4 Jan

Mars: War Logs

Filed under: PC Games No Responses


On Mars, you will see lots of brown and red.

I bought this both because there aren’t many RPGs in a sci-fi setting and because it a full-fledged open-world game made by a small French developer. It’s an action RPG set on Mars, complete with skill trees, a crafting system, a morality system, a companion system etc. It’s really quite surprising how much they managed to work in, but it may have been better if they had just chosen a few things and really perfected them.

  • Graphics look dated, especially when you first lay eyes on the opening cutscene but as usual with these things they’re passable enough that your eyes get used to them. To its credit, it open in media res and doesn’t try to weigh you down with a massive infodump right from the beginning. Instead, it introduces you to a sympathetic character and you glean the backstory from his recollections. That’s a pretty decent storytelling technique.

  • I found the Mars setting to be intriguing and gritty in a good way. There’s a sense of how hard day-to-day survival is and how water is such a precious resource that basically entire states are organized around its availability. The art style and ramshackle nature of the buildings reinforce how this is a society that has fallen from its technological peak and is now just barely getting by. The stories told through the quests are in the same vein. Nothing exceptional or particularly new, but solidly grounded in its setting with a convincingly realistic feeling.


On Mars, you will fight other humans with axes and nails.
  • Of course, this low-tech on Mars setting is just an excuse to explain why the gameplay is basically like every fantasy action RPG ever. Most combat is melee, with clubs, axes and knives as weapons. The only ranged weapon you can use is a nailgun. About one-third of the way through, you unlock what are essentially magical spells: offensive and defensive buffs, attacks to stun enemies or physically repel them and so forth. In fact, the three skill trees correspond to warrior, rogue and wizard. That’s how closely the gameplay maps to the standard fantasy RPG archetype.
  • But what really loses me that its combat system is spectacularly fucked up. You can tell that they’re trying to copy the mechanics of games like The Witcher 2 or even the Batman games, but they just can’t pull it off correctly. There’s a normal attack, a defense breaking attack, rolling, a parry / counter and so forth. The problem is that none of your animations get invulnerability frames, nor do enemies refrain from attacking while you’re performing an animation. This makes all of your fancy moves pretty much useless if you face more than one enemy at a time, and that is pretty much what happens all the time. It’s a frustrating system that has all the hallmarks of not having undergone sufficient playtesting.
  • Combine this with the fact that your health actually regenerates (slowly) while in combat, and you soon find that the best tactic is to constantly kite the enemies, roll in for a strike and roll out again. If you do get hit, just keep away until you heal up. It’s so effective because the AI is too dumb to do anything but chase you down in a straight line. You pretty much have to resort to this in Hard and Extreme difficulty modes because the enemies hit so hard and have such ludicrously high health. This tactic makes winning trivial but extremely boring.


On Mars, you will fight giant humanoid moles.
  • The lack of polish shows up everywhere by the way. Enemies and allies frequently get stuck amidst the architecture. The camera system is terrible and the lock-on mode is completely unusable. During cutscenes, the camera angle changes abruptly as it switches focus from one face to another. This game should really be played with a controller, but too many things rely on you still needing to resort to a keyboard to make it viable. Immersion is steadily given less importance as the game progresses. The levels are populated by minimally animated NPCs who don’t react at all even when a fight is going right in front of them.
  • The other systems in the game aren’t any better. There is a whole crafting system but really not that many things to craft, especially since some items are clearly better than others and there doesn’t seem to be any way to meaningfully equip yourself differently according to your playstyle. There are merchants but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to buy things. Quests will give you the best items eventually and there are tons of crafting materials all over the place. There is a companion system, but you can only have one at a time and they are so weak that their contribution to any fight is negligible.

For all these reasons, while the setting is intriguing enough to make you interested in the story and the characters, the actual gameplay is so bad that it is off-putting. To me, the developers had some great ideas about the setting and the story and with regards to game mechanics, they clearly knew enough to copy from the best. But they were too ambitious and their resources were insufficient to fully realize their vision. As much as I want to reward small developers for being bold, I don’t think I can recommend this game. It’s too much of a half-baked mishmash of stuff that excels in nothing in particular.


On Mars, as on Earth, the cops are not your friends.
Written on January 4 2015 and is filed under PC Games. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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