Also On: PS3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Mars: War Logs is the absurdly named new RPG by Spiders. Set on a human inhabited, war embroiled Red Planet, it follows the tale of the equally absurdly named Roy Temperance. Roys tale isn’t one for the faint of heart, featuring murder, mayhem, copious amounts of profanity and last but not least, attempted buggery. Welcome to Mars, tourist destination of kings.
I have an overwhelming urge to be generous to Mars. Maybe because Mars one of the few celestial bodies I’ve seen through a telescope. It could be because I find the name so gripping I never want to hear another name again. Of course not, it’s got a bloody stupid name, like nearly everything inside the game with a name. I want to be generous because Spiders have ambition. It seeps out of every pore like the serum you can extract from men, If that’s your sort of thing.
Ambition is all good and fine if you have the means to pull it off. Sadly, this is where Jupiter: Peace Talks falters, but not without giving it everything it could. It manages to pull off some strong moves amidst the falls,which has resulted in a disjointed experience. The major downside for me is that the larger negatives were avoidable and I imagine wouldn’t have impacted the budget that much.
I mention the budget because this is a budget affair which makes the result all the more impressive. Being a game made on, and for a budget is not a bad thing. You know how much you can spend and you aren’t pricing yourself out of the range of people wanting to pick something up something reasonably priced. One thing, if you’re on a budget it stands to reason you would focus it to get the best results you can. It’s plain where the budget was spent, everywhere but the writing and voice acting which is a mistake for a RPG, something that can almost rely on it’s writing.
While it isn’t too big of an impact and it doesn’t get in the way of the story, it is certainly an issue. I like to think I can ignore things here and there but with Mars the errors are consistent. Frequently, and I mean every other sentence, what you read will not be the same as what you hear and sometimes it will barely even mean the same. This is probably because the writing is in broken English at the best of times. I assume it was translated in house by one of the team where English is their second language which is a shame. I’ll argue that this is Spiders biggest mistake, I can’t imagine it would cost too much to get a fluent English speaker to go over it before it makes it into the game. Hell, I imagine a number of people in the modding scene would do it for the price of a baguette, just to get their name on the credits of a published game. For that matter, so would I.
The Voice Acting is equally bad. The differences to the script I can attribute to the bad translation and what I assume was a decision to have the English speakers say what made more sense to them, within reason. I figure if you don’t actually read the script while listening, and only read your options in the conversation then it may even seem half decent which will vindicate the deviation. Yet in a perplexing move they didn’t do this for all the bad lines. The first line you see is “I never thought I’d end up in the middle of the war, but I didn’t really understand how” and it is also spoken that way. If you’re a native or fluent English speaker you can probably decypher the line. However it doesn’t set a high tone for the rest of the experience if you’re one of those literary sorts.
As with the writing, the story starts equally bad. To not beat around the bush – or I should say anus – you’re about five seconds away from seeing what would be a painful prison rape scene where a big fat man, flanked by his cronies, rapes the stuffing out of the poor new kid, Innocence. Of course you don’t get to play as the almost-rape victim, we have time to develop the personality of an innocent kid who know nothing of the horrors of war and the world. Uranus: Conflict Diaries is actually the story of Roy, as told by Innocence in his diary. Roy, being the gruff, no nonsense, badarse ex-soldier is exactly who we’re used to. Welcome aboard, generic tough guy.
Actually, that’s unfair. While Roy may look like the same angry git we see in every Shooter, Action and Western RPG, he’s actually a pretty decent character. He can be as much of an arsehole or nice-guy as you like. I tend to choose what I like to believe I’d choose in real life, so in Roy’s shoes I was a nice guy. I didn’t take advantage of mentally scarred women who wanted to shag me to have me keep them around, I saved people from the life of addictive drugs and I caved in the skull of a date-rapist who murders his victims. I’m a bloody saint I am, move over Jesus.
Good and Bad, the copout method of ‘increasing replay value’ by giving you two near identical paths to go down. Thankfully Mars moves away from that. The only difference between being a good guy or being a bad guy are passive abilities. A good guy gets better prices in stores and his followers get more HP. A bad guy has more chance of inflicting critical hits and wounding enemies. I’d also say that good is morally ambiguous at best. I think I took the good path in caving in the skull of the rapist. Sure, I didn’t have evidence until I pilfered his corpse, but he was the bad guy.
