When BioWare introduced the Mass Effect series nearly six years ago, it gave gamers a chance to immerse themselves in a rich sci-fi universe with a compelling lore and an amazing cast of characters. Despite a few bumps in the road, over the course of three games the Mass Effect series evolved the way a story could be told in RPGs. Their adult approach to storytelling, character development through player choice, and decisions that altered the course of entire games have also been seen in other games like The Witcher series. Mars: War Logs is a game packed with the ambition to be as good as games like Mass Effect. And it is that ambition which causes the game to shine but often buckle under that heavy weight.
Over the course of a few short chapters Roy and Innocence have to deal with a monster threat, meet companions to aid them in an escape and become embroiled in a mild political turmoil with Technomancers (i.e. Mages). Moral choices – a staple of current Western RPGs – are common in War Logs and will change how characters react around Roy. Stores may provide him with discounts while others might stop talking to him altogether; there’s even an option for romance. One of the good things about the morality system is that it never hits the player over the head in how black-and-white it is. There’s no blue or red indication as to what responses are good and bad and characters often have to be chatted up a great deal before revealing all their secrets.
Like those opening moments, however, much of War Logs’ still feels clumsy. With a completion time of roughly ten or twelve hours, resolutions are rushed, especially when reaching the close of each chapter. Perhaps it is a result of the low-budget and even the fact that Spiders is a foreign studio, but the localization (voices included) is quite rough. The extreme dialogue often results in an unintentionally campy delivery. More surprising is that it gives the game a slightly more endearing quality.
Branching conversations are one small piece behind War Logs. Combat in the game is well done and among the highlights of the overall experience. Melee attacks are the primary focus while technomancy soon gives Roy some “magic” powers. Sand can be thrown at enemies to temporarily blind them but many (including those with masks or eye protection) are immune. Monsters often only take minimal damage from the front and must be attacked from behind. To do this the player must execute a dodge which, honestly, turns Roy into less of a badass and more of an acrobat just rolling around the Martian sand. What makes the dodging even more comical is that the variety and difficulty of combat makes it constantly necessary. Before the player gains a decent amount of levels and upgrades, enemies are brutally tough and will swarm Roy. Frequent dodging is always necessary but still doesn’t detract from the overall fun of fighting.
What makes combat even more satisfying is that leveling up is easy to do and exploring the skill tree to develop new talents opens up the game swiftly. Though the game can get tough, progression never feels hindered. Bodies and scrap piles are looted for materials which are used in a mild crafting system. Weapons and armor have a few slots which stat modifying add-ons are placed in. These boosts are usually for things like damage reduction and critical hit chance. And what kind of RPG would War Logs be without quests and companions? Though it shouldn’t come as a surprise, side missions are really nothing more than fetch quests that will have the player running across the same few areas trying to either collect the right items or say the right things to a certain person. From time to time, Roy will have one or more companions along for the ride. But because these companions due very little damage and are knocked out swiftly, they serve little more purpose in combat than to distract a couple enemies.
Graphics & Sound
For War Logs, Spiders used their own custom engine. Considering the scope of the game, the visuals are able to convey a good vision of Mars. By no means is this the most beautiful game that most will play on the PC but glitches and rough patches are rarely encountered during play. It’s easier to see that some of Spiders’ ambition for their environments had to be toned down to deliver a good performance. The scenery does change and fits a good sci-fi aesthetic but can be one-note in the recycling of rusty colors and rusty buildings.
Remember that comment about Fatso and his clumsy dialogue? It’s even less bearable/more laughable when heard. War Logs often goes for the “adult” overtones in much of its content. And while the stilted writing and translation makes it hard for the voice actors to be taken too seriously, the main cast isn’t that bad. Because practically all the dialogue is voiced, there aren’t those awkward moments where people stop speaking mid-conversation. All in all, the audio presentation in the game could have been much worse.
Perhaps the biggest thing that Mars: War Logs has going against it is time. The game is built on the foundation of many great ideas. Unfortunately, many of these ideas have been used for several years in gaming. War Logs has the branching dialogue, the character customization, the grounds for good sci-fi lore and the gameplay to back all of that up. It’s an ambitious game packed with ideas and concepts that have been used several times, albeit more successfully. And it’s because of that ambition that makes it hard to not want to see it break through the mold. Mars: War Logs is fun to play and many will enjoy their short time with it. But it also never feels truly special and maybe that’s the biggest problem. With a bit more finesse, Spiders’ next foray into the genre has the potential to be that special experience.
Note: A copy of the game was provided to Gaming Illustrated by the publisher for the purpose of this review.