They say that patience is a virtue. And with Mars: War Logs, you will need it. This downloadable game from Spiders Studios tries to write its own chapter in the genre of western RPGs, but the feeling of recycling (ironically one of the main themes of the game), permeates the whole experience. There are many good things to talk about in War Logs’ mechanics, but there are some bad points, too. It’s a game best played in moderation.
The story of War Logs begins on the battlelines, as the War Logger himself, appropriately titled Innocence, is being transported to a prisoner of war camp. As he is given his initial instructions, he is quickly targeted by a gang leader. His innocence (pun intended) is saved by Roy, or Temperance. After the encounter, Innocence is quickly let in on Roy’s plot to escape. So begins your quest to complete the necessary missions and acquire the necessary items to leave. Once you do, the game will open up and you can see the true mystery of Roy Temperance. You see, Roy is the mysterious drifter with a heart of gold, just like you have seen many times before.
While Innocence records the story, Roy is the character you will be using and upgrading throughout your adventure. In fact, Roy’s adventure chronicles are among the items available in your inventory, along with the obligatory quest logs, characters, and other related info. Innocence also doubles as your A.I. partner throughout most of the game and even occasionally adds in his own two cents on discussions. The relationship between the two grows through dialogue and Innocence’s journal entries into a big brother/ little brother relationship, but it never seems fully realized. This seems to be a common theme where story elements are planted, but never fully explored. Non-playable characters are also given names synonymous with virtues, whether they live up to them or not.
As in most of the games that Mars War Logs will inevitably be compared to, Roy is fully customizable; you find and craft your clothing, weapons, inventory, and skills. War Logs keeps things in perspective well by giving you weapon options from a common shank, to a baseball bat you can add nails to for upgraded damage, or a copper tube that helps refill your fluid meter. Most of the items are what you would expect to find on a struggling-yet-habitable Mars planet prison. Find a few pieces of scrap metal and cloth and you can create an upgrade to aid you in battle. Ammo is sparse and other powers don’t come until after the first chapter, so crafting is the key to turning an already strong Roy into a man that is capable of dishing out lots of damage. Luckily, the crafting and upgrading is seamless and it is easy find which options you want to choose. Just remember, when in a dirty, grim environment, looting is your friend. Downed enemies are right in front of you, but you’ll need to do keep an eye out for crates and scrap piles. Loot whores will enjoy this aspect and newcomers will find it an easy-to-understand experience.
Without upgrading and crafting, or indeed with it, you will die. More specifically, you will die a lot. Your A.I. companions often do little more than take up enemy attention. It is best to save often, as although the checkpoints are very generous, battles often break down to attack, run away, attack, run away, etc. In a limited battle space, this is easier said than done. Having a nail-gun to hand or Roy’s Technomancer powers help matters, and the controls, thanks to auto assist, are a real pleasure to use in hectic combat. Despite this, too often you will stick with the same attack pattern. You almost never encounter one or two enemies, it is always at least four. Attacking head-on, even with top-notch upgrades, is suicide. Other than the gun, attacks seem to do minimal damage to the most common of enemies, while every hit lops off a heap of your health. Upgrading does little to aid this, and often focusing on one enemy at a time is very difficult. As the battles are un-skippable and the stealth mechanic isn’t well executed, you may find yourself rolling your eyes when you see a fight coming.
There are also – surprise – lots of main quests and side quests. The maps aren’t overly large, but the majority of these quests involve backtracking, and with respawning opponents, this can get frustrating quickly. The missions themselves, even the fetch quests, offer some interest, but walking back and forth between the same two points over and over again is, well, just overly repetitive. By the end of my time with Mars: War Logs, I found myself doing less and less side quests – not because they weren’t interesting, but because the means to each end were just too overbearing. Just doing the story missions will run you at least 10 hours, and that doesn’t include side missions or dying and restarting.
Mars: War Logs features a full voice-acting cast. While there are no stand-outs, the VAs mostly hit the tone and feel of the character they are voicing. There are also dialogue choices, and while most don’t affect the main missions in the game, they can affect your ability to receive and complete side-quests. And completing side-quests (depending on how you handle them alongside the main quests) can give you valuable XP. As far as the dialogue is concerned, be warned that Spiders really put the M in Mature. The language and subject matter often leave little to the imagination.
As the game is from an independent developer, the graphics are decent, but nothing special. The overall look will remind some of Red Faction, another Mars-based game. While the lack of graphical excellence can be forgiven, recycling the same looks for enemies and even some environments makes finding your way around overly difficult. When backtracking through the missions, you would often find me with the tinted overhead map up just to get my bearings. Finding your way around is also made overly-complicated because so many of the graphical elements are so simplistic.
VERDICT: I’ve seen Mars War Logs compared to Mass Effect and The Witcher and, since I’m no expert on those games, the first titles that come to my mind are the atmosphere of, say, Red Faction: Armageddon, with the RPG elements (such as the Techromancy), of Too Human. While this may seem like an insult, Mars: War Logs is really arguably better than both. At an entry price of $20 and a sure bet to be a part of Steam’s famous seasonal sales, it is certainly worth a look for fans of the genre.
Just remember that patience, like innocence and temperance, is a virtue, and it brings its own rewards. In the end, Mars: War Logs is a game too gluttonous in its ambition when a little moderation would’ve helped. Spiders obviously put a lot of effort into crafting their western-style RPG, and they succeeded in making a likeable, but ultimately forgettable, game. Mars War Logs is completely inoffensive, but lacks enough praiseworthy qualities to garner a better score. And that particular virtue is just good, old-fashioned honesty.
DECENT. A 6/10 indicates that, while this game could be much better, it still has a fair amount to offer the player. It might be an interesting title sabotaged by its own ambition, or a game denied greater praise by some questionable design choices. Don’t avoid it outright, but approach it with caution.