Mars War Logs is an indie action-RPG from Spiders Studio, which also brought us Of Orcs and Men, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, Faery: Legends of Avalon, Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper, and Gray Matter.
Watch the launch trailer:
Mars War Logs takes place on the planet Mars, almost a century after the huge catastrophe that plunged the Red Planet and its colonies into chaos. Water is the most precious resource on the planet, and different corporations are fighting to gain control of it. In the midst of this ruthless struggle, you play Roy Temperance, an adventurer with many talents, and immerse yourself in an intense cyberpunk RPG set on the Red Planet.
This game feels like Mass Effect, even down to a codex, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Gameplay is more Fable-style though, especially in combat. The plot is engaging, especially if you enjoy science fiction (and maybe even a B-movie or two). It does have some surprising elements to it, especially the technomancers (they manipulate electricity using mechanical devices that are attached to them). The opening cutscene drags, and sometimes it feels like you’re being told the story instead of playing it. At first, the game leads you to believe that you’ll be playing Innocence (a small, skinny character who never wanted to be a soldier), but you’re quickly saved by Roy, who you’ll play for the rest of the game. Innocence is the narrator of the game and accompanies Roy on his quest. He’s also the reason for the title, because he keeps logs of everything that happens to them.
Graphics and Sound
At first, I thought all the character models were going to be the same, but everyone looks similar because it’s a prison camp. Models are repetitive, but it’s understandable for an indie game of this ambitious scope to cut back somewhere, and it’s not terribly distracting. There are enough unique ones for the background guys to not matter. A really annoying choice was to make a cutscene for every time you open a door or climb over/down a barrier – you can skip it with the B button, but I still have no idea how playtesters were not annoyed with this feature.
Voice acting is good – nothing to write home about, but nothing to complain about besides an off delivery here or there (and what game doesn’t have that?). Everyone is competent. I do question the casting for Mary, because she sounds much younger than she looks. Subtitles are available, albiet in a strange font (it looks a little childish for an adult game). Dialogue is skippable if you want to.
There are four difficulty levels – easy, medium, hard, and extreme. I played on easy, because combat is pretty much the last reason I play games, but easy was still a challenge even with regenerating health. I don’t think easy should have been as difficult as it was – there were far too many battles that I had to replay because of getting beaten up by four enemies at a time. While one battle could be a cakewalk, the next might bring you down. I think there should be a gradual progression of enemy toughness, not random bouts of impossibility. Innocence is basically worthless. He does no damage to enemies that I could see, and he gets in your way sometimes. The camera also makes it difficult to see what you’re doing at times, especially for enemies that you have to be behind to fight. My best advice for surviving combat in the game is to not let yourself get surrounded – lure enemies away from the pack.
You can save whenever you want, and there are ten save slots available. The game also autosaves for you, and the checkpoints are in good places. Quests mainly consist of fetching something or collecting something, but there are some fun ones (like figuring out a way for a friendly guard to get sent back home). You can’t talk to everyone – some characters are literally only there for set decoration. The map is useful and will be your best friend, because a lot of the scenery looks the same (justified because, hey, you’re on Mars, which isn’t exactly known for its diverse climate). Without the map, the game would be really, really difficult. It also points out your goals – no compass or golden trail to follow in this game.
Character progression is done well, and you level up fairly quickly. You get both skill and feat points when you level up. The crafting interface is also very nice, and I spent a lot of time honing my weapons and armor to get the best benefits from each. You find crafting items by digging through well-indicated scavenge piles and by looting bodies after you knock enemies out.
Something I didn’t like was the morality/reputation system. Some dialogue is not represented well – there were a few times that I said something that I really did not want to say. Another thing that irked me was that the game introduced finishing off enemies (otherwise they will just be unconscious on the ground), but did not warn that there was a negative reputation consequence for this (they are bad guys, after all…so I’m not sure why you get a bad reputation for killing them outright). I don’t mind that there is a consequence; I’d just like to know that there is one before I try something that the game tells me to do.
This ambitious indie sci-fi RPG is worth a look if you love the genre, but can be frustrating at times. Be prepared to fight some battles over again, even while playing on easy, and deal with ambiguous situations.
You can get Mars War Logs on Steam, Xbox Live, and the PlayStation Network. Visit the official site, like the game on Facebook, and follow Focus Home Interactive on Twitter. You can also snag the soundtrack – for FREE – here.
[Disclaimer: A review code was provided for me to review this game.]