Mars War Logs is filled with potential and great ideas. Just after experiencing a couple hours of the game, it becomes clear that Spiders’ ambition for this title was to be their own Mass Effect. The base for most of the design and features in an AAA type game can be found in Mars— A heavy morality system, decision powered narrative, multiple dialogue choices, party members, tree based skill system, and crafting to name a few. The problems start for Mars when you get deeper into the game and realize that there is nothing beyond that base. If Mass Effect is a full course meal then Mars War Logs is the imaginary tea and pastries at a child’s tea party.
Mars was released in April for PC and the console releases were intended to come shortly after but Spiders delayed those releases to relocalize the game for English speakers after it became a major sticking point in reviews and feedback on the PC release. Four months later we have our XBLA release of the game with the PSN version still awaiting its release. After looking up a video of the old dialogue, I can say it is very much improved but I still can’t say that it is good or even ok. The voice work isn’t so much acting as it is reading. The opening narration is performed so flatly that it is reminiscent of kids having to read aloud in literature class. But even performed badly, the dialogue is at least understandable now compared to the nonsensical blathering prior to relocalization.
The game opens with Innocence Smith narrating as he is delivered by train to a POW Camp. Innocence arrives and is promptly saved by the real main character, gruff anti-hero Roy, from a prison style ass ramming. The rest of the first chapter has the two working towards escape from the camp. The first chapter does well to establish the foundation for a solid game. Unfortunately the other two chapters do just as much to ruin it with a breakneck pacing that leaves little time for anything outside of the main plot.
A majority of the combat centers around getting swarmed by a group of enemies and timing the swings of your less than exciting arsenal of broken junk turned weapons. Mix in some blocking and roll-dodging with defensive sand throwing and you are left with a combat system that is fundamentally solid but just leaves so much to be desired. Party members fight by your side but due to their lackluster damage and horrendous AI, they really are just distractions so enemies aren’t all beating on you. There is also a whole system of electricity based technomancer skills unlocked for Roy further into the game. They end up just feeling like a waste of time and skill points because the abilities are easily interrupted by regular enemy attacks.
The leveling system should be somewhat familiar for anyone that has played a modern action RPG. Skill points are gained at each level and go into skills split up into 3 separate skill trees. Outside of the skill tree, Roy can also gain perks that do things like give him more experience for kills. The rudimentary crafting system takes items scavenged from random containers and looted from the defeated and allows you to spend them to add bonus stats to armor and weapons. There isn’t much thought needed on the part of the player due to the overabundance of materials which leaves the player just selecting from a list of a few upgrades for each item.
The morality system in the game seems interesting at first until you realize that it is completely broken. The idea is that like in most games being the “good” guy will shift your reputation positively but in Mars your reputation never goes above neutral. Maybe it does work perfectly fine and is a philosophical statement on that there is no good guy in times of war but based on the rest of my experience with the game I am going to go with broken. Being evil works perfectly fine though between “bad choices” and an after battle mechanic of killing the guys you just beat for extra money.
Mars War Logs is the definition of missed potential and over ambition in almost all aspects of the game. The biggest miss though is the potential for narrative expanding on the back story and lore of this war torn planet through subplots and side quests that is plain wasted for a narrative that kicks up the pacing about 10 notches and rushes its way through several games worth of main plot all in a total of 6 to 7 hours for the whole game. Mars has one thing going for it though, it is the perfect game to develop a cult following of both those who don’t mind its failings and those who like a good train wreck.