Mars: War Logs (XBLA) Review – Ambitious Game, Mixed Results

Mars: War Logs, previously only available to PC gamers, makes the jump onto consoles with not much changed and sadly not much improved. That’s not to say that you can’t find some good in this title if you can accept it for what it is. It’s a budget level western style RPG that’s certainly serviceable but is in tough when compared to other WRPGs like Mass Effect and Fallout. The average gamer might have a hard time really getting into this one but a hardcore RPG lover will still find an enjoyable experience buried beneath the hiccups along the way.

You step into the boots of lead protagonist Roy Temperance. He’s a POW caught in a prison camp in the midst of a civil war on the red planet. Roy takes prison camp newcomer Innocence Smith, who actually intros you to the game, under his wing and together they work on planning their great escape to freedom. As a story base it’s actually not that bad and there were a few times where I actually wanted to keep playing in order to find out what was next but as a whole I found those great story elements to be washed out by repetitive fetch quests and often boring conversation bits. I have to stress though that this game is kind of a diamond in the rough in that if it had more budget the story has definite potential. There is a bit of a morality system, the basic gist of it being choosing good or bad, but despite this choice its effect has little to no impact on the game I find. When you’re mimicking the styles of proven RPG success stories it’s really noticeable when there’s a lack of follow through on the ideas you’re borrowing.

The combat, while robust for a budget title in a way, is nothing spectacular overall. It’s serviceable, let’s go with that. The majority of your combat will involve you bashing skulls with pretty much nothing more than a lead pipe with some razors on it or deploying a nail gun attack from a distance. There are other options such as traps and grenades but you’ll use them less. As well when you advance a bit further into the game you’ll get access to ‘Technomancy’ which is essentially a single element (electric) magic attack system but again, you’ll likely stick with the skull bashing. Add in some block, parry, and evasion rolls and that’s it.  You can see the beginnings of a good system but like the story it’s hampered by a lack of rounding it out, or making it more full so to speak. In all honesty if you didn’t spend so much time fighting the camera and targeting system it might be considered decent but too many times I found myself getting my ass handed to me due to that lack of precision.

You do have the ability to upgrade obviously as per any good RPG with 3 skill trees (Renegade, Combat, Technomancy) as well as you have access to a fairly basic crafting system to help enhance your weapons, armor and the like. Craft some ammo, mix up some health packs and there you have it in this department as well. The crafting system is almost too easy as it’s rare to have a lack of materials in your inventory to use so crafting strategy is a non-issue.

If you choose to dive into this Martian civil war I hope you like red. Red, and brown and gray… and that’s about it. In all fairness what else would you expect of the red planet, right? Locations largely look the same no matter where you go and so do the citizens of this planet. Perhaps a result of a lower budget or a less than stellar game engine the game also suffers from a very low frame rate and plenty of screen tears and clipping issues. None of it is what I’d consider game breaking but it’s very much noticeable and often a hindrance to enjoying your play through.

When forced into conversation you’ll experience some great voice work alongside some truly terrible voice work. Odd accents, strange inflections in the wrong spot of a sentence and mismatches between spoken word and subtitles plague the game but in a so bad it’s almost good kind of way. Forced profanity at times makes the game look kind of foolish despite its attempt to be hard edged. It’s not all bad though because as I mentioned above there are some characters with pretty good voice work. Roy himself is thankfully quite tolerable as you’ll obviously be hearing him the most. My only all out complaint is that facial animations very rarely match dialogue and for me that’s a huge annoyance. I found the rest of the sound to be passable but not noticeable. There’s music but it didn’t stick out to me in any way whatsoever and that goes for any sort of combat sound as well.

An ambitious outing for a smaller studio to be sure as Mars: War Logs is big on ideas but sadly a bit lackluster on actual execution. Yet despite its many shortcomings the game manages to stand as an enjoyable experience for what it’s worth. I’m being hard on it for sure as it attempts to stand up against some pretty stiff competition but as a developer you can see that the team at Spider has some promise. You’re definitely not going to be breaking the bank to pick it up either and the story is enjoyable enough that you won’t feel like you wasted your hard earned money. In my eyes I’d say support a smaller studio that at the very least shows some heart in an industry that is largely focused on nothing more than the next soulless money maker.


The Good


The Bad