Mars: War Logs Preview (PS3)

It’s fair to say at the moment that unless you’re a AAA-funded project, supported by a well-known publisher or even a smaller budgeted indie title with a crazy idea, things get a little tricky for you in terms of what you can do, and how well you might be received. The ‘middle-ground’ is a dangerous place to be, publishers and developers are being forced to develop new ways of thinking to tackle this problem. Take Mars War Logs for example – a gritty, post-apocalyptic sci-fi RPG set on Mars. It’s got everything you’d expect from an ‘epic’ RPG – companions, crafting, quests, mystery, levelling systems, combat & skills… but it’s only 15 hours long. And releasing over digital platforms only.

This is probably a result of developer Spiders Studios being a smaller team than what may be required for something like an RPG’s scale, but also because of the limited resources available to them. Even with Focus Home Interactive (who are more known for Strategy/Simulation games anyway), there’s every danger that if War Logs had been a 40+ hour epic, the quality wouldn’t be there and it would be largely ignored because of the other big-hitters. But the best franchises, especially science-fiction franchises, start by giving you bite-sized chunks of the world, about hinting at what may or may not be, and Spiders Strategy of doing that here with a short view into the world of Mars War Logs (and the intention is to develop more, similar length titles to form part of a larger franchise) could be one that pays of greatly. We hope it does well, as what we’ve seen so far seems intriguing, to say the least.

They sure grow up fast, don’t they?

As we mentioned above, War Logs is set on Mars, a Mars that’s still reeling from an as-yet unnamed catastrophe that laid to waste over 200 years of colonisation and terraforming, so that the place is now looking like something out of the original Total Recall. The world you step into then is not a nice one – with controlling limited resources becoming the key to power on this devastated world, the four major Water Companies that existed on Mars have become the dominant powers, and they’ve split into four separate factions that are constantly fighting for control of what little is left. Radiation has caused animals as small as moles to mutate into hulking monstrosities, and even some humans have felt the effect of mutation, and are being exploited as some kind of cheap labour.

Whilst the game is narrated by Innocence, a young boy who was taken from his parents and sent to a work camp, you actually play as Roy Temperance – a mysterious man with a past, and a wide range of abilities. Like all good RPG’s there are levelling and skill tree systems in place for Roy. As you level up, you can put skill points in skills which are divided between Combat, Stealth and Technomancy, which in the War Logs universe is where you use technology to give the effect of magical powers. Roy can also be outfitted with a variety of weapons – both mêlée and ranged (although with the state of the world, we think the game may favour mêlée weapons of ranged), and you can also find other bits and piece of loot, like armour. This all feeds into the craft system where you can improve items to make them better. As we mentioned, through-out the game you get companions who come along with you in your questing – at the moment it’s unclear how many they’ll be, or whether or not they’ll have the same skills tree options as Roy.

Whilst the game is supposed to be ‘non-linear’, it’s probably going to have a bit of linear progression to it. There’s no world map, instead you progress through the various chapters in the game by travelling from zone to zone. Some will be city hubs, where you can get quests and weapons/items etc…, some will be more dungeons like. The story will focus around two of the four major powers in the game – Aurora, a more religious/mystic like faction who believes that someone from Earth will come and save them one day, and Abundance, a more soviet-like militaristic state. There’s a choice you have to make about half-way through the game which we’re told significantly alters what content you get exposed to after that – it’s even been hinted that to get the ‘whole picture’ you have to play through BOTH choices, so there’s an element of replayability there.

Stay on the right side of the law if you don’t want to have to face these guys

In terms of how the game handles – a lot of it you’ll have experienced elsewhere: dialogue options, a lot of walking, and then when you do get into a fight it’s all about effectively using your skills and attacks. You can block, push people out of the way, use combos… many enemies will be armoured, so unless you’re using technomancy you’ll need to try and find weak points in defences in order to defeat tougher opponents. The stealth tree means that you can use sneak attacks as well, hopefully eliminating your opponents before they even know you’re there – thought this game is no Assassin’s Creed. Visually, Mars has a very Metro-like run-down feel to it, with everything and anything being cobbled together to fill in a need – even your weapons are very ad-hoc. You probably won’t be blown away by the visual quality, but this is from the same people who helped make Of Orcs and Men, so it’s got some decent tech behind it.

The key thing for Mars War Logs is whether 15 hours is going to be enough. Making a bite-sized RPG is a smart strategy considering what mid-level publishers have to go up against sometimes, but the only thing worse than trying to do too much and failing, is offering too little. Still, there have been many games that have tried (and succeeded) in offering a premium experience in a non-premium package, and we hope this game can join the ranks. We’re looking forward to starting our own War Log, so we’ll be keeping an eye on this game. Mars War Logs is due out on PC (digital platforms), Xbox Live Arcade, and the PlayStation Store sometime in 2013.

Most Anticipated Feature: Whilst it’s looking interesting, there’s nothing specific that speaks out to us at the moment. Will have to wait and see.

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