Posted on May 20, 2013 AT 10:38am
Third person action games that take place on Mars are a rarity in today’s video game landscape, which means that Mars: War Logs doesn’t have much competition. It may draw comparisons to the Batman Arkham series or Red Faction: Guerilla, but it largely stands out on its own as a unique game. The Steam page for the game describes it as “An intense cyberpunk RPG on the Red Planet,” and I can confirm that it does live up to this description.
The RPG elements of the game follow the traditional rules for an RPG. The expected branching skill tree, leveling up by gaining experience, and branching dialogue choices with good and evil options are all there. Experience is gained by defeating enemies and completing quest objectives, and it happens at a very fast rate. It seemed like after every quest I completed I got more skill points to spend, which kept me interested in playing and fended off the inevitable grinding that plagues so many games. There were areas in the game that were clearly meant for a higher level character with better weapons, but instead of having to go kill the same enemies over and over again, I could just go take care of other parts of the main quest.
The combat plays out in real-time, but similar to Mass Effect, you can slow time down to a crawl in order to give commands to team members, choose your own attacks, or even swap out the commands linked to hotkeys. Since some of the battles can be so hectic (such as when ten guards decide that you should be dead), this is a great way to keep things under control. The ability to re-map the shortcuts to abilities or items is also helpful since you’ll often find yourself running out of ammo very quickly. When using ranged weapons, your character is smart enough to automatically aim at enemies, which means you’ll never accidentally waste ammo.
Some of the fights can be very frustrating, though. I played the game on Difficult mode (one step below Extreme mode), and I often found myself constantly rolling away from the enemies and sneaking a hit in once in a while. Even after getting some spiffy Technomancy powers (think inFamous), the sheer number of enemies made it very difficult to properly block attacks. Unless you want to feel like an ultimate badass and get the achievements for completing the game on the hardest difficulty, play on the medium difficulty setting and enjoy the story…
…but not the dialogue. Mars: War Logs has some of the most awkward conversations I’ve ever had to listen to. Some of them had me laughing uncontrollably during moments that were probably not meant to be humorous. Fortunately, this doesn’t take anything away from the plot, which starts out a bit too slow but quickly picks up the pace and blossoms into an intriguing tale. The game mechanics are good enough, but the story is easily the best feature of the game. Part of this is due to the absence of games set on Mars, which is always an exciting place to visit in a virtual world.
Unfortunately, the graphics of Mars: War Logs are very underwhelming for a game released in 2013. The most glaring disappointment is the character models, especially the facial animations during cut scenes. Lip syncing is frightening at times and barely represents the actual words the characters are speaking. Running animations (especially sprinting) look like they were created by using the motion capture of an ape. There are some moments when the lighting from the sun shines in a beautiful way across the red, barren landscape, but these are few and far between. Overall, this looks like a game that could have been released several years ago.
Most PC gamers want to know the sort of customization options they have available, but Mars: War Logs feels only slightly less limited than a console game. Controls cannot be remapped for keyboard or gamepad at all, and there are only a few graphics options available to change. After the game was released, the developers posted on the Steam forum a way to customize control schemes in a text file, but it’s strange to see this problem in a game that was released on the PC before consoles.
Summary: Many parts of Mars: War Logs feel like a budget game, but that’s OK since this isn’t a major developer charging $60 for a game. The combat is exciting and tense, the story is interesting, and the setting is fresh. The graphics are somewhat lackluster, and the voice acting is atrocious, but for $20 on Steam, this game is worth your time. There isn’t much replay value, so if you want to get all the achievements in one playthrough, you’d better play on Extreme difficulty!
The Good: Combat system works well and is challenging.
The Bad: The graphics are underwhelming and make it look like a game from 2008.
The Ugly: Awkward voice acting and awful lip syncing are a bad combination
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