Mars: War Logs begins with who the player expects to be the main character speaking out in desperation: "I never really thought I'd end up in the middle of the war, but didn't really understand how." If you're confused at the end of that sentence, you should be, because it doesn't make grammatical sense. This phrase, as it turns out, seems to serves as a metaphor for the game as a whole: muddled and without focus, but endearing enough to get by.
The young boy at the beginning is actually known as Innocence, because people and prisoners are often named after their prevailing characteristics in the world, rather than given traditional names and I guess he is supposed to be young and innocent? After your character saves Innocence from a group of prison thugs, the real game starts. You're free to roam around the hallways collecting scrap metal and other random pieces of inventory clutter. The conversation mechanic tries to emulate choice by letting you select different dialogue responses, but it doesn't seem to ever really have any impact on the game at all. Should you be a jerk or a super-jerk to this other jerk that's being a jerk to your friend? Character development in action, folks.
"Wait, David," You might think to yourself while reading this review. "Lots of RPGs have this issues, so how is this game any different?" I'm glad you asked, because therein lies the problem: it isn't. I'd like to tell you that the game suffers in some ways but treads new ground in others, but unfortunately it just doesn't. In more ways than one, Mars: War Logs seems to be in limbo and cannot really decide what it wants to become. It's not really a grand space-opera like Mass Effect, and it's not even a blockbuster action-adventure like some other games. Instead, it seems to dabble in more than it can handle without really mastering anything.
Voice acting is poorly performed and unemotional, characters lack personality, writing is often sloppy and out-of-place and set-piece moments lack enough polish to really be convincing. Going back to that opening line of dialogue, you don't want your player's first impression to be one full of confusion and doubt. If the developers don't even have the first sentence of the game grammatically correct in English, what does that say about the rest of the experience?
Thankfully when the mouth-moving and dialogue-choosing is out of the way and you actually dive into the combat itself, there is a lot to like. It resembles Focus Home Interactive's other game, Of Orcs and Men (you can read my review of that one here) in a lot of ways, with a few changes to make it a bit different. Gameplay is a mixture of turn-based and real-time fighting, but it remains fluid enough so you never really feel like you're just waiting for something exciting to happen.
AI seems to be fairly stupid, for better and for worse. Enemies are never overwhelmingly difficult (although I did run into some hardship against a few bosses) but your allies aren't exactly intelligent either. They seldom can hold their own in combat, even in a one-on-one affair against a "tough" opponent, which leads to lots of babysitting. In games like this, I would much rather worry about only myself, since I'm often busy enjoying the attacks and dodge-rolling that occur.
Maybe the game was put out a bit before it was truly ready in order to meet some deadlines, or maybe the resources just weren't there to fully realize the potential of the original vision, but I find it difficult to truly say Mars: War Logs is a good game. It's not necessarily bad either, it's just floating around somewhere in the middle. Combat is fun and I applaud the developers for at least crafting a relatively original concept, but the execution falls too short for me to really enjoy the final product.
This review is based on a digital PC review copy of the game provided by Focus Home Interactive.