The start of Mars: War Logs sees a bunch of POW’s being transported in a drab train car with a narration of the titular War Logs provided by one of the key characters of the game, Innocence. It instantly becomes obvious that an inspired script and A-grade voice acting are not going to be on offer. The introduction does nothing to entice you into the world that MWL has to offer. It’s a chore to get to the promised and inspiring world of – a POW camp. So long dreams of a sci-fi world of wonder.
First order of business at the POW camp soon sees the camp bully attempting to rape Innocence. OK then. Surprisingly there’s nothing particularly dark or tense about this scene, considering its topic, largely because you’ve spent about 30 seconds “bonding” with Innocence and probably 15 of those seconds where spent wondering if you read the name right. Innocence though, really? It’s not even a metaphor, it’s just written there for the audience in a glaringly obvious and patronising attempt to appear deep and meaningful.
Luckily, just before Innocence becomes an extremely ironic name, the hero of the hour steps in to save the day. Roy. With yet another name likely to go down in history, Roy is a veteran of the war and about as generic as they come. Dialogue options are equally as obvious offering little to no interaction outside of deciding on your character’s morality. The dialogue often trips over itself in a clear attempt to insert the dialogue options that need to be there for the morality system. Even if you mine your way through the excessive use of expletives, don’t expect subtlety and nuance from Mars: War Logs.
This clumsiness extends to more than just the dialogue too. The combat is awkward and clunky without the lightness and finesse of a better system. Blocking and parrying into counters, rolling around on the floor and throwing dirt in your enemies eyes are all predictably key concepts. There’s absolutely no problem with a 3rd person combat system like this so long as it’s responsive, smooth and (call me superficial) looks cool. But it’s all to easy to get trapped in a corner with three or more enemies hacking away at you while ensuring that any attempt you may have to fight back goes constantly interrupted. And enemies hit hard too. I often found that toughened veteran Roy’s survival directly linked to his ability to stay out of arms reach of even the most basic space-thugs. It’s contradictory to his character and becomes quite tedious but the core of a good combat system does exist somewhere under the bleak Martian rubble.
Progressing through the game to explore Mars it becomes apparent that the colour pallet used to create it consisted almost entirely of various shades of brown and red. And some redish browns. I may even have seen a brownish red at one point but I don’t want to get any hopes up. It’s a dreary world that doesn’t get much less dreary through progression. Admittedly areas do open up but are grounded and limited by unimaginative quests.
A key to any successful WRPG is the level up system. In MWL levels are frequent and rewarding with the usual roster of upgrades to abilities and passive effects. Complementing this is a reasonably comprehensive crafting and foraging system that sees you making some pretty nasty weapons. A bit later on in the game when you have powerful electric based attacks the combat does become more exciting but is still held back due to its sloppy mechanics.
Clipping is a constant nightmare and character animations are in tow with much older titles. Lip-syncing and voice acting really don’t help sell the characters in any way either. It is very difficult to care about anything that happens on Mars given that ultimately there’s no reason to care about anything that happens to the characters on Mars. The overall visuals would definitely be passable and wouldn’t hold the game back from greatness if there was something to look at other than dust, rubble and rusty metal.
This is a budget game which obviously presents certain limitations. Unfortunately, attempting to make something worth £100,000 with only £10 just isn’t possible. Unfortunately the scope of the game feels very limited by its own budget. It’s an ambitious project that had potential to prove that a budget title can be a great RPG without all the bells and whistles of AAA titles. Sadly it has gone further to prove that in fact the opposite is the case. The visuals and size of the game are not the problems holding it back.
The problem lies in its lack of imaginative characters, quests and story telling. Coupled with a potentially great combat system chained down by a sluggish feel MWL pushed for greatness but missed. There are features with grounds for a great RPG in MWL but they never materialise into anything significant. It’s definitely ambitious but unfortunately the budget can be felt at at every turn.
Reviewed on PC. Available now on Windows PC and September 2013 for PSN and XBL.