Technophobes Beware! Mars: War Logs Review
Though it’s gone fairly unheralded, this console generation has widely seen the end of physical releases for mid-tier games. Whilst comfortably full-size games in their own right, mid-tier games don’t usually receive the same financial backing or promotional push as AAA-titles, and as such often don’t present quite such a polished experience, though they can sometimes present more unique and memorable experiences than ‘cookie-cutter’ guaranteed sellers. One such example of a game which would likely have seen a physical release last generation, but now finds itself as a downloadable title, is Mars: War Logs, which comes from developer Spiders and publisher Focus Home Interactive, known for their Sherlock Holmes and Game of Thrones titles.
Though players are introduced to Mars: War Logs through the narration of Innocence, a recently captured prisoner of war, they in fact play through the game as Roy, also a prisoner of war, but with a great deal more experience, and a mysterious past to boot. Though he keeps it quiet in the early stages of the game, Roy is a Technomancer, someone able to use technology in a close approximation to magic. Roy’s adventures are presented from a third-person perspective, with a distinct RPG bent, and although the Martian environments and narrative themes perhaps veer closest to Mass Effect territory, the gameplay itself comes off feeling a lot more like Bioware’s other RPG series, Dragon Age. Neither of these are unwelcome comparisons for any game, but unfortunately Mars: War Logs comes off feeling more like a shunned cousin than a proud sibling.
The main reason for this is that Mars: War Logs contains a number of issues that, whilst minor, do enough in combination to detract from the experience quite significantly. From graphical errors such as NPCs clipping through solid surfaces, to cameras moving through Roy’s body during conversation and weapons disappearing out of character’s hands mid-combat, Mars: War Logs feels cheaply made, and this prevents players from being able to fully immerse themselves in the game’s world. This is added to by voice acting that veers wildly from serviceable to flat to hyperactive, sometimes in the same line, and character models with mouths that don’t move in a manner anywhere close to the words coming out of them. Furthermore, despite the seeming intensity of the subject matter, including a prison break and the building of a revolution, the story seems to plod along at a serene pace, and certain characters switch allegiances seemingly on a whim, with no real explanation for why they have done so.
For those persistent players who can will themselves past the many issues on show, Mars: War Logs actually plays quite well, though it doesn’t really do anything new or innovative with its mechanics. The game can be broken down into two main components, exploration and combat, with Roy being given quests from NPCs and having to fight his way through groups of bandits to deliver packages, find components or kill a particular enemy. Combat is a primarily melee affair, with the Square and Triangle buttons performing attacks, Circle blocking and parrying, and X dodging. In large groups combat can feel a little more down to luck than player skill, especially when Roy gets caught between a bunch of enemies who knock him from one to the other, leaving the player unable to perform any actions until Roy’s death and a second attempt at defeating the group. Thankfully, checkpoints are fairly generously placed, and you never lose more than a couple of minutes of progress should Roy meet an untimely end.
Perhaps the best element within Mars: War Logs comes in the form of its crafting system. New weapons are rare, and in keeping with the poor, scavenging aesthetic of the game, Roy is instead forced to make use of the various components he finds within the environments, combining them to improve what’s already in his possession. Both weapons and armour start off with a minimal amount of customisation, but later finds allows for two or three different elements to be fiddled with, allowing for statistic upgrades such as stronger attacks or defense, or particular bonuses such as protection against electricity. What isn’t often seen in craft-based equipment, but is present here, is the fact that the appearance of Roy’s equipment will change depending on its customisation, meaning that a previously basic Leather Armour can later be adorned with metal plating and spikes, and a seemingly innocuous copper pipe can end up looking like a particularly vicious club, complete with hand guard and blades.
To be fair to Mars: War Logs, much of its problems lie within the audiovisual field, with gameplay itself being largely solid, if unremarkable. If you can see past the issues, experiencing everything that the game has to offer takes between 15-20 hours, which isn’t a bad total, even if it does perhaps feel a little low for an RPG experience. With a fairly intriguing story, and a setting which is quite different to much of what else is on offer, Mars: War Logs could well be a game that develops a cult following, even if it doesn’t win any awards for technical achievement. Aside from the earlier Mass Effect/Dragon Age comparison, perhaps the closest relation to Mars: War Logs is in fact a relatively unknown PS2 game called Prisoner of War. If you’ve been waiting since 2002 for a game similar to the experience, you’re in luck, otherwise, I’d recommend a certain degree of caution when approaching Mars: War Logs, even if the experience may prove a little more rewarding than initial impressions may suggest.
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