You ever play one of those games that you should like, but for some reason you don’t? You know: the kind of game that, on paper, has everything you’re looking for in an enjoyable experience, but just never really comes together. For me, Mars: War Logs is such an example.
French developer Spiders (Eww… spiders!) threw a bunch of good ideas and inspiration from other games against the wall, and unfortunately very little stuck. On top of that, the game has one very fatal flaw on the PC platform. Read on…
Mars: War Logs is a heavy handed RPG that mixes the best parts of Red Faction and Mass Effect, and fails to get them right. It’s the kind of game that confuses a flurry of f-bombs and homosexual rape for a mature storytelling experience. The game is essentially told through the eyes of a young, innocent prisoner of war named Innocence. You may begin rolling your eyes. The character you play throughout the story is named Roy Temperance, and “temperate” he is not. As soon as you get a look at his douchebag emo haircut and David Bowie eyeliner, you pretty much know everything there is to know about the kind of character he is: Video Game Cliché #8 – The Badass Rogue.
You begin the game in a prisoner of war camp in one of the most painfully boring and protracted first story acts I have ever experienced in my 30 years of gaming. It’s full of awkward storytelling, clumsy character development attempts, and pointless fetch quests. All of this leads to a second act that does little to remedy the situation outside of changing environments and enemy types. Oh, and you gain access to your Technomancer abilities, which allow you to generate electrical attacks and defensive maneuvers. The third act is more of the same, leading to a merciful conclusion.
Overall, the story is a convoluted and confusing affair about different factions battling for control over Mars’ water supply. There are a handful of arch enemy clichés, and a story twist you can see coming from the other side of the galaxy.
Mars: War Logs is an immediate FAILURE in the gameplay department because developer Spider did not include customizable keyboard/mouse controls. To make things worse, this is the second time Spider has done this. Their previous game, Of Orcs and Men, also did not have customizable controls, and many people (including myself) completely skipped purchasing the game because of this (see the Steam message boards for proof of disappointment). It’s too bad because it looks like a very interesting game. If I did not get to play Mars: War Logs for free for this review, I would never have purchased it because of its lack of customization. I played the game with an Xbox 360 wireless gamepad, and the game worked well enough with the peripheral. That’s not surprising since this is also an Xbox LIVE title. Sure, I could have played MWL with a gamepad and just shut up about it (same with Of Orcs and Men), but it’s the principle of the matter that bothers me so much. Not every PC player has a gamepad, and customizable controls are just one of those things that every PC game should have… it’s one of the main benefits of playing a game on the PC, and almost every other PC game incorporates this feature.
Enough of that rant.
MWL plays competently enough from a technical standpoint. The game mixes the requisite combat menus, upgrades trees, skills trees, equipment upgrades, etc. and does so well enough; everything is laid out well and easy to navigate. It’s just too bad it’s wrapped around a second rate game.
You’ll either love the combat system, or hate it. You lock on to an enemy and wail away with melee or ranged attacks. The problem is enemy encounters can be difficult, and you can quickly be outnumbered. You end up evasion-rolling around so much that while you should look like a badass warrior firing lighting bolts, you end up looking like a doofus who can’t quite figure out the concepts of gravity and balancing on two feet. Additionally, the camera will often work against your best efforts. You have to actively evade enemies so much that you frequently roll behind something, or (worse) the enemy you’re locked on to swings out of view. You end up having to babysit the camera way too much.
Spider is making quite the noise about its Silk Engine, which powers this game. If you look at the company’s web site, it’s very obvious they are trying to generate an income stream by licensing it. The only niche I can conceive of for this engine is if they license it at a very budget price for indie developers. Silk does not stand up to today’s best engines. I found the game’s promotional screenshots do not represent what the game looks like in motion. Textures are a mess up close. It’s difficult to explain, but textures seem over delineated, as if each bit of detail has a heavily inked outline, which makes it look unreal. It’s somewhere between a cartoon and reality. My guess is the texture artists used this technique to try to emphasize fine detail, and ended up muddling the overall look.
Other engine problems: there is no physics code, which is inexcusable in this day and age (no ragdolls or other rigid body effects). Animations in this game are awful. Really, really, really awful. Idle animations are terrible on a subatomic level. No one can sit or stand still and have a conversation. Every character sways and fidgets so much you begin to wonder if these characters are all smoking crystal meth. There’s one NPC early in the prison level that rocked and swayed and fidgeted so much during standard dialog, he acted like someone plagued with Tourette’s syndrome who had too much caffeine AND desperately had to have a pee. Lip synching is also laughable.
The lighting effects and skin textures are nice, though.
The voice acting in this game is so bad, you have to wonder why none of the recording engineers or mixers pulled the director aside and said, “Hey, you know, my 6-year-old niece was in a kindergarten play about the importance of washing your hands after using the bathroom, and you might want to consider firing all of these voice actors and using some of those kids instead.”
On the bright side, the music is pretty good.
I did not experience any bugs or glitches.
Part Red Faction, part Mass Effect, part inFAMOUS, and all disappointing. It’s difficult to criticize a budget game too much, but the reality is the game is not good, no matter the price. The bigger concern for older, busier gamers like me is not the price, but time. With a tight schedule already filled with work and other family and life commitments, when I get the chance to play a game it needs to be worth my limited time. If you find yourself in the same situation, rest assured that there are numerous other games that you should play instead.
Convoluted and amateur.
No customizable mouse/keyboard bindings. Automatic failure.
Weird textures and fundamentally horrible animations.
Atrocious voice acting.
FINAL SCORE: D