Mars War Logs Review (PC)

19May

By Ian Crane

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French developers Spider Studios, have only created a handful of games the last of which was the underwhelming “Of Orcs and Men” in 2012. However while these indi developers continue to refine their ideas and create unique experience Mars War Logs is perhaps the single best game of their portfolio to date. Spiders openly stated that War Logs was “The game they always wanted to make from the start” and it shows, as it combines all the elements and ideas they have previously tried wrapped up in adult dialogue and a wicked sense of humour.

Before the game releases on console in the next two weeks, Daily Joystick brings you the full PC review to get you ready, to escape Mars again.

Story

Let's just get something out of the way first: Whilst it is great, that Spiders Studio have created an entirely new universe and back-story to Earth set in the future with a penal colony on Mars, traditionally a lot of the games they made have been fantasy based or fairy-tale. Which might go some way to explaining why every main character has the worst, most cringe worthy names possible; like Innocence, Chastity or Providence. There is something charming about it until the first five minutes...

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Mars War Logs is told through the eyes of Innocence (no really) however you play as the protector of Innocence, a character named Ray (previously Temperance). Ray is introduced right at the point that Innocence, is about to get raped.  Now it might be funny and clearly Spiders Studios is openly having fun with their sense of humour in the raping of innocence but this also sets the tone and level of language for the rest of the game. Someone only known as Fatso is trying to rape the young boy Innocence in prison and then the player steps in to stop it.

This allows a neat tutorial in the mechanics and fighting of the game, before Ray and Innocence take flight to try and escape the Martian penal colony they find themselves in.  The language and adult themes come thick and fast in the first of four or so chapters of gameplay. Ray plays as a smug smarmy “bard” that borders between a smart-ass and a complete dick. It's the same level of straight talking language that was in The Witcher 2 and because it is an arcade game, it gets away with it.

Prisoners in the colony are kept in check by guards who oppose the Mars colony war between camp Abundance and the city of Aurora. War that has been going on most of their lives and above it all is the watchful eye of the Lord Technomancer and his concubine who have been put in charge by the government. Technomancers are basically 80s inspired Jedi with electricity and other force powers at their disposal. Simpler citizen revere them as gods, whilst in the poorer areas dust mutants reside who have been exposed to the Mars sun for too long, their history and heritage hold a dark secret that any normal human would be ashamed of.

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Eventually the daring duo can escape and the remaining chapters of the War logs are told through various parts of the planet including smaller settlements, towns and caves.  Unfortunately the story is the highlight of the game, as is the case with many arcade games as Mars War Logs feels very much like an interactive combat game crossed with a point and click adventure: There is a lot of talking, a lot of running around back and forth finding things, and the action doesn't really kick in until after Chapter One.  Whilst you can have relationships (however they stop at you taking advantage of Innocence) this won't be possible till maybe half way through the 15-20 hours of gameplay.

Mars is a harsh and unyielding place and it is both refreshing and a little disturbing at times that Spiders have created something that so flagrantly flouts F bombs with such classic lines like: “What did you expect me to do, stand by and watch whilst they softly penetrated him”. The story does even itself out and gets substantially better if you can slog through the first chapter of 5 or so hours, details emerge, enemy get harder and the story of Innocence is deepened.

Gameplay

The tone of the story is not the only thing in common with the The Witcher as Spiders have crafted a fighting mechanic that mirrors The Witcher’s unique combination of evade and defend over attack and destroy.

Primarily, humans can't be out rightly killed in the game  anyway, and it leads to Rays “dark side” path so to justify this characters are equipped with a primary melee weapon that can be fully upgraded and customised and then a combination of heavy and light attacks. Whilst there is a gun it is included as a 'power' that uses energy, ammo and a cool down and needs to be 'cast' by the player to shoot anyone. Later on humans can be killed or harvested for precious water after combat or simply looted and left lying on the ground in pain.

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Water is the currency on Mars, along with scrap metals and again for anyone that has played the Witcher this style of gameplay, whereby everything is crafted from scrap, and during combat gameplay can be paused to issue commands and cast spells- will feel instantly familiar.

Unlike their previous effort at creating a full retail released title, that didn't quite work; Spider Studio have been smart by borrowing from other games.  Fighting and the number of fights increase as the game goes  on, there are a number of boss battles and a variety of creatures including rabid alien “dogs” Martian dust moles, mutants, junkies and of course Technomancers. Needless to say the player eventually gets some Technomancer powers including lightning, force push and shields. Fighting for the most part is with a companion and whilst you can't directly tell them what to do, you can assign commands to them like “attack the nearest ranged enemy”.

It is a reasonably simple stripped back combat system that works well enough. Expect to do a LOT of rolling and flanking as it is the best for critical and counter attacks. It takes some time to get used to an evasive, defensive style of player over just spamming light/heavy attacks but the character animations are smooth enough, even if enemy AI is dumb and involves either mobbing you in a corner or running around in circles.

The rest of the Mars War Logs is played out through a combination of talking, fetch quests, looting scrap and staring out over the Martian wastelands.

Graphics & Sound

Depending on which platform you play and how you perceive arcade games, War Logs will either be one of the better looking arcade game out there or a middle of the road indie title from Steam. The game is not ugly per say, however areas are highly linear, small square towns with a lot of corridors and tunnels that all blend together.  Mars is, obviously very orange and there is little variance in the areas between orange, brown and red. The graphics are not so good that you really tell the difference between say, a penal colony and the slums or a bar and a house but at least for what feels like little more than a point and click adventure it is fully realised in 3D with reasonable decent lighting and textures.  Character models again, are unique enough for the main characters with everyone else looking like they are related  to each other, lip syncing is so so but dialogue is quite well recorded.

The nature of the European development team means some of the accents and voice work is hit and miss, and there is a distinct lack of music or any ambiance noise at times.  Also for some reason on the PC even at the highest possible volume settings, all the sounds were quite low and muted however this could be fixed in a patch.

Like a lot of indi games, there are some good looking cut scenes between the story and the menus are filled with nice art work and drawings of the Mars landscape.  If you are a fan of games like Fallout or RAGE then the lack of greens and blues won't phase too much.

Playing through Steam as well, the game loads quickly and runs smoothly, there is nary a bug or a glitch and it can be run in a window if necessary. Considering how heavily they have mimicked the Witcher it doesn't quite stack up in comparison but is good enough to encourage the player to keep going.

Overall

Mars War Logs promises a lot: It says that your actions will affect the outcomes of other characters and whether or not they like you. It promises romances and relationships. It wants you to have a unique combat experience and a fully upgradeable character in an action adventure role playing game set on Mars.

Spider Studios delivers to a degree, but not one high enough to justify a full retail release beyond the arcade. Relationships are limited to one or two and only happen much later in the story and are set up as part of the story.

There is choice to harvest humans, but there appears to have little consequence in weather people like you or not. That said, early on there are clear choices in the story as to moral decisions, that might mean one character will help you and another will not. Ultimately the outcome though is the same:

Mars War Logs is one of the most underrated games this year that deserves the time of players and has Spiders Studios trademark look all over it. Yes, parts of it blatantly rip off other game but it is the sort of title that you want to love, and explore more. If you haven't already bought it on Steam for $20, this is one to watch on the arcade. A solid game with enough unique quirks

8/10