Review: Mars: War Logs almost emulates a big budget RPG set on the red planet
Games on a budget tend to sacrifice features in order to focus on one particular element. That can lead to shoddy graphics, lame combat, or an uninteresting storyline. Sometimes, though, a budget title can be a pleasant surprise, balancing all these elements, and almost successfully emulating a big-budget production.
Mars: War Logs is that pleasant surprise. I went into the game not expecting much, but left rather impressed by its premise, gameplay, and it's deceptively big-budget tone.
In Mars: War Logs, you step into the shoes of the pretentiously named Roy Temperance, a battle-hardened veteran who just happens to find himself in a prisoner camp. Of course, he has plans to bust loose with the help of a young man named Innocence. It's a story of resistance and revolt through and through, and it works for the most part.
At first, it's easy to mistake M:WL for a Mass Effect clone. After all, it's an RPG with a heavy emphasis on both conversation options and battling, and the fact that it's drenched in sci-fi certainly helps that claim as well. That's not to say that the developer Spider weren't aiming for something like that, as that's a game I'm sure any sci-fi epic would love to get compared to, but War Logs is a different experience.
A big chunk of the game is, of course, taking on various quests and side quests to not only build up your rep, but also to earn enough XP to raise your combat proficiency in three separate skill trees. The first part of the game will have you running around the prison camp, completing quests for other inmates and guards alike, each yielding a handy reward that will ultimately make it easier for Roy and Innocence to escape. The side missions here can be a bit monotonous though, the biggest offenders being the ones that have players searching through various scrap piles for certain quest items.
The main quests are entertaining enough to get players invested in both characters, and while only the first act deals with the prison escape (which is the more interesting part of the storyline), both characters grow on you. Roy himself starts out as an enigma, but throughout the game, you'll learn bits and pieces of his past, which ultimately make him much more interesting.
War Logs is not about running and gunning. The game forgoes ranged weapons for a focus on melee combat, which is actually a lot more fun than it sounds. Armed with various blunt weapons that can be further upgraded, Roy can swing, roll and finish off his enemies in real-time combat. The action can be paused to give your companion commands, as well as using health or offensive items when you're in a pinch. Guns do appear in the game, but they're assigned to skills. You can hotkey a Nail gun, for instance, and then pressing that hotkey will make Roy fire it at an enemy he's currently targeting.
I certainly didn't mind a shift to melee combat, though the game has unfair and very sporadic difficulty spikes. Couple this with the fact that your A.I. companion is pretty much useless, and you'll be finding yourself reloading your last save point a lot due to the swarms of enemies that will inevitably surround and crush you.
The game does get easier as you level up. You'll progress through trees that enable Roy to be more stealthy, increase gun damage, gain extra scrap, and level up technomancy, the game's Mage tree.
The game also has a heavy emphasis on crafting. Everything from weapons to gear can be upgraded and customized, which also changes the look of these items as well. Putting steel-enforced shoulder guards on your outfit always makes you look more badass, while also giving a defensive bonus.
I have to give a nod to both Innocence and Roy's voice actors. Both are rather good, able to convey the right tone given the situation they're in. The same can't be said for other characters, however. One of the first enemies has some lines, mostly with himself, about having a good time by raping Innocence, spewing more than enough unnecessary F bombs and other strange derogatory terms. It gets to the point where listening to it becomes uncomfortable.
Mars: War Logs is an interesting game. It tries to emulate a big-budget production, though it can't stave off that low-budget feel. Then again, there's certainly nothing wrong with that. While it's not for everyone, $20 is about the perfect price for the amount of content the game offers. It's cheesy and sometimes tries way too hard to be serious, but then again, therein lies its charm.
[Reviewed on PC]