Mars: War Logs Review. OLE!
Genre: Role-playing Game
Every once in awhile a developer gets the idea to throw their two cents into a genre which has brought other games incredible success. Series like Borderlands and Fallout have come to define the the apocalyptic RPG genre and Bioware has created an RPG formula which has been proven time and again through their KotR and Mass Effect series. You'd think that if you took a small chunk from each of these series and threw them all together that it would spawn something magical, but that's not necessarily true.
Now, none of these genres or methods of handling RPGs have quite been utilized to the point that most people with them a horrible death, though at this point you'd definitely have to do something really special for it stand out. Obviously, indie developers aren't going to go for the same grand scale that some of these games take on, but despite that they can still leave their mark if they handle it properly. On the other hand, they can almost completely botch it if they bite off more than they can chew, and this is where Mars: War Logs comes in...
The most ideal place to start most rants about a game is with the overall narrative, and War Logs is no exception.
The story here begins on Mars, which was successfully colonized by Earth many years ago. This achievement was short lived, however, when a catastrophic tilting of Mars's axis, known as "The Turmoil", pushed the already delicate planet even closer to the sun. With most of the colonists wiped out, the only thing that matters is the search for food and water. From the ashes of this "Turmoil" rise a number of 'governments' who seek to rule over the lands water supply.The search for pre-Turmoil artifacts and installations, which would help those who possess them expand their empire, forces these wars over water to escalate further. It is here where our hero, Roy, comes into play. He is an Auroran prisoner of war being held at the Abundance controlled Camp 19. He finally sees his chance for escape with the arrival of a young Auroran prisoner known as Innocence, and this is where the actual game begins.
It's certainly not a bad back story and is pretty imaginative in a number of ways, but it's not the first time that we've had an RPG set in a wasteland ruled over by warring 'governments' who seek out pre-war...uh..."Turmoil" technology.
It doesn't do itself any favors by having characters which come off as little more than stereotypes. You got your redneck mechanics and engineers, your English bad guys with a thick accent, the posh ruler who is sympathetic to the little guy and the equally posh bad guys who just don't give a damn. It's hard to become invested in any of these characters simply because they mostly lack any sort of definable character outside of whatever stereotype they are trying to portray. Throw this together with voice acting which is sub par and you got a story which is not only less than memorable but actually becomes an annoyance.
Story isn't everything though, even in RPGs. There are plenty of great games out there which have little to no story or the story itself matters so little once all is said and done that you can just skip it entirely. They stand solely on the merits of their exceptional game-play. Is War Logs one of those games? Nope.
Combat is handled much in the same way as the story and characters, it's dull and has next to no weight behind it. With it comes the ability to work your way down three different skill trees which represent the three different combat styles. If you decide to take the tried and true path of charging into battle and simply bashing people (the 'Combat' tree), than you soon realize that it requires very little effort. More often than not you can simply spam the attack button, maybe the stun button every once in awhile, and defeat a group of enemies. The animations, which are overall less than great, really rear their ugly head while fighting. They aren't very fluid and even when you land a hit you can easily notice that your weapon often makes no visual contact with the enemy, effectively eliminating any weight from the combat.
If bashing people head-on doesn't tickle your fancy, however, the Renegade or Technomancer paths may be the way to go. Renegade, as you might imagine, involves taking a more stealthy approach and rewards you for doing so where as Technomancer is similar to something of a mage. These two branches work significantly better than the Combat tree and are overall more enjoyable. The downside to the Renegade tree is that there is very little planning required to move throughout an area because enemies appears to have such a small field of view. On the other hand, there isn't much at all wrong with the Technomancer side of things. It's fun to use, often pretty to look at and it doesn't get boring too easily. When all is said and done, if you want to really enjoy the combat in War Logs than you're going to want to take the Renegade or Technomancer route.
Beyond the combat and story we have a game which very much resembles the old KotR games, or even Mass Effect. Much like those series, most areas act as a hub for a number of other areas, all of it spread out between a couple of different cities. Throughout these areas are containers which can be looted for crafting supplies or 'serum', the currency of War Logs.
Quests are also handled in a way similar to KotR and Mass Effect. You're given a quest, you do whatever the quest giver wanted you to do, and then you go back to them. It's pretty basic, which is by no means a bad thing, especially when you take into account the fact that making quests too complicated in an otherwise simplistic RPG just makes them seem tedious, thus ruining the experience.
And speaking of ruining experiences, War Logs is a very 'brown' game. There is very little here which is vibrant and the overall texture quality is less than appealing to look at it. An indie game, obviously, isn't going to necessarily have the graphical fidelity of a AAA title, but simply going with a more stylized look could have gone a long way in working past the dull, ugly textures.
I like to think of myself as someone who, at the very least, can spot a quality RPG when they see it, I've certainly played my share of them in my time. Many of them are wonderful games worth playing over and over again, but there are plenty which are just downright awful. Mars: War Logs lies somewhere in the latter half of that scale. When you get right down to its core, War Logs isn't the worst game in the world. It's sub par in a number of ways but its biggest crime is just being dull. It's all a shame, really, because there was quite a bit of potential here which just wasn't utilized properly. I like to think that it was merely a case of the developer biting off more than they could chew.