Mars: War Logs is a recent title from Spiders and Focus Home Interactive, and it takes players down the dark gritty path of the space epic, filled with those serious choices for players that make the world around them react in new and special ways. Oooo and aaaaah. Actually though, M:WL falls into the RPG-Action genre for me. It seems like nitpicking to refer to it as such, rather than Action-RPG, but to me the core of the gameplay is focused on the RPG elements, such as the extensive character growth, skill trees, and interaction with other NPCS within the environment and the effect it has on future events.
The game takes place on Mars (fairly obvious), many years after some great cataclysmic event severed all ties with Earth and effectively left the colonists stranded on the great, red ball of dust. Over time, these colonists began forming factions that eventually became conglomerate nations that controlled the last major resource available to them – water. Along with these powerful conglomerates, new technological advances were created that allowed people to become “technomancers,” those with the ability to harness the body’s naturally occurring electrical energy in conjunction with old technology from Earth. This in essence allows them to use of a type of technological “magic.” One of the corporations, a recent and powerful one, gained most of this from its abnormally large technomancer population; the sudden rise though helped propel the planet into a brutal war, which Mars: War Logs takes place during.
Seeking to continue the traditional Western RPG style of games, M:WL places players into the role of Roy (formerly named Temperance. What?), a prisoner of war. He’s an all-around type of person with a number of capable abilities – the man can be stealthy, he can fight, and he can even learn how to harness his technomancer potential later in. What can’t this guy do? Oh, yeah, be a somewhat likeable character. While I admired his perseverance (I’m pretty sure that’s someone else’s name), Roy never seemed like an overly likeable guy. He felt like a bad copy of Riddick in a way; a gruff and determined man who lives by his own rules. Everybody else seems to have an idea of who he is though and their reactions, especially once some choices are made, reflect either a positive or negative view of him (and thusly the player).
M:WL is a quest-based game, so characters can expect to run around the map in search of enemies, items, or people to progress their missions or the story itself along. Some of these quests can range from “talk to this guy about more work” to “find weapons to escape with.” There are even some that will have players searching and searching for items without a definitive waypoint, which isn’t a bad thing, but can get extremely tedious. The game also offers the ability for characters to take the items they find or earn from completing missions and craft them into useful tools or upgrades. I felt M:WL offered a fairly interesting level of customization for weapons and armors that many games lack. Its fun to actually see the different upgrades changing the aesthetic of the item as well as stats, letting players not only pick their capability to hurt others, but their look as well. Might as well be stylin’.
Actually playing the game feels like a combination of standard third-person shooters with some RPG elements thrown in for good measure. Most combat is performed with melee – click the left mouse button to attack. There are some other abilities, such as quick strikes to break blocks, that can be performed as well. Roy can also use certain abilities that are mapped to an action wheel of sorts; using this does not pause the game but slows everything down to a considerable crawl giving players a few seconds to decide a course of action. However, most of my combat experiences within the game were generally lackluster, especially considering I looked like a rolling fool for most of them. Roy is generally overwhelmed in battles and throwing sand or rolling away from their attacks were some of the only options I had many times. Many times. I felt like a tumbler act.
Aside from the combat, some of my concerns, even issues in some cases, are the levels of effort put into attempting to create this downtrodden atmosphere that exists within M:WL. I understand the game is set on a futuristic Mars cut-off from Earth, I see from the title alone that there is some sort of war occurring, and it’s become fairly common knowledge in today’s world that being in prison just plain sucks. Frankly, I don’t need to see some poor kid nearly getting raped by a blob of a man hell-bent on working over (and in) the new arrivals within my first 10 minutes of starting the game. I wouldn’t call it shocking, but I wouldn’t call it pleasant either. There are other ways to show an unhinged prisoner willing to go that far.
I know this next one will seem trite, but I just did not like some of the name choices for players. There were some characters “nicknames” I enjoyed, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to really fear some evil guy named “Sean.” Just Sean. I would figure that some imposing figure such as the prison warden, a technomancer himself, would be named something a bit more chilling, like Lucius, Gaius or something else. I’m not knocking the names of Innocence and Temperance, as they fit within the culture of Roy’s original “clan” so to speak, but honestly – how am I supposed to be scared by Sean the Technomancer? I wonder if he knows Tim the Enchanter? Aside from those concerns, the game does an excellent job of setting the mood. Roy’s no-nonsense personality, his actions, and his willingness to use others against the backdrop of a demoralized atmosphere helps create an excellent story.
Mars: War Logs isn’t a bad game and I did thoroughly enjoy what I played. I just forced myself to not think about some of the goofier elements during my playtime. The game has all of the trappings of what could potentially have been a great sci-fi RPG, but there are just so many gaps and unpolished pieces in the final product that it falls short of its potential. For those that are willing to give it a try though and look past these, they will not be disappointed.Note: Mars: War Logs was reviewed on PC. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.