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Mars: War Logs Review

Mars: War Logs Review

Mars: War Logs is an RPG set on the Red Planet after human colonisation and its subsequent apocalypse. While this is an attractive setting for a game of this nature, and in spite of impressive graphics and scale for a relatively tiny development studio, its various inconsistencies and annoyances sadly make this an easily forgettable adventure.

At first I was excited by the prospect of the Mars cyberpunk setting, and to be honest it's been a long time since I've played a truly great RPG, so I was looking forward to sinking a few hours into Mars: War Logs. Within the first five minutes I came across the first element of confusion.

You follow Innocence, a young conscripted soldier on his way to a Prisoner of War camp somewhere on Mars after being captured by the Abundance faction. You learn about his backstory, his philosophies and his way of thinking. Immediately after arriving, he is saved from a vicious gang rape by Temperance, or Roy as he prefers to be called (who wouldn't?), and from that point on you control Roy, some unknown who you understand less about over the next few hours than you do about Innocence in the first 5 minutes. Admittedly, though, Roy's story does become interesting and you can easily warm to his character through his many interactions with the camp's characters, but it is a tad peculiar to begin a story this way.

Mars: War Logs

Innocence's role then becomes very watered down, serving as a backup fighter in combat, the angel on Roy's shoulder, and finally note taker on all of Roy's doings, hence the "War Logs" in the title. These logs are accessible from the options menu and, despite being well-written and giving you a little more insight into what is going on all around you, serve no purpose of any importance, certainly not enough to be included in the game's title. They merely give the game a needless 'Diary of Anne Frank in Space' feel.

But these are niggles. The core gameplay is good, and some delightful touches litter the Martian landscape. Being set largely in a POW camp limits certain aspects like locations and weaponry, and in the interest of realism developer Spiders Studio have done an incredible job in maximising the scope within said limitations. Available weapons begin with a rusty pipe and much later on you may be lucky enough to have a sharp-ended animal bone at your disposal, and everything in between can be upgraded with various gubbins and trinkets you find around the place. It’s very imaginative and a pleasant change from the usual guns, swords and spells.

The same can be said for the Martian landscape. It's an incredible locale reimagined for a dreary post-colonial future, and looks great. One could suggest it is repetitive and dull, but it is meant to be. The feel of open world imprisonment, as oxymoronic as this notion may be, is gloriously realised and you really itch to see more of Mars, spurring you on to make your escape as soon as possible. When you do leave the POW camp and return home, it does look pretty samey to be fair. But it's Mars, what do you expect?

Mars: War Logs

There is a skills matrix to keep you busy after your fairly frequent bouts of leveling up, too. You have three disciplines; combat, stealth and technomancy, the latter being unavailable until much later on. There are many options available to customise your style, but ultimately it doesn't matter what you choose. However you upgrade your combat style, in practice you rarely do anything but defensive roll, attack, attack, defensive roll, attack, attack.

Combat is so repetitive it really becomes the game's main downfall. But what of the stealth route? Well, you can upgrade yourself to ninja levels of stealth, and all it allows you to do is sneak up on people and mutants easier than before, but as most sections of the game require you to fight anyway, stealth is rarely useful beyond sneaking a strong hit on one member of a gang before taking on the rest head-on. Pointless.

Technomancy is essentially just magically zapping people, but it is available so late in the game that your leveled up fighting skills by this point are no match for a couple of feeble static electricity bolts mincing from your fingertips. For a game offering a surprising amount of customisation, it is disappointing to find it's just dressing on a shallow game mechanic.

The characters in Mars: War Logs range from the surprisingly sympathetic to the ridiculously shallow and absurdly manipulatable. One lifelong extreme activist changes her entire outlook on life after a handful of dialogue options from Roy in about two minutes; Roy just isn't that charismatic. Voice acting is soap opera at best, and Resident Evil live action opening sequence at its worst, and the subtitles that accompany the speech can be so different to each other at times it is difficult to know which one to follow as you are presented with two contrasting meanings for supposedly the same sentence.

Mars: War Logs

Mars: War Logs is a frustrating beast. Graphics are really good, made better when you consider the tiny little studio who made the game, and the overall setting and feel of a futuristic Mars are spot on. It's only when you delve a little deeper and scrape away the surface that the game reveals itself to be a bit of a charlatan. Many classic action-RPG elements are present but none are fully realised, implemented or used to their full potential. The story itself is rich and engrossing, but the characters and acting that guide you through it are at times painful to watch. And that skills matrix... (sigh), a great attempt at RPG-friendly leveling, but falls drastically short due to 95% of the skills being ultimately a waste of time.

Given more time or a more experienced developing studio, Mars: War Logs could have been absolutely fantastic, and as it stands it's not so bad. It is fun and if you're not too shallow it offers many hours of familiar role-playing territory. It's just too repetitive in its combat and quest-types to be recommendable, and though satisfying to level up as often as this game allows, you rarely get the sense of becoming stronger or more powerful.

A lot of really rough edges need to be ironed out for this to be a truly great game. And who knows, when Mars: War Logs reaches XBLA and PSN later in the year, maybe it will have some elements cleaned up, but realistically this would require a large overhaul. It is a budget title, though, so expecting a great deal is perhaps unfair, but you can get slightly older, more epic, exciting... just better games of this ilk for cheaper anyway. Worth a look for RPG fans and Red Faction / Total Recall lovers only.

5.50/10 5½

Mars: War Logs (Reviewed on Windows)

The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.

Mars: War Logs is an RPG set on the Red Planet after human colonisation and its subsequent apocalypse. While this is an attractive setting for a game of this nature, and in spite of impressive graphics and scale for a relatively tiny development studio, its various inconsistencies and annoyances sadly make this an easily forgettable adventure.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Gary Durston

Gary Durston

Staff Writer

Gary has been a gamer all his life and is a total retrohead. A lover of games, gaming and just about anything with a pixel, really.

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