Impressions: Mars – War Logs

By John Walker on May 2nd, 2013 at 1:00 pm.

On some levels, so much effort must have gone into Mars: War Logs. Not into the name, clearly – that’s an act of self-sabotage that can only have emerged as the result of some unconscious perspicacity as to the game they’d made. But it’s a big, long RPG, albeit one made of tight near-identical corridors, and they don’t just appear. And that’s just a bit sad.

It’s also very clear that War Logs aims to be a lot more than it was ever going to achieve. It clearly wants to be an open-ended RPG where your choices define your character, and the world around you, in an oppressive future set on the wastelands of Mars. What it is, at least in the first few hours, is a series of “run here, do that” tasks back and forth its labyrinthine corridors, with peculiarly arbitrary fights along the way. Sometimes you can finish a quest by fighting, or by not fighting, and then it moves on.

Perhaps the first line of a game isn’t quite as important and mood-setting as a novel’s. But then, when a game’s first line is -

“I never thought I’d end up in the middle of the war, but I didn’t really understand how.”

- the scene is pretty firmly set. Nonsense writing, with clearly no voice direction from those involved with the script (so many lines are delivered badly that it becomes a game to guess how it was meant to be interpreted), rarely puts the player in a confident mood. That the game’s first main scene is then a prison shower rape attempt pitches things a little lower.

However, it does do something of an interesting switcheroony here. The narrator at the start, the young character you follow on his journey to this Mars POW camp, isn’t the character you play – instead you’re the guy who prevents his getting raped. Sadly this also means you’re not the far more interesting personality of a young, wide-eyed kid, drafted into the dying moments of a war, terrified and vulnerable. You are of course the grizzled, hardened soldier man, growl-voiced and cynical, because after all, this is a videogame.

So yes, there’s a war between two, er, sides? It doesn’t really care to explain. And you’re in what must be the friendliest, most chilled out POW camp of all time. The threat in the opening chapter only ever comes from other prisoners, with the guards either indifferent or downright friendly. One even operates as a shop, selling you – um – weapons. Very liberal! Here you’re given a bunch of main and side quests, which all involve running to a point on the dreadful map (the prison is in many sections, but you’re only ever allowed to see the map of the bit you’re currently in) and talking to a person, or killing some stuff, then running back. Then running there again. Then running back. And so on. The backtracking is really quite impressive.

Combat, however, is much more interesting, not least because it’s remarkably difficult from the start. It’s a very brutal, very tough system, primarily composed of melee, with you (and your wide-eyed chum called Innocence – people have “virtue names” it seems) always outnumbered, thumping enemies over the backs of their heads with lead pipes and the like. Because Innocence is generally useless, the fights are usually about one on five or six, and it’s certainly not button spamming. You have to make precise use of your dodge-rolling, blocking, and kick, as well as wildly swinging lumps of metal at their faces. And that’s all before you get the extra powers that come a bit later on. It’s not easy, and often losing can feel a little unfair as you’re overwhelmed and pinned in a corner. But – and how rarely do I get to type this – the checkpoint saving is perfect, and always just before the battle started. There’s a very loosey-goosey stealth mode, that lets you at least get the jump on one of your opponents, and then it’s most about remembering to run away and heal. Well, no, actually run away as you heal, which means you end up running in circles being chased by five men in a single-file line, only lacking Yackety Sax in the background.

I want to medivac the combat out of this game, and put it in something else, something that deserves the challenge. And something that would then clean up the fighting’s frayed edges – clippy scenery, and the increasingly stupid inability to use certain skills if enemies are too close and can interrupt, but saying targets are too far away if you give yourself space.

I persisted for a good long while. I reached what I assume might be the third chapter of the game, but even though I’d now travelled from a POW camp, via a small township, and into the city from which I’m supposedly originally from, nothing has changed. Not the nature of the quests, not the completely inexplicable reasons groups of men are fighting me, and certainly not the scenery, that has remained identical throughout. Finding your way around without the map superimposed on the screen is pretty much impossible, since the same assets fill every location, right down to the same groups of men sat around a table playing invisible poker. But perhaps the most significant lack of change, for any sense of attachment I could have developed for the game, is in my character’s alignment. He’s set to “Neutral”, as he has been since the start of the game, despite everything I’ve done.

