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   Mars War Logs - Staff Review  

Total Recordkeeping
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
PLATFORM
PC
BATTLE SYSTEM
2
INTERACTION
2
ORIGINALITY
3
STORY
2
MUSIC & SOUND
3
VISUALS
2
CHALLENGE
Moderate
COMPLETION TIME
Less than 20 Hours
OVERALL
2.5/5
+ Interesting world...
- ...but an inconsistent, uninteresting story.
- Bad framerate.
- Clunky combat.
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Editor's Note: This game was played using the original localization and not the recently released new localization. The reviewer examined the new localization for about an hour to determine the difference, but this review may not reflect the extent of those changes on the story as a whole. With the improved dialogue, the overall score has been raised by half a point, which is reflected in the new score.

   Mars: It's a planet, and it's red. There really isn't much more to say about it, and yet Earth's neighbour has remained a popular point in science fiction for decades. Mars War Logs is yet another science fiction piece that makes use of the red planet as its setting, imagining a hostile, war-ravaged world where powerful guilds vie for control over the water supply. Unfortunately, while the game manages to create a potentially interesting world, weird inconsistencies and stiff gameplay blow away any hopes of greatness like a Martian storm.

   The game begins by following an individual by the name of Innocence Smith — on Mars, everybody is named after a virtue — who, after being conscripted into the Aurora army, is captured by the enemy guild Abundance and placed in a POW camp. There he escapes assault thanks to the help of Roy Temperance, the player character and hero of the story. The pair plan an escape from the prison, and later find themselves involved in trying to prevent a coup d'etat by a third faction, the Technomancers, who have the unique ability to use electrical super-powers.

   The game's plot plods forward with very little direction and ends in a spectacularly anticlimactic finale, but it's the little inconsistencies in the world that really drive home how poorly conceived the game's story really is. It begins in a POW camp, but after the escape (which is a full third of the game, by the way), it's revealed that the war is actually already over. But then later the game suggests that it isn't over after all. The technomancers are another weird piece of the puzzle that doesn't quite fit. For instance, it's suggested that only certain people have the ability to become technomancers and are taken away at a young age for training, but at the same time they require special equipment in order to use their abilities. It's also never quite clear how they fit into the world's politics, as they seem to be involved with both Abundance and Aurora, despite the fact that the two guilds are at war. It's a shame that more effort wasn't put into constructing the plot and characters, as some aspects of the world are quite interesting.

He He's called Temperance because he has a temper.

   Of course, the localization is another problem by itself. The dialogue is awkward and filled with typos and grammatical errors, and the voicework ranges from acceptable to monotone. Often the dialogue won't match the subtitles, and even more commonly, inflection will be placed in the wrong spots, changing the meaning of the phrase to something nonsensical and off-putting. It also makes regular use of colorful language, particularly in the first chapter, and if this was an attempt to come across and edgy and mature, it fails miserably and only seems childish and silly. The new localization seems to improve on this a great deal, but some of the old problems still remain. The dialogue is better written and the voicework is read better, but there are still occasions of incorrect inflection. The colorful language is also more subdued and appropriate, capturing the gritty feel of the world that it was supposed to.

   Combat in Mars War Logs is unusual for a science fiction game, focused almost entirely on melee battle. As Roy, players can swing their weapon, typically a metal pipe modified using the game's fairly simple crafting system, perform a guard break attack, dodge, or block/counterattack. In addition, players can learn a variety of special skills and make use of a handful of special consumable weapons such as grenades, traps, or a gun.

   In principle, it's a pretty decent system and allows for a wide variety of strategies, but in practice it's clunky and awkward. The game runs at a fairly low framerate, attack animations are slow, and the input buffer is colossal, making it quite difficult to battle effectively, though the dodge command thankfully acts as a cancel. There's also a set of special, electricity-based abilities called "technomancy" which offer up even more combat options, but unfortunately, for story reasons, they don't even become available until after the first chapter is finished. Likewise, players can spend two skill points per level in one of three skill trees, dedicated to straight combat, stealth and sneak tricks, and technomancy, but the technomancy tree is locked out until the end of the first chapter. The fact that a whole third of the game's combat is locked out for a whole third of the game's duration is absurd and needlessly hinders the player.

All that red replaced with browns and grays. All that red replaced with browns and grays.

   Mars War Logs' crafting system at least is pretty interesting. It's quite simple, using only a small handful of different materials, all of which are plentiful, and can be used to modify weapons and armor or create consumable weapons and ammo. Customization options are plentiful, but unfortunately the actual equipment is not. Players can expect to upgrade maybe once per chapter, and by the time the third chapter rolls around, they ought to have enough materials and cash to buy the best base equipment and upgrade them with the best options available. Had there been a larger and more interesting variety of weapons to upgrade, it would have been a much stronger aspect to the game.

   The art of Mars War Logs is decent, but drab. The environments in all three chapters are very similar, and the colors are nothing but browns and grays, with an overlay of red of course. It brings to mind the classic '80s action film Total Recall, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but the design isn't the main problem, it's the engine. The framerate is biggest offender, which is way too low for a game whose graphics look like an early B-grade Xbox 360 game.

   Mars War Logs could have been a decent game if more time had been put into its strongest point, its vision of a dystopian future Mars. Unfortunately, the story as it's presented is difficult to care about, and the gameplay is too clunky to really be appealing without more driving it forward. It's not a lengthy game, clocking in at about fifteen hours, and it offers up a decent challenge for those seeking one. Strangely, although it offers up an adjustable difficulty scale, that scale goes from Medium to Hard to Difficult, with the Easy setting grayed out when players start a new game. I was unable to determine how to unlock it. The Medium difficulty is pretty challenging on its own, particularly early on, so it's difficult to really call it adjustable. With a dearth of decent western RPGs as of late, players desperate for something new might find that Mars War Logs scratches that itch, but don't expect anything amazing.

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