attire and hairstyles. Making matters worse are the uneven animations, some of which look outright wooden. The result is a beautiful world populated by inconsistent character models and jerky animations.
I called the game a “diamond in the rough” for a reason. Its rough edges aren’t detrimental to the experience…in some instances they actually add to the immersion. The script and dialogue are a prime example. The writing is filled with grammar mistakes and the dialogue oftentimes mismatches the captions. Some words are even mispronounced and I couldn’t figure out whether it’s intentional or not. Strangely enough it ads a bizarre otherworldliness to the conversations and I enjoyed myself more because of it.
Mars: War Logs has plenty of problems, but it’s still a worthwhile, at times even excellent, science fiction venture. It may not have the polish, finesse, or narrative complexity of Bioware’s Mass Effect series, but the developer’s ambition is undeniable and commendable. For only twenty bucks, you’re getting nearly twenty hours of solid gameplay…and last time I checked, that’s more than what most AAA titles offer these days.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC