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Mars: War Logs Review

Posted by Peter Nickless On Thursday 29 August 2013Comments Off

Available on XBLA, PSN and PC l Published by Focus Home Interactive l Developed by Spiders l Classified R18+ l Supports 1 player

REVIEW IN BRIEF > Mars: War Logs is a classic example of ambition over budget. It has a fascinating world, diverse characters and functional combat but is critically hampered by its scale as a downloadable game. While well worth your time and money it can’t quite escape the stigma of being a poor man’s Mass Effect. You’ll like its ambition, but it remains flawed at heart.

REVIEW IN FULL > Sometimes games appear seemingly from nowhere. It’s easy to find out about fresh mainstream releases or the latest franchise cash cow, but unless you trawl the outer edges of Steam or GOG, you are going to miss some great games. This year has already seen some impressive downloadable titles in Call of Juarez: Gunslinger and Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. Now comes Mars: War Logs, seemingly from nowhere and, regrettably, without any other games (so far at least) to further explore its ambitions.

…enemies will quickly learn the combinations you use, preventing simple one button attacks.

War Logs opens cleverly with the arrival of Innocence, a young man captured and held in a war prison camp. He is an immediate focus for trouble, until you arrive on the scene. You play as Roy Temperance, a mysterious stranger with a mysterious past. You take Innocence under your wing and involve him in a plan to escape the camp. Gameplay relies on you walking around the map, talking to other prisoners and guards, doing favours and fetch quests. Conversations follow basic options, usually having you accept or decline the task on offer, but your response has implications for making friends or enemies.

This game also has a heavy combat focus, with three distinct skill trees to unlock based on your playing style. Moves include attack, parry, dodge and block, and enemies will quickly learn the combinations you use, preventing simple one button attacks. You will frequently face multiple enemies and may need to take a stealth approach to thin numbers. There’s also the perfectly reasonable strategy of throwing sand in their eyes to blind them and render them vulnerable. Much of the game allows for you to have a companion who enters the battle, but they are of limited use. There isn’t much enemy variety on offer, so it becomes pretty clear early on how to find the best approach to combat as the numbers increase, but that’s okay. It may remind you of Alpha Protocol in that it has functional (but hardly enthralling combat) that you grind your way through in order to progress the story and find out more about the setting.

You can upgrade brawling skills for increased damage and criticals, improve stealth and shooting mechanics or specialise in the electrical wizardry of Technomancy. Levelling also unlocks bonuses for searching bodies or recycling equipment and rewards either being friendly or a renegade. The currency of the game, known as ‘serum’, can be extracted from enemies you knock out, but it kills people and forever marks your reputation.

Obvious enemies such as the Technomancers may be the focus of your initial efforts, but the waters are soon muddied.

Outside of combat, you can decide on a course of action or alliances based on simple conversation choices, which also impact on the game world as you progress. Didn’t solve the coin killer mystery? He keeps killing. Chose to help the outcast mutants? They’ll then help you. Ultimately, you need to choose between the naïve but determined Resistance or the established and conservative General Grant. Obvious enemies such as the Technomancers may be the focus of your initial efforts, but the waters are soon muddied. Like most things in this game, there are two sides to every story.

Graphics, music and voice acting are serviceable enough, but what is most interesting is the cohesiveness of the world-building. There are many lofty ideas on display and lots of background information to uncover. The Mars inhabitants always seem on the edge of survival, running low on food and water and coping with the unstable politics of the region. There are signs of ancient colonies and uncertain origins of the human-like mutants. No one side seems entirely to blame for the situation. Everyone is just merely trying to survive.

Comparisons to Mass Effect abound, but this is a much more dour affair. It certainly aches to offer the scope and background of a much more ambitious game. It also provides a flawed main hero that you can relate to, but you’ll be left wanting more by the abrupt end.

This game ultimately belongs in the category of ‘flawed but interesting’ especially if you are an RPG fan. The concept, world and storyline really belong in a much bigger game. Overall, Mars War Logs is recommended, but only conditionally.

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