Mars: War Logs Review
That's One Red Dead Planet
Low cost downloadable RPGs are something of a rarity on consoles, with only Rainbow Moon coming to mind in recent years as anything vaguely worth your attention. Mars: War Logs would like to get involved with the genre too, despite being more of an action-RPG.
Set far into the future, Mars has undergone colonisation, but that new civilisation has long since collapsed. It has been replaced by warring water companies as everyone inexplicably fights over the dusty hellhole.
You control Temperance (everyone has strange quasi-religious names), or Roy as he prefers to be known. Roy is stuck in a prisoner of war camp and is hell-bent on escaping. So he takes in a new prisoner called Innocence, before the other prisoners get their chance pass him around like the soap. From here, the story involves rebellions, militia, betrayals and so on. This isn’t the longest of RPGs out there, so I won’t divulge anymore plot details.
There is a bit of a Mass Effect vibe going on, with branching conversations enabling you to talk your way out of trouble or get stuck in with a lead pipe. Roy’s quite the charmer too as he’s not afraid to try to get his way with the ladies.
A morality system is usually a great way to make those conversation choices matter, but here it seems to be broken. Starting at neutral, I made an effort to spare people as much as possible, always look for further explanations rather than killing everyone and keep Roy honest -all without getting recognition.
However, extracting serum from a few defeated enemies -giving you extra money, but killing them- plummets your rating beyond repair. Sure there are some perks to being a swine, like having +5% chance of criticals (big whoop), but if you can reach the opposite end of the scales, party members get +50% health. Quite frustrating that you can’t get that then. So, just be a dick.
Graphically, the game will test your patience by the end of the prison stage. I’ve never seen a game that was so enthusiastic for a colour palette inspired by rust. The red dust of Mars has battered every surface of the shantytown locations and it never really lets up. Seriously, if space tourism actually becomes a reality in my lifetime, I’m skipping Mars.
The game is just about an RPG. That’s the only way it can account for its incredibly basic and limited combat. The real-time scraps involve bashing X for melee attacks, Y for guard-breaking and A for essential dodge rolls. B is for guarding, with last-gasp timing opening up opponents for a counter attack, the motion is so unresponsive though, you’re better off sticking with the dodge roll.
Technomancer attacks are unlocked later in the game, giving you a range of Star Wars-style tricks. Lightning arcs, force push, electro-charging weapons, shields and so on. These (plus grenades and a nailgun) can be assigned to LT, RT and RB. Sadly, powers are slow, underpowered and easily interrupted by enemy attacks.
Enemies are mainly humans, typically in large groups, with shooters needing to be taken out first to avoid you getting pinned down. Dog beasts have to be attacked from behind thanks to their armoured heads and the various sizes of mole mutants each require their own approach.
The biggest opponent in the game is the reckless camera. Individual foes are targeted by clicking the right stick and then using the stick to flick between them. This is fine, aside from the stick also controlling the camera. The camera frequently turns too far on its own, making it impossible to see where you’re swinging your weapon. So many attacks suddenly end up facing the completely wrong direction. It’s workable in outdoor areas, but take a scuffle up a corridor and it’s a nightmare.
On the plus side, there’s a skill-tree to unlock improvements to combat. Stronger melee damage, faster ability recharging, more efficient rolling, increased chances of critical hits and so on. It’s just the right size for the game’s length too. Levelling up is a frequent occurrence and you can feel the effects of the upgrades, so it feels worth sticking with the game despite its many rough edges.
Each fallen opponent needs to be manually looted and it’s a real timesink after each group brawl. The bits of scrap you find can be used to upgrade your armour and melee weapons though. Well, tape mole teeth to them anyways.
The game can be tough at times, especially when you get into a scrap with a large group. On the plus side, when you are killed the autosave checkpoints are never far away. There’s a stealth mechanic, but it’s not a guaranteed one-hit-kill and before you know it everyone’s on your ass again. Want some free advice? Don’t waste upgrade points on the stealth side of the skill-tree; there aren’t enough opportunities to make it worthwhile. Roy may as well be armed with a feather duster while wearing a bell that chimes dubstep for all his sneaking prowess.
Missions and side-quests alike revolve around fetching items or roughing up people owing debts. Nothing you’ve not seen before, but the extra choices can sometimes lead to extra quests and the XP rewards are high enough to make them worth your while. A few of the search missions annoy by making you search areas you’ve already cleared out. The lack of fast travel or a minimap can make navigation a bit of a ballache too.
Mars: War Logs ticks most of the boxes for what we’d expect to find in an RPG, it’s just a shame that there’s no real effort in any of them. There’s only so much you can forgive just because the game is considerably cheaper than a new retail release RPG. But saying that, you could probably find an older one of those for about the same price as this. One thing’s for certain, don’t try playing this straight after the excellent Tales of Xillia like I did.