You only need to read Mars: War Log’s awkwardly-worded name to know if it’s for you. An action-RPG that looks like Fallout and Red Faction were thrown in a blender, Wars Logs‘ drab exterior hides some pretty interesting depth. If only I hadn’t got stuck.
In the game’s opening scene, you watch a young man – a prisoner of war – mewl about his time in the service, how his superiors didn’t have the best of intentions and how war is hell, et cetera. The characters of this world are given “virtue names” that, perhaps ironically, associate them to their actions. This kid is “Innocence”, who finds himself about to lose his when a gang of prisoners attempt to rape him. They take their rape ball and go home when Roy, a Fonz-like in a leather jacket, takes notice. Of course, you don’t play Innocence, you play Roy, which simply adds to the game’s awkward start. Roy wants out of prison and because he’s sly, resourceful, and has connections, that becomes your ultimate goal.
A little over a decade ago, Codemasters released a game called Prisoner of War for the original Xbox that had you running around and manipulating Nazi camps, Hogan’s Heroes-style. That was far more puzzle than War Logs is, but as I played through this game, I couldn’t help but feel how much more interesting it would be if structured that way, rather than as a traditional RPG. Because you’re the suave Roy Temperance, you kinda go as you please, which limits the threat and setting of being a prisoner of war.
You’ll collect tons of scrap, you can craft things, you have talent trees to dump points into. You have quests, you have dialogue trees, you have NPCs that are largely useless. The game brands its Silk engine up front, but it’s nothing special; the game looks old. Characters have no inertia, they simply run, walk and snap into the directions you point them in. I have an Xbox 360 controller handy, but a cursor kept popping up on my screen from time to time before dismissing itself.
So how did I get stuck? The game’s combat isn’t that far off from the attack/parry/counter-hit system of Assassin’s Creed (which I’ve played) and The Witcher (which I have not). At a point about two hours in, you’re sent off to an area called The Cisterns and what seemed like a relatively pleasant difficulty ramped up immediately. No matter of rolling, timing, or hitting would let me defeat these clumps of enemies. It leads me to believe that you can skill your way into a corner from which no amount of strategy or button mashing will help. Unlike Assassin’s Creed, where enemies will queue up for your disposal, watching Roy slowly animate himself back to a standing position to continue the battle while four or five moles cluster around him is no fun matter. Remember camera issues? This game sure has them, even with a lock on feature – one that likes to flip to other enemies at inopportune times.
So I’m stuck. I was having a decent time with the game and while it’s no barnstormer, it would’ve been interesting to see more of the story unfold. In the same way that Mass Effect provides tons of background information through text terminals, War Logs provides a wealth of background information about all that War Logging that I didn’t care slightly about. Then again, reading in a video game is more challenging than enticing. Oh well.