The Red Planet

With staggering amounts of money and resources being invested into established gaming franchises world wide it seems that low budget studios are feeling the colossal pressure associated with this David vs. Goliath rivalry. Flooding onto the market this week however is Mars War Logs an ambitious new RPG set on the planet Mars by Spiders Studio promising a decadent and futuristic universe ripe with the excitement of an engaging and meaningful narrative where player choice is crucial, coupled with a synergy of dynamic and tactical combat mechanics. So has the underdog revealed its ace in the hole or is their resistance futile?

The opening scenes of the game see the player awkwardly ushered into the introduction of a captured young soldier named Innocence as he ponders his future aboard a prison train bound for a POW camp. Although Innocence essentially serves as nothing more than a glorified narrator and combat accomplice throughout the course of the game it is not long before the player is introduced to the protagonist of the story Roy, also known as Temperance ( yes another god awful “virtue” name), as he rescues Innocence from the clutches of a  violent gang of prisoners. From the narratives’ immediate commencement however it fails to have any form of impact as you are clumsily forced to stumble through copious amounts of downright horrible and at times cringe worthy dialogue as they’re introduced to a cast of deceivingly shallow and uninteresting array of characters . Although the narrative serves as an acceptable means to guide the player through its 10 or so hours of action it fails to enhance or enrich the experience in any way, shape or form.

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Combat however is the heart and soul of an RPG and luckily for Mars War Logs it isn’t all bad news on that front. The skirmishes in Mars War Logs can be a seesaw both hit and miss encounters with an acceptable variety of different enemy types and boss encounters to keep the action from becoming too stale. Although combat is primarily melee based from the get go as players level up they will acquire access to not only ranged weapons in the form of guns but also minor spell casting abilities allowing players a certain degree of diversity in how they engage their enemies. Leveling up doesn’t just end with boosted attributes however as players will gain access to a tiered talent system allowing them to deposit their acquired talent points in any of three available trees, each reaping a variety of different benefits. Players will also acquire a small amount of character trait customization points as their character grows allowing them to further enhance Roy’s abilities.

Although claiming to be set in an action packed and “decadent” universe, Mars War Logs can be a downright linear affair riddled with unpopulated and lackluster environments. Although players will occasionally have the freedom to approach quests on their own accord, the games entirety is nothing more than a mindless romp from A to B with the odd fight in between. Granted wandering down the occasional beaten track might yield some additional resources which can be used in the game’s disappointingly shallow crafting system, but Mars War Logs completely betrays the sense of freedom and exploration the RPG genre is notorious for and the result is a sense of confinement and imprisonment that tarnishes the overall experience.

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To be fair Mars isn’t exactly the most visually stunning environment to work with however Spiders Studio has done an acceptable job of crafting the game’s various cities and environments using the studios in-house Silk Engine. That being said Mars War Logs doesn’t suffer to a great degree visually, the same cannot be said however for the character models and animations. Characters in the game appear both stiff and robotic and the animations can be deplorably sub-par but a great deal of these issues are to be expected given the Studio’s minimal budget. The musical score does a good job of complementing the games violent and somewhat brutal overtone and provides adequate tension during both combat and downtime.

It would be unjust to state outright that Mars War Logs was a poor game, it’s just not great. On all fronts the game is decisively par for the course and although the game’s combat system does have its redeeming features and moments of excitement the whole package just lacks any sense of cohesion.  Although it would have been nice to see more attention designated to delivering an engaging narrative and adding additional depth to the games environments and upgrade systems, it manages to deliver a moderately acceptable experience and another option for players looking to try something different.

Developer: Spiders
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive – QV Software (Australia)
Release Date: April 26th 2013 (PC – Reviewed | XBLA & PSN are Coming Soon)