2012 saw a few joint efforts from developer Spiders; one such effort with Frogwares to bring us The Testament of Sherlock Holmes and Of Orcs and Men in association Cyanide Studios. Both were fairly well-received games critically. Well, Spiders has us caught in their web once again and I'm happy to report they might still be a little shaky, but they're really starting to come into their own. Mars: War Logs is a solid action role-playing game.
As I'm sure you already know, just like with all new good role-playing games Mars: War Logs starts with the main character, Roy in this case, stopping some good ol' fashioned prison rape. Luckily, Roy is the type of badass that can make the would-be rapists back off just by looking at them. By a stroke of fate, Innocence just happens to be the name of guy's ass that Roy saves.
Innocence chronicles his encounters in a journal, which is why the game is called, Mar: War Logs – for the most part the game is Innocence's detailed account of a war on Mars and the aftermath of that war. Mostly ,though, the narrative, world and lore is shrouded in mystery and left up to speculation, but ultimately the story at hand amounts to questioning, morality and ethical necessities on a basic level regarding those who are less fortunate and poverty-stricken and the figures who would exploit those basic ethical codes to gain power.
The issues of moral ambiguity covered by the story tie into the gameplay as well. For instance, as one might suspect, there is no money on the red planet; food, water, metals and precious materials are the valued resources. As such, you'll spend a lot of time with Roy collecting random materials like scraps of metal, leather, bones and so on, which can be used for crafting. But there is also a valued commodity called Serum. Serum can be looted like many random goods but you're also given the choice to extract it from a defeated foe; killing them in the process. Killing enemies to extract Serum will influence Roy's morality, in turn affecting how people treat him, buffs Roy receives, merchant prices and dialogue at times.
The Serum extraction system has some good ideas and it plays into the overall storied themes regarding the measures one will go through to gain power quite well, but it needed better implementation. For instance, it seems strange that a prison in-mate merchant would care if Roy was killing the oppressive prison guards or why a good or bad reputation from a desolate PoW camp early in the game would carry into the next zone that's a completely new city where no one's ever heard of Roy? Like several key aspects of the game, the idea is there for something great, but a wonky follow-through diminishes the experience instead.
On the upside, one of the most important aspects of Mars: War Logs is one of its greatest features and consistent throughout – the combat. Engaging in battle feels somewhat similar to The Witcher 2. One button is used for free-flowing attacks around the battlefield and the other for time parries to counter. Also, Roy can't simply swing away at an enemy to button-mash them to death, attack combos have to be broken up and mixed with guard-breaks and skills. Skills are unlocked by leveling up and distributing points into specific disciplines.
There are three distinct trees to work with: Renegade – which is stealth and gadget usage, Techromancy – the technological lightning mage, and Combat – which is pretty much the warrior with defense and melee abilities.
The various skill trees allow Roy to approach situations differently; he can go head first or sit back and barrage enemies with a nail gun or lighting. He can even sneak stealthily but it's definitely implemented the weakest of the different gameplay styles, besides, the outright melee combat is borderline amazing and stealth pales in comparison… and that's coming from a stealth junkie like myself.
Mar: War Logs is a great game without question, but its frequent drawbacks and inconsistencies take something that could be amazing and simply make it good, which isn't bad, but it just feels like the first attempt at something that's only going to get better. In its current state it's still a solid experience with fun gameplay and an interesting world for sci-fi and RPG fans everywhere.