I am a little miffed that Mars: War Logs didn't take into account the recent Martian fad. Curiosity is up there right now, boring holes into another planet hunting for water and that creepy little dude who hated Bugs Bunny. If the little robot delved too greedily and too deep, that would be an interesting cultural hook for Spiders' Red-Planet-set RPG.
But it's not to be. Mars: War Logs is about the failed terraforming of the planet. It went so badly that the majority of people have to live in shelter, with the world controlled by resource-hungry corporations and their private armies. It's in one of their POW camps that the game places you.
You're the excellently-named Roy Temperance, a Swiss-army knife of a character. He begins his journey protecting a young boy, Innocence, from an attempted rape in the camp. Innocence is the first of five companions you'll pick up. He'll act as the narrator, a fighting partner, and a moral barometer