By: Matthew Striplen
Gritty, dark and dangerous: that’s what Mars: War Logs is all about. Set on a post-apocalyptic Mars, the player takes control of Roy, a troubled guy with a shadowy past. Will you be good and help the people of Mars? Or will you brutally take what you need at their expense?
For all its strong points, by far the weakest part of Mars: War Logs are the controls. Overall, they are quite clunky, and at their worst they can be completely unresponsive, especially during combat. On several occasions, I was defeated in battle due to the lack of responsiveness. Another large issue was interacting with characters and objects outside of battle. The icon used to select these is only visible at very specific angles and finding said angle can take up to a minute. Additionally, when exiting the menu, the controls are completely scrambled for a few seconds. Other than these major flaws, the controls are mostly intuitive.
Environments are fittingly gritty and cyberpunk-ish, but each location tends to look too similar. Towns and cities are dilapidated, tinted red and sprawling, which is cool for the first few places but quickly becomes repetitive. Despite this, everything fits within the environment well, especially the costumes and weapons. All weapons and armor look salvaged and handmade, which is exactly what they are. No gigantic swords or guns are to be found in this game.
The soundtrack is very unobtrusive and mostly relies on the ambient sounds. Though the ambience is nice and can fit the feeling of isolation provided by the Martian landscape, a more involved soundtrack would’ve definitely provided more interest and drive for the game.
Mars: War Logs offers a fairly large variety of gameplay aspects but nothing new or revolutionary. As an RPG, Roy gains experience and levels up as he fights in battle. With every gained level, skill points are earned to upgrade several abilities. Most are combat related, but others involve crafting materials and “Technomancy.”
Technomancy is by far the coolest and most unique ability in the game. A Technomancer is a person that utilizes the ancient Earth technologies to harness one’s own bio-electricity to form attacks. Combat requires a combination of physical, ranged and Technomancy-based attacks, as well as traps. Versatility is key to staying alive.
Battle sequences are very exciting but more often than not, the player will find themselves surrounded by a multitude of enemies. Even one opponent, human or otherwise, can be a formidable challenge, so when faced with more than five at once, battle tactics will often be reduced to rolling around playing hit and run. Besides being frustrating, rolling around constantly ends up looking pretty silly. Despite the less-than-perfect combat system, getting to watch an awesome Technomancy attack power up and fire is still very satisfying.
One of the more interesting elements of War Logs are the morality choices and character interactions. Roy will meet a large number of NPCs with virtue-themed names, like Innocence. In each conversation, the player will be offered a few different responses to the NPC’s questions or statements in a style similar to Mass Effect. Depending on these responses, Roy will develop a positive or negative reputation and, depending on the NPC, open the possibility of a deeper relationship.
Both reputations have their pros and cons and will impact the development of the story. Unfortunately, Roy does not always say exactly what the responses do, which can lead to a very different outcome than the player may have intended. Eventually the player will be given the choice to join one of two factions to accomplish the same goal, though the methods will be different.
Among the most intriguing moral aspects of Mars: War Logs deals with the treatment of the “Dust,” a group of people that have been mutated so severely that they’re no longer human. From the very beginning, the player is informed of their inferiority in every capacity, especially intelligence. They are compared to livestock by their human captors, which beat and starve them into submission. As Roy’s adventure continues, the Dust prove to be much more than meets the eye, but the player will only encounter them a handful of times. I would have enjoyed more missions and information concerning them as they present a poignant reflection of real-world racism.
One of the biggest aspects I missed was an accessible map. Though the game featured two options for viewing it, they both fell short. The regular map could be seen from the menu, and the second could be shown as a transparent overlay of the entire screen. This second method was particularly flawed as the map was too faint to be easily read while still obscuring the screen. As a result, gameplay was frequently interrupted by having to consult the map on the menu. This could have easily been fixed by a miniature map on the side.
Mars: War Logs has a hefty length, which is bolstered by the large number of side quests. While the side quests are far from necessary, they do provide vital experience, craftable materials and weapons. While the game starts off with bang (or rather a narrowly avoided one), the middle loses some steam as characters are introduced without much information. The ending also leaves much to be desired.
Mars: War Logs came close to making a knockout game. Its interesting and interactive storyline, mixed with its high level of customization and exciting combat, should have made for a stellar experience, but its flaws prevent it from reaching its true potential. Despite that, Mars: War Logs still proved to be a fun and worthwhile experience.