Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release Date: Out Now
Format: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Version Tested: Xbox 360
Price: 1200MSP / £11.99
So, here’s a trial-by-fire for a first-time game reviewer! Mars: War Logs, an action-RPG from Spiders Games, a small French company with a few titles under their belt. The game pulls influences from many different places, such as Mass Effect, Deus Ex and even The Elder Scrolls series. But does it meet the lofty expectations of its stable-mates? That’s what we’re here to find out.
The good old days?
Remember the first time you played the original Deus Ex? Remember the feeling of walking through those seemingly vibrant levels, exploring all the nooks and crannies for loot and people to talk to? Well, here’s your chance to do it again! Over, and over and over.
After a short introductory cutscene, the game starts you off in POW camp somewhere on the red planet. I hope you like red, you’re gonna see a lot of it! You play as Roy (yes, really) a mysterious POW who first rescues a young boy about to get raped in the showers (yes, really). Along the way you visit several more red and brown locations, unravelling what seems to be an epic story of political intrigue and corruption.
But, in a moment of irony that must have been lost on the developers, after struggling through the game, (**MAJOR SPOILER ALERT**) the final boss fight is literally a cutscene where an NPC walks up the antagonist and shoots him in the head. That’s it. The end. I’m telling you this to save you the trouble.
The build up to that isn’t even strong. The story never quite finds its footing. I spent nearly the entire game feeling like things could get really fun, but was constantly disappointed.
Speaking of story… You never really feel there’s any real choice. In one section, you arrive at a security checkpoint and have a conversation with the guard about not having ID, after which the guards just start attacking you. Later on in the level, you spend several missions hunting down some counterfeit papers to move past a checkpoint yet all the guards continue to attack on sight.
The dialogue acting in Mars: War Logs (I’m calling it Mars from now on) is painful to hear for the most part, with a few decent scenes made painful by people literally reading the script without punctuation. Many of the characters have strange caricatured accents, and others are just plain odd. One of them, Mary, is meant to be a strange young girl, in the vein of Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter series. You get the chance to go romantic with her, in a scene that can only be described as “sudden” and “awkward”.
Is it fun?
For the most part, the game feels reasonably polished. One thing that regularly comes up is the buggy controls… Roy gets stuck walking left after the many cutscenes that act as loading screens when moving between areas. That’s another thing. The different levels are broken up using doorways and ladders to climb. Although you can see the other side rendered in the distance, you still have to go through these annoying cutscenes. This turns moving across the levels for the many fetch and interrogation missions into a real chore, spending as much time skipping animations as playing (but you *can* skip!).
Spiders Games’ inhouse Silk Engine powers the game and the 360 graphics are OK, if a little dated. There’s occasional moments when Roy clips through scenery and there were moments when the engine seemed to struggle with streaming the level, freezing the game with a swirling ‘Loading…’ icon for a minute or so. You always get the feeling the engine is capable of a lot more but is limited by old console hardware.
This shows heavily in the fact that most of the scenery is blocked by those dreaded invisible walls. There’s a serious lack of freedom of movement, which, having been spoilt by all those open-world sandbox games, is hugely frustrating.
Throughout the game, Roy seems to spend most of his time either scrabbling about in piles of litter and boxes hidden in darkened corners or running between ridiculously spaced out mission locations and characters. It’s so unbecoming of a hero. How humiliating!
Mars features a crafting system that allows you to upgrade weapons and armour using spare stuff you find during all that time spent scrabbling about. You start off lo-fi with some sort of blunt object, but once you get your first new weapon, you can upgrade to better handles and tips to boost your damage, electrical protection and other stats. The system is fairly intuitive, but unfortunately the best you can hope for is some steel piping with cogs on the end. And a nailgun. Not even a Quake style awesome nailgun, but a Lethal Weapon style DIY nailgun. It’s obvious that Spiders wanted to give a strong feeling that the Mars citizens were basically abandoned long ago and have little to survive on, but it just adds to the feeling that the game never really goes anywhere.
Combat in Mars is efficient, with customisable slots for powers and other tools enabling you to tweak your combat style. Whether you like guns, grenades or super powers, there’s something for you. Companion NPC tactics during combat are near useless though, due to their lack of fighting ability. The best you can hope for is that they attract some of the enemies long enough to whittle the herd down. When they do run out of health, they wait for you to clear the area of enemies before reviving themselves, much like Mass Effect.
The thing is, you can see what Spiders Games were trying to do here. Nothing in this game screams “bad concept”. There are nice ideas struggling to get out, but everything feels cut short or scaled back. Whether they ran out of time, money or a bit of both, it’s a common issue with games these days and it’s a damn shame, as I spent the whole time hoping it would drop a gear and put its foot down. Looking through the concept art and trailers, you can see the ambition and fire in the eyes of the dev team, so I’m hopeful for the future of the series.
Finding some positives, the music is actually pretty good. Straddling a realm somewhere between late 90s and early 80s sci-fi, it manages to create a good atmosphere to introduce you to the game. The UI is efficient, and never feels in the way. Pausing the game and using the tactical menu is simple and to the point.
For all its ideas and characters, Mars: War Logs always seems to fall short in its attempts to be the epic story it tries to make itself out as. Mired by the niggles, the plot holes, the limited movement and the wishy washy ending, the game falls to something akin to sub-mediocrity. For the price, you can probably pick up Mass Effect (and maybe even the sequels) pre-owned and get many more hours of polished, thrilling gameplay.
Some interesting gameplay ideas
Crafting system works well
Music fits the theme well
Game engine has potential
The odd scenery and clipping bugs.
Too much running around to stretch out game time
Shoddy AI makes companions into damage sponges
Technomancer powers could be more epic
Red everywhere! There’s purple and blue on Mars too (I looked it up)!
Ending is a bit abrupt with little closure