Monday, May 6, 2013

Review - Mars: War Logs

Today in gaming: I played Mars: War Logs -- a third-person cyberpunk-themed action adventure RPG -- where you play the role as Roy, a badass prisoner of war who decides he's had enough of prison life and makes plans to escape.

The game takes place in a distant future where humans have colonized the planet Mars -- but have splintered into two factions that are loyal to two competing water extraction companies that are engaged in all out war.

The first faction -- the Aurora -- is heavily religious and demand absolute obedience from their citizenry. They require people to change their first names to "moral" adjectives -- like Temperance and Sobriety.

The second faction is known as the Abundance and they are even worse. They are dictatorial and use blackmail to control the water trade.

In this game, there is no one to root for but yourself and a handful of companions who you befriend along the way. You find a lot of corruption and abuse.

This game is gritty and contains lots of foul language. Your introduction into the game comes when you save a young boy from being sodomized by the prison hard-case.

What I like most about this game is the plot. There are multiple story threads. At one point I was investigating the sudden onslaught of aggressive behavior by the camps dogs as possibly being related to an hence-unknown virus. At the same time, I was attempting to get to the bottom of the men of the dust -- a mutant race that may be being brainwashed and experimented on by the camp guards. Not all the guards, mind you. One of the guards I was trying to get home to his wife. And of course, there's the main story plot where I hate being locked up in a dusty dog-filled, mutant-making, guard-depressing cesspool.

This game has a few tongue in cheek references. For instance, at the start of the game, you have to make contact with two NPCs -- Jay and Bob -- and Bob has trouble speaking... making him "silent".

I adopt this little brat named Innocence who insists on speaking with every NPC even though conversations with -- say armed guards -- can sometimes be nuanced and he has the social skills of a rhino.

So setting and plot are great, but the mechanics are more of a mixed bag. The voice overs don't match the moving lips, but I'm okay with that. And the voice acting is a mixed bag; some of them are really engaging and well performed while others are clearly cut together with editing software.

The game gives you a comprehensive upgrade system and a "war log" section that's like a personal diary of all the information you have found out so far. You can read a lot of good data on the history and happenings of the area. So let's do pros and cons. To start with, the things that I like most about this game include the upgrade system for your clothes and weapons -- which allows you to use random scraps of cloth and metal to improve your stuff. Once you're finished, you can physically see the upgrades on your character.

Combat is tricky -- but in a good way. It's not just run in and clobber the guy. You have to roll, dodge, maneuver, and break their guard to finish them off. For instance, dogs are fully armored on their head, meaning that to kill them, you have to roll behind them and attack from the rear. While not perfect, the system requires some thought and care -- a perfect fit with an RPG.

As I said earlier, the side quests are great and give you extra stuff to think about while trying to take care of yourself and your side kick.

This game is more wide open than most, but you can't just walk anywhere. There are certain places that are locked until later. Some games would let you enter those places and just have the NPCs within stand around staring at you. That breaks immersion. Keeping me out of places makes me wonder what is in them. That makes it much better later when I finally break in and start looting.

Throughout the game, there are observation points that clue you in on stuff you'll need to know about in the future. These are mini cut scenes that sadly you can only see once, but are retained in your war log as text if you want to read about them further. So watch those moments carefully.

Now, there were some negatives to the game. From a settings standpoint, the settings menu leaves a lot to be desired. You cannot rebind your keys -- which is a pain because I hate WASD.

Whenever you enter or exit an area via a door, you must watch an animation of you opening and then closing the door. This is a huge pain, but, if your right-click during the animation, it will go away. With a little practice, you can make these animations bearable.

You cannot jump -- which is a huge missed opportunity because there are places in this game that could be fantastically sexy and useful if you could only jump on top of them. This game is about exploration at it's heart and that is a huge misstep.

Sometimes when you search a dead body, it comes up with a message that says, "nothing found". If you are a game designer, don't ever do that. Nothing is more annoying. I understand that in real life sometimes there's nothing there when you look under things, but in video games, don't waste my time. If there's nothing there, don't let me click on it.

And lastly in the con section, when you kill an enemy who was wielding a machete, you can't pick up the machete. That makes no sense. And in a game where so much attention was paid to making full use of the stuff you find in the environment, this sticks out like a sore thumb.

This game reminds me very strongly of my favorite game ever, Knights of the Old Republic -- which was a game from the good people who used to work for Bioware before they were destroyed by the toxic darkness.

I am absolutely going to continue playing Mars: War Logs until I finish it, as the plot has captured my attention, the characters have piqued my curiosity, and I have finally been conditioned to right click during the door opening sequences to skip the animations.

I highly recommend this game for anyone who enjoys a good RPG. You can pick it up on Steam currently for $19.99US. For the quality and content of this game, that's a steal!

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