Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mars: War Logs (XBLA) Review

The world of Mars in Mars: War Logs is a dystopian, steam punk-like future.  Buildings are run down, poor people lay down in the street and the military is in control.  Of course the atmosphere has a red tint to it, this is Mars after all.  I think it does a good job of looking realistic while still being fantastical.  The character animations are fine.  There is the occasional clipping, strange camera angles during conversations, and even a few environmental glitches.  That last part is probably my nitpicking from my game tester days.  Either way, the game looks like what you would expect from a sci-fi RPG set on Mars.

Some of the dialog and voices have been redone for the console release.  I'm not sure what exact lines were redone, but there is a part near the beginning that I suspect is.  Early on, Roy is talking to a fat prisoner and several of the fat prisoner's lines are odd, as if they are out of order.  Most of the voices in the game are fine, but there are a few voices that are flat on the delivery.  There is a fair amount of swearing, especially in the beginning, so I definitely didn't play it around my kids.

Most of the time, you will be running around solving quests and fighting.  There are many fights throughout the game, and they can get tricky.  The face buttons will attack, guard break, block and dodge roll.  The Left Bumper will pull up your skill wheel so you can use an ability or give orders to your teammate.  The remaining shoulder buttons can be mapped to three of the skills you would like quick access to.  It works well, and the only complaint I have is that sometimes the button presses are remembered or queued up in some way.  For example, if I'm mashing dodge to try and avoid a group of enemies all swinging at me, sometimes I'll roll twice.  Also, I've had Roy do an extra attack when I don't intend him to do so.

It wouldn't be an issue, but the fights can get really hard.  Enemies frequently outnumber you, even with another character helping you, and they can hit really hard.  The enemy AI is also smart enough to block and sidestep frequently if you go all out an attack them relentlessly.  There's even a few that you cannot hurt by attacking their front, and you have to roll behind them to damage them.  I like that you can't just smash your way through guys, but it's annoying when they keep dodging or blocking and they have so little health and you just want them dead so you can focus on the other three people trying to kill you.  The best ways to make the fights easier to deal with is sticking and moving (attacking once or twice and then dodging away) and taking advantage of status attacks.  Blinding, stunning and wounding an enemy makes them easy pickings, and can definitely make the difference between survival and reloading.

At the end of the first chapter, you will gain access to Technomancy abilities.  Basically, it is the game's version of magic and allows you to use abilities that harness electricity.  You get some damaging attacks, a shield and a weapon power up.  They can be pretty helpful to use, especially the weapon power-up.  The only real downside is that they take a fair amount of Fluid, the game's version of MP, and the start-up time.  In the middle of a fight, the enemy might not let you have the few seconds you need to use the fancy abilities, which can make them less than desirable to use.
Soldier tries to dodge nail gun; gets hammered.
While fights in Mars: War Logs can be pretty hard, crafting good equipment can make it easier.  I like the crafting system, as you basically add a component into a weapon or armor's available slots.  It adds a good amount of customization, since the part you put in will change the bonuses the weapon has.  You can increase the weapon power, defense power, crit rate and more, or combinations of them.  Crafting supplies are plentiful, so there's no reason not to put in what you want or need and make the fights easier.  Old or unnecessary weapons and armor can be broken down into more components, or a chance at getting back some of the ones put into it.  Even better, you rarely have to buy them, as I've received most of them from quests.  It's not a hard system to learn, so do it really helps you survive.

There are three skill trees - Combat, Renegade and Techomancy - and many skills in each where you can place skill points.  The only real restriction (besides having to beat the first chapter for one of them) is having to put a certain amount of points into a tree to unlock higher tier skills.  It makes sense, and you have a lot of freedom when building your character, which I am always a fan of.  Many of the skills are useful too, like increasing your critical rate after a roll or increasing the size of your blinding "dirt throw" ability.  Early in the game, you can quickly get a few levels which allows you to jump right in and actually play around with making Roy play how you want him to.

There's also feat points that are obtained when gaining levels.  These allow you to choose other skills, such as increased experience from kills and unlocking better crafting options.  To set these apart, most skills have to be unlocked before they can be purchased.  For example, looting bodies will unlock the option to buy feats that increase the chances you will find things on your kills.

Mars: War Logs has 3 chapters and several main and side quests to complete in each chapter.  I'm pretty meticulous about getting and completing the side quests before advancing the plot, and it took me about 5-6 hours per chapter.  Admittedly, there are a few quests I missed.  Besides some morality choices, there are two different factions you can join at the end of chapter 2, which will affect the third chapter and the ending.  Add in the different ways you can approach fights because of the skill trees, and that equals some decent replayability.

There are a few achievements that you can get really early, like using a skill point and making a piece of equipment.  There are several obtained for completion on the harder difficulties and one for each faction.  The hardest is probably beating it on the hardest difficulty setting, considering the fights can be hard on just the "normal" setting.  Completing all of the side quests can be the most time consuming, because some side quests can be easily missed and will require another playthrough.

Besides the tough fights, Mars: War Logs was a fun game.  Heck, even the fights were sometimes fun when they went my way.  Taking advantage of status ailments is definitely key to making them easier.  There's lots of different ways to build your character and different options to make your equipment better.  The different factions and even romance options make for some nice extra things to do, but they come pretty late.  One run through the game is about 15 or so hours, which is pretty decent for $15.  There were several points where I found myself playing a little bit more instead of going to bed, and it was fairly easy for me to get sucked into the world, punishing combat and all.

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