Thankfully the story moves on from the low point of prison buggery. After saving Innocence, Roy recruits him into his plan to escape the POW camp they are both in. As you go along you will of course escape the POW camp and then move on to other areas, including a town and a village. If this doesn’t make it sound very large then that’s because it isn’t. Mars, lasting between ten to fifteen hours, feels like the end third of what is a much larger RPG, where a new character was introduced and this is his perspective of events. Even with the short length there is allowance made for player decisions to impact the story without dropping into clear good or bad moral choice. This includes a choice between two factions to join for the third and final chapter.
This shorter length doesn’t make it bad. The exposition is there, though it suffers as a result of the aforementioned writing and can, at times, become hard to follow. There is progression in characters as you can end up with a bit of a love affair with one of your female companions. I actually only went with one of them because I’d only known the other about ten minutes. This quicker character progression is one of the casualties of a shorter RPG with the aims of a larger one. There is little time to get attached to some characters, and with others you can take a bit of time and hear their story and possibly feel some empathy, and poof, they’re killed even if you’ve got rid of the enemies. It’s all for the sake of story, an attempt to generate emotion that falls flat.
Where Mars shines is in it’s combat and crafting. Similar to that in Of Orcs and Men but much more challenging. It focuses on melee combat as a priority which suits the story perfectly. You’re a prisoner escaping from a POW camp, I highly doubt you’re going to get your hands on a space blaster anytime soon. What you do is make the best of what you’ve got and that is whatever you can get your hands on. Your first weapon is quite simply a tube. When I finished the game I had advanced from that tube, to an Iron bar which I had given an axe head and a plated grip.
You upgrade weapons with what is possibly the most logical crafting system I’ve ever encountered. Every bit of rubbish you find on the floor or from looting the unconcious or dead body of your enemy can be put to use. You can’t do anything magical, just adding bits to your weapon to either make it sharper, heavier, more protective to your hands and such as that. You can also upgrade armour in the same way to offer more protection.
It is a little strange that even though we’ve colonised Mars, we’re back down to using mostly melee weapons in combat. Firearms do make an appearance but for everybody they are little more than bolt guns, one shot then a reload making it a bad choice of weapon against multiple targets. You also unlock the abilities of the Technomancers (ultimately the big-bad of the game). This is magic, only here it’s created by technology. Wires and such giving you control of electricity, allowing you to either zap an enemy, charge your weapon or create a shield.
You will need all your options in combat. It can quite often feel unfair as you are pit against multiple enemies with little help from your weak companion and there is no doubt they can hit as hard as you. Using evasion and blocking is your best way to defend. The AI is just as good at defending which means you will need to mix your attacks up. You can stick to melee, but moving and mixing up your normal attack with a guard-breaking pummel is the easiest way to success.
The other way to help yourself is by selecting skills, points are gained through leveling up as normal, that suit your fighting style the most. You have the option of going the more combat based route, increasing damage, evasion and defense. Technomancy for your damage and abilities there. Also there is renegade for the more stealthy approach, which is sadly not that good and something I ignored for the most part.
Where the voice acting may have suffered from the budget choices, visuals certainly haven’t. There’s a nice amount of detail put into everything you see and a lot of work certainly went into it. From what you interact with to the random NPC’s in the background who are just there for dressing, even to the backdrops. While detail is there, a lot of the assets are reused and you end up seeing the same person quite frequently if you look at them closely.
As for other audio. The sound of thudding in battle, as with the electric charges are all very good and effective. It adds that extra oomph to the fighting. I can’t say the same for the music as it is completely forgettable. Even now I couldn’t even start to tell you what any of the tracks sounded like.
All in all, for the budget affair that it is, Mars: War Logs is certainly something I can approve of. It has some serious flaws in writing, voice acting and especially in character development out side of a key few. At the same time the combat system is utterly brutal and engaging, something deserving of so much more attention than it will get as a part of this. Even if only for the combat it’s worth taking a look.