Mars: War Logs is a role playing game set in the slums and prisons of Mars. You play as Roy, a prisoner of war under the Technomages, a high ranking section of the Guild of Aurora, a relatively new but a powerful guild rising up and winning their war against their rivals, Abundance. Both of their objectives are the same, to pump water from the desolate planet for the masses. Your initial goal is to escape from prison but from there you are hunted, dragged into the war and left to decide whether the rebellion to take down the ever growing Aurora is worth assisting or taking down the Technomages yourself, crippling the guild dramatically.
The story is split up into three main acts and can diverge depending on whether or not you assist or fight against the rebellion. There are few twists even with the ability to change story points, making it overall rather too straightforward. A touch that does makes things more personal and interesting are the moments between each major act, as a short diary entry describes the characters opinion on events. This seemed to change depending on who is with you once you moved to the next act.
Luckily the gameplay somewhat makes up for the shortcomings in the story. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Well, CD Projekt Red must be beetroot right now. Mars: War Logs plays a whole hell of a lot like the Witcher 2. Combat can be a little button-mashy at times but it is what this game does best. Every single fight feels life threatening. You are given a couple of easy fights at the start to get you on your feet, but once you start facing off against non-human enemies, gameplay begins to get serious. It is refreshing to have such a challenge in combat, a level that I haven’t seen properly since the previously mention Witcher 2 or the Souls games. Some fights are a little too challenging at times, requiring you to deftly maneuver through large groups of enemies who can take large amounts of health off of you or can block every attack thrown at them. All of this within an area where you would have enough room to move comfortably around three enemies but not ten. Seeing the game over and load screen constantly isn’t fun but it does encourage you to improve. My personal approach to combat often came down to, sneaking up behind the strongest target in the area and take him out instantly with a sneak attack. More often than not this would expose me to the rest of the group of enemies. Zapping the next strongest with my “would be magic” freed me up to deal with the weaker enemies before finishing of the second strongest again.
Controlling Roy was consistently clunky: sprinting has no camera control, so you have to continually stop to change the camera angle; blocking and rolling garner a small delay between your input and action; enemy blows stagger Roy, so once he gets hit he leaves himself wide open. These are only a few examples of the problems that pop up, but there is a lot that Mars: War Logs gets right as well. There are extensive skill trees, spanning close combat, stealth, ranged and “magic” abilities making your character very customisable and allowing for different approaches to situations the further your progress. As you gain levels through combat and completing side or main quests you gain experience to move your way up these skill trees. Character feats also give you special stat boosts for completing certain passive objectives like killing enemies in certain ways or being good or evil. Your moral stance changes throughout the game depending on your actions within side quests and how you act after combat. You are able to extract “serum” from enemies after you beat them into submission, killing them. Serum is then used as currency. This wasn’t necessary at all throughout my playthrough as just selling what you find on downed opponents and money earned through missions was enough to get you through the game.
In terms of presentation Mars: War Logs impresses graphically in some places and disappoints dramatically in sound design, especially with voice overs. Main characters look good for the most part, especially for an Xbox Live Arcade game, Roy for example has a decent amount of detail on his face. Non-player characters also look interesting with appropriate designs for the world. Environments all look the same from start to finish which is confusing over long periods of play. Dialogue and voice over also sound off almost all of the time. As with graphical detail, Roy is pretty good most of the time, with believable delivery. It is blindingly obvious that almost all of the voice actors in the game don’t have English as their native language and can hinder your enjoyment of the story.
Mars: War Logs is a very ambitious indie game. It tries so many things, with a branching story that changes depending on your actions, a relatively deep character customisation system and enough content to keep you going for a good while. Combat is also really quite enjoyable, especially once you learn the ins and outs. Really it is the execution that lets the game down, everything feels just a little too clunky, rushed or sloppy. Its definitely worth a look and you might even find yourself enjoying it rather a lot, if you can look past a lot of the games obvious shortcomings.