I’ve rescued prostitutes from horrible pimps, I’ve gone out of my way to help an enemy mechanic by picking up rubbish for him throughout the entire prison, I’ve even saved all the “dogs” from being put down after a strange disease was sending them mad. That involved so much back-and-forthing as to be ridiculous, and yet, nope, nothing. I may as well have let them get slaughtered. I’ve also not killed a single person. Here the morality is a little wobbly. You can beat a man to death’s door with a spanner, and fill his chest with nails fired from a nailgun, but he’ll only fall to the floor and eternally wriggle about rather than die. To actually kill him you use a device to extract his “serum” – the currency used in the game, that can also be made into health kits – and that leaves him properly dead. I’ve not done that once, and while I’d argue that bludgeoning people to the edge of life perhaps doesn’t qualify for anything above neutrality, that’s the measure the game suggests it’s going to use, and hey – they hit me first!

But ultimately this is picking over details in a game that’s just not worth the time. It’s so intrinsically dreary, infested with a dullness that doesn’t let any of its notions scrabble to the surface to become intrigue. And whatever its story wanted to be, the writing just can’t sustain it. When convincing a guard to help you out requires that you be rude to him, rather than confident in your plan, you know that there’s never going to be a moment where you can be aware you’re making the choices you want through the dialogue. And in the main, it’s just gruff sci-fi filler dialogue, with no peaks to warrant its endless trough.

Maybe something amazing happens moments after I gave up – but it absolutely hasn’t earned the right for that to be discovered if it’s the case. And on the evidence of the first few hours, it seems very unlikely. However, one thing that does seem important to highlight is that the lead character bears an uncanny resemblance – right down to their demonic David Bowie eyes – to RPS’s own man of action, Jim:

Roy Temperance                                                                       Jim Rossignol

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52 Comments »

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  1. maximiZe says:

    Nailed it.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      The last image left me electrified !

      • daemonofdecay says:

        But the world seems to lack any atmosphere and just comes off looking dry and lifeless.

  2. Premium User Badge

    LTK says:

    I really expected better from this game, but I guess that was just my own hopeful optimism.

  3. TormDK says:

    Not everyone has Virtue names Jim, just the Aurora faction/guild.

    The game seems to have a solid and rich lore background to build upon, sadly the lore doesn’t get referanced alot.

    So I’m hoping Mars – War logs Sells good enough for Spider to built a sequel with more lore into it. There’s so many open questions after I went through it that the lore-o-holic in me wants answers to :(

  4. Mr. Mister says:

    A prison sand shower rape.

    • ZIGS says:

      Mars: Bloody Sphincters

      • analydilatedcorporatestyle says:

        :oD Shooting up the wrong coridoor! ‘Air duct not sewer pipe action for me and my now rusty wrench from now on’ shouts NPC, ‘anything to keep the big, bad Jim neutral!’

  5. BobbyKotickIsTheAntichrist says:

    Big long RPG? Must’ve played something else. Also, the game has some atrocious writing and in many instances you could see that the translator/s (I believe the original language is french) weren’t nearly proficient enough, let alone native english speakers. It’s a short, shallow, oftimes nonsensical Witcher-on-Mars-wannabe.

  6. ZIGS says:

    This game clearly suffered from being a downloadable title. Stoopid consoles

  7. Michael Fogg says:

    Overall this appears to be highly inspired by the Gothic/Risen school of rpg. Shame they apparently didn’t have the time to give it enough polish.

  8. StashAugustine says:

    The only thing I can add is that it does actually split the third act between two separate factions with different quests. It’s just a pity the factions are really badly written and acted. I did enjoy the very down-to-earth vibe, the melee combat and the slums, but overall kinda meh.

  9. gruia says:

    Hey, hte game is worth the buck. It starts poorly, but as you go the writing and voices become better strangely. This game has the best characters I’ve seen in a game for years.. since SOul Reaver.
    Dialogs are really good if you compare them to any AAA title.
    As well as the combat. Is much more satsifying than the big titles. Its up to you and your value system to determine what you want in a game.

    I say buy !

    • maximiZe says:

      Spiders pls go

      • Ultra Superior says:

        I ain’t no spider, but I say buy as well.

        The game has something to it. I’ve honestly enjoyed it.

      • transientmind says:

        Nah, I don’t think anyone praising the thing is just astroturfing. You can check my (very occasional) history and clear MASTERY of English(!) to know I’m not involved in this group, and that I still recommend the thing.

        I mean… watch the Steam trailer first, obviously. That trailer really did give hints of promise which were ultimately not fulfilled, but the end result is a quite playable RPG-lite, with a combat and upgrade system that drew me in.

        The RPG part is definitely ‘talk to everyone and follow all the map markers’ but I didn’t experience several of the flaws John did, such as alignment not changing or having an effect on character reactions/discussions, or what I can only assume is a bug in having to be rude to the guard (Bob) to get him to assist you. I didn’t have to be at all.

        I think the problem with it is that all the features and elements it offers ‘on the back of the box’ are there, but there in such bare minimum capacity that the one-line blurb we would hoping implied a deeper experience attached to the advertising is a disappointment.

        If you bother to read up on all the lore entries in the diary/journal and related website material (I was looking for a walkthrough to find that one last item I’d obviously skipped, alright? We’re not in fanboy territory here yet), you’ll find more than enough creative potential to send up sparks in your imagination, but if your imagination doesn’t actually get involved in these things and you consume the content ‘as is’, there is – yes – not much here for you.

        • TormDK says:

          Yeah, the 20 euro Price point was fine with me. Steam says I spent 11 hours on it, and I completed all quests but the 2nd mechanic quest because I couldn’t find the wire he wanted :P

          I would like to see more though, the source they talk about, the episode with the colonists that came to Mars initially, more information about the guilds etc etc.

          The background has further potential that I would like to see explored.

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          Grey Cap says:

          I feel like I enjoyed the game enought to have spent 20 euros on it (and I must be stupid, ’cause it took me fourteen hours to finish), and I really liked the lore/background, but I think that the delivery of the worldbuilding was really weak.

          In the diary, and in the in-game encyclopaedia, why not add some more text? Spiders had a great, great setting all worked out, and I feel like the cheapest way to improve the game would have been to give us more information about their world-building. As it is, the diary is kinda soulless and all the ‘fluff’ is way too short.

          • Kab says:

            I played it and I enjoyed it… Sure it’s rough as a badger’s arse but there is something there.. a spark that made me persevere (despite HATING the combat – ironically about the only thing that got praised in this WIT!)

  10. webwielder says:

    So the question is, is there an option to set the audio to French, and if so, is it a better game because of it?

    Also, what RPG’s quests don’t involve going somewhere, doing something, then going back?

    • maximiZe says:

      You can set the language to French via Steam, but then your whole game will be French, there’s no in-game option to change only audio or subtitles. Given that the English translators haven’t completely rewritten the game this wouldn’t change anything about the atrocious narrative, anyway.

    • stiffkittin says:

      That’s weird, in my Steam description it says only English has full audio support. I took this to mean they only recorded English dialogue and other versions will just be localized with subtitles. This is the main reason I’ve hesitated on buying it because the English dialogue is so awkward. If I could have a version with French audio I’d download it right now.

  11. djbriandamage says:

    The name of this game has me down in the dumps.

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      Kreeth says:

      I was flush with excitement when I saw the first trailer, but that’s definitely wiped away now.

      • djbriandamage says:

        Nothing sadder than an unborn pun thread. Thank you anyway, token punster.

    • stillwater says:

      I’m sure the title must have received some criticism along the way. Yet the writers seemed to remain, er……….undeterred.

  12. pakoito says:

    That Roy’s hair is so 2000 and late…

  13. aepervius says:

    As far as RPG goes, for the price asked, I found it nice enough. It isn’t a 60€ title so judging it on that level you will get disappointed. But as a 19€ title RPG 8 hours game play, it was a nice enough. I paid more going in cinema watching a film which turned out dreary and horrible. Yes it is not triple A , but for what it provides it was way more worth it than many title provided on steam in that price category.

    • webwielder says:

      To me, the price of a game is not that important. I’m more interested in the question, “is this game worth my time downloading, installing, learning the mechanics of, getting used to the controls, and then proceeding to play through and possibly complete?” If a game’s score gets dinged because it is $60 and provides 5 hours of gameplay, then what should the score be 6 months later when it’s $20? And if a game is “good enough” for $15, does that mean it’s a rewarding experience, or simply achieves some modicum of technical competence?

      • jonahcutter says:

        Why wouldn’t price and when you buy a game factor in?

        I got 15 hours out of the much-maligned Sniper Elite Nazi Army. And it was fun pretty much the entire time. 15 hours packed full of sniping cheesy, 80’s, occult zombies. It was $20 I think. I played Far Cry 3 for 12 hours before I got bored with it (with the understanding that a not insignificant portion of that time was driving or running around to locations). I got much more for my money from a silly game about Nazi Zombies than from AAA FarCry3.

        I’d (possibly) be satisfied having payed $20 for FarCry 3. I’m not happy having blown $60. I’d be quite happy having waited 6 months to pay $20 to roll my eyes at, and be bored by it before the halfway mark. I’d give FC3 a “C” for $60 at release. A “B” for $20, 6 months after release seems fair.

        Of course, if I payed $20 for Nazi Zombies now (a few months after release), it’s probably a waste of money as the coop community has likely fallen off.

        Price is a factor. As is when you play it.

        • Ragnar says:

          Because price decreases over time, while the quality of the game generally stays the same, thus a price agnostic review let’s you decide if/when to buy the game and for how much.

          Because determining the value of a game is even more subjective than determining its enjoyment and quality. Each person has a different value scale for their time and money.

          Because quantity does not equate to quality, else we’d all be playing free MMOs.

          We certainly have higher expectations from big budget titles, but all games share the expectation of being good.

        • Soldancer says:

          I think the factor of price point is a tricky one, and one that is unevenly addressed through my experience of critical games journalism.

          In an ideal world, we would hold all games to the same critical standards of quality, nebulous though those may be. I believe this is a good in concept, but the problem is that this notion of serious criticism borrows so heavily from film, and this is a problem.

          With movies (in the States at least), there’s something like a $10 range for a movie to just watch it, and around a $25 range to own it. The latter is mostly irrelevant because (and I have no evidence to support this but it makes sense) I don’t think most people would buy a movie that they had not already seen for more than it might cost to rent it.

          With games on the other hand, you have a huge spread in price point, from a couple of dollars on Steam up to your full-priced $60+DLC AAA games. While I agree in principle that cost should have no bearing on a true critical analysis of the artistic and entertainment value of any medium, I think it’s overly idealistic to presume that people aren’t interested in this sort of cost-to-enjoyment analysis as well.

          It leaves us at something of an impasse. Rating something based on cost can undermine its artistic merits, but rating something purely on merit can undermine that it might be a really good value for the fun that IS present.

          • maximiZe says:

            You simply mustn’t incorporate the price point in your review. Provide the reader with the facts (e.g. playtime estimate) and let him decide for himself, anything else would undermine the point of a critical analysis.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Hmmmm. Some of the comments on this site are getting harder and harder to read. I wonder…

  14. shamann says:

    Having now finished the game, I wonder why they didn’t call it Mars: War Diary. Still a bit awkward, but not as awkward, and tips a hat to their MacGuffin.

  15. Keyrock says:

    I like the game. The criticisms aimed at it in this article are fair, but I enjoyed the game nonetheless. It was easily worth the $16 I spent on it.

  16. Lagwolf says:

    No re-binding keys… so no left-handed game-play = no sale. You gotta love the fanboyz trashing anyone on the steam forums because they want to re-bind keys.

    • shamann says:

      Even right-handed, no re-bind was irritating. I adjusted fine at some point, but still irritating, especially since some of the mapped keys are all over the place.

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    Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    ONCE MORE HAVE I GAZED UPON THE FACE OF ROSSIGNOL

    The prophecy is one step closer to being fulfilled.

  18. Simon Hawthorne says:

    Why am I reading some of these comments with a French accent? Anyone else getting that?

  19. Tyrone Slothrop. says:

    Maybe something amazing happens moments after I gave up – but it absolutely hasn’t earned the right for that to be discovered if it’s the case. And on the evidence of the first few hours…

    You gave up on it? Good heavens what do we pay you for?

  20. Sardukar says:

    Well, I picked this up and have been well enjoying it. COmbat is fun and challenging, I like the setting, art and even the plot. I enjoy making good/evil choices and not worrying that I’m gianing or losing mystical points for them.

    My magic powers are fun – shields up, zap a guy and bounce him back all in one go.I kind of feel like a Snake Plissken-style character. With magic powers. And worse hair. Yes, worse than the Mullet.

    I say buy as well – it’s been a lot of fun.

    Of course, I also enjoy Blood Dragon and both this and Blood Dragon more than Neverwinter, so I’m thinking Walker and I are on opposite ends of the gaming fun spectrum right now.

  21. Shadowcat says:

    ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff

  22. stillwater says:

    I bought this on an impulse the other day, played it for an hour, and found it underwhelming, pretty much for the reasons you outline. I intended to return to it though – but now I know that I needn’t bother. Thanks for taking one for the team. You’ve done your job well.

    As for the Jim resemblance, that is incredible! The face alone would be quite a coincidence. But with the bi-coloured eyes as well….that kind of coincidence is just hard to fathom.

  23. Muzman says:

    Jim looking very much like a cross between Clive Owen and Vinnie Jones there.
    This is why Big Robot’s staff is so small; new people too unnerved to join, current crew too terrified to leave.

  24. HumpX says:

    the chick who does one of the trailers looks like a goer.

    Im trying to be positive here folks, help me out……..

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    stahlwerk says:

    Bowie actually has two blue-coloured eyes, but the one’s pupil is permanently dilated, which makes it seem darker. </funfact>

  26. kyvitti says:

    is there any game that this f^@&in website does like. I wont be coming back here cool name R,P, Shotgun , but that’s all that’s cool about this site. you guys are lame and need to get better people to play these games. oh and I bet you all gave the game DARK a good review, that is a game that royally sucks all around.