by Christopher Coke
reviewed on PC
From the outset, Mars: War Logs wears its high aspirations on its sleeve. Its features list touts dynamic tactical combat, advanced character progression, and a branching narrative inspired by the works of legendary science fiction author, Phillip K. Dick. Following up on last year's respectable Of Orcs and Men, War Logs could have been the knock out punch that put Spiders on the map. Unfortunately, their delivery fails to meet aspiration.
War Logs stumbles from its first impression and never again finds its footing. It opens inauspiciously with a soldier being corralled into a POW camp by the enemy army. Brief cut-scenes are underlined with the character's voice over. The scene is well set and compelling. The camp is classic industrial Mars: gritty, decrepit, and hinting at a future where technology has advanced far further than the virtues of man’s heart. It is rare that a game allows you to play as a prisoner and that alone made me curious. My character, a spindly, bald-headed boy by the name of Innocence, is sent to the showers to clean up. Then begins the first of many terrible character interactions.
A #$%&! Mature Game
War Logs styles itself a mature game. So it should come as no surprise that another prisoner would be waiting in the showers and threaten to rape Innocence. Or that every other sentence is laced with profanity. This in itself is not a problem. When narrative is well written and honestly mature, these themes fade into the background. War Logs fails to accomplish this. Time after time, vulgarity is used as a substitute for character development. Characters aren't gritty and mature because of any history present in the game but instead because they use naughty words. Worse still, unbelievable moments are the game's stock in trade. When the antagonist, backed by a full blown posse, flees from the improbably silent and foreboding main character, you get a hint of what's to come.
The story isn't a total loss. The concept of escaping a POW camp is intriguing in the heist movie style. Several other threads also weave in to add intrigue. A woman from the camp blames Roy for murdering her father. An evil dictatorship needs to be toppled. A bounty hunter accepts a contract on Roy's head. These are tried and true plot lines but they feel rushed and unsatisfying. Sadly, War Logs’ running theme seems to be good ideas that are not seen through.
Like any good RPG, War Logs features an in-depth character development system. Completing quests and killing enemies rewards experience used to level up your character. Levels provide points to invest across three skill trees and a feats system. The trees focus on combat, stealth and survivability, and technomancy. Feats are more generalized offering bonuses to experience, crafting, and loot drops, but use a separate advancement point to progress. At first blush, the 36 skills and 13 feats seem to provide a wealth of interesting choices, but by the end most are unlocked and the choices feel inconsequential.
This sentiment invades other aspects of the game as well. Crafting offers a nice array of options but materials are far too plentiful to be meaningful. Even then, your character can only wear one piece of armor and a single weapon, so customization is pretty bereft. Developing your party is also limited. Most often, only a single member accompanies you on missions and cannot be customized. Relationships and romances can even be formed through dialogue but it all feels shallow and a bit forced.
The game's morality system is no different. Downed enemies can be left unconscious or harvested for Serum, one of the game's important currencies and crafting ingredients. Generally, harvesting other humans is frowned upon, and the pre-release materials promised a world that would react to your decisions. Yet, the real-world implications are minimal at best. If you're super interested in lower merchant prices and not being tsk-tsked in NPC dialogue, you might want to avoid it. Otherwise, harvest away.
Interesting setting, good attempts at big budget concepts
Underdeveloped systems, juvenile story