Friday, 9 August 2013

Mars: War Logs review

RPGs are becoming increasingly popular, perhaps due to recent games such as Mass Effect and Skyrim, which have brought the classic RPG formula to a bigger audience than ever. So it's no surprise that smaller developers are starting to put out their own. The latest is Mars: War Logs, which is unsurprisingly set on Mars, and sees a future in turmoil. Two rival factions inhabit the planet, and vie for it's water resources, and your character Roy, gets caught in the middle whilst on his own personal journey. RPGs are usually games with huge scope, a living, breathing world and a ridiculous amount of quests and side-quests, but can this be replicated for a downloadable title? Read on to find out! 

The story starts with a young boy called Innocence, who has recently been thrown into a prison camp on Mars. When one of the older inmates tries to rape him, he is saved by the mysterious Roy. And this is who you play as. A lot of the story is a little too much on the nose, it pulls no punches in an attempt to shock the player, which sort of detracts from the story. The rapey-guy just keeps on talking in his cut-scenes, reiterating what he's already said and wording it slightly different each time. It's like the writers kept thinking of these creepy lines for Fatso (and that really is his name) to say to Innocence, and didn't think to choose just one to have in the game. Throw them all in!

After you have saved Innocence, you start to put a plan in motion to escape the prison, which is surprisingly not too hard. It takes a couple hours (including random exploring time) to set up and execute the escape, at which point you would expect the game to change drastically. It turns out being on the outside isn't much better than being in prison, but at least there's a change of scenery and characters. The game prides itself on having a morality system, but in truth, it seems a bit broken. I tried my hardest to make all of the good choices in every conversation, and the same goes for my actions, but Roy's reputation ended up being "inhumane". From my perspective, Roy was a diamond in the rough. He helped others, replied politely and didn't pry into personal problems, yet still everyone hated and mistrusted him. God knows how you make it through this game with a good reputation.

You'll often find yourself in corners surrounded by too many enemies.

Mars: War Logs has an interesting combat system. Your melee fighting is controlled with the X, B and Y buttons, which attack, block and guard break respectively. That's pretty standard, but it gets different when you start to use your skills. You assign things to hot keys, as you might do in an MMO. This includes ranged weapons, which you don't actually aim; you simply press the hot key that it's assigned to, and it auto aims at the nearest enemy for you. In a way it's a cool feature, as you can link it into melee combos, but it also takes away the challenge. There is no chance of missing, so it makes fights a little too easy. Still, there's a good number of skills to unlock, which range from throwing sand in enemies eyes, to zapping them with electricity once you've progressed far enough to become a Technomancer. The main issue with the combat is the difficulty of the enemies. They usually attack in groups of at least three, and as you get stunned for a short time, it's easy to get stuck in a corner, trapped by enemies. Even if you do manage to escape the death corner, your only chance for survival is to combat roll constantly, getting in a hit whenever there's an opening. This is a bigger problem earlier on, and once you have some awesome new weapons and armour, and then later your Technomancer powers, defeating enemies becomes much easier and a lot more fun.

Graphically, it's not bad at all. It doesn't match the visual quality of new retail games, but it certainly looks better than some of the earlier Xbox 360 games. The aesthetics of the game are quite a lot like Fallout 3; run down buildings, makeshift weapons, and dusty landscapes. It almost feels like it could be set in the same universe. The character models are detailed enough, and up close they still hold up visually. It is let down slightly by weird shadows and dead eyes, but overall you can't complain. For a budget title, they're not bad at all.

One of the powerful Technomancers.

Mars: War Logs is incredibly ambitious. It wants to pull off a story on the epic scale of Mass Effect, but on a budget such as this, it's just impossible. The opening act is definitely the most interesting and promising, but the escape itself is too easy and doesn't feel like a big deal, and the promise of freedom beyond the prison walls just turns out to be a lie; everywhere looks the same! Narrow corridors, high walls and many sliding doors. The combat is incredibly varied and after the first act, a lot of fun, but it isn't enough to disguise the other flaws present in the game. Mars: War Logs is exactly what you would expect from a budget RPG. Lots of ambition, huge variety of combat options, but not enough of what truly makes an RPG: scope and complex storytelling.


by Louis Gardner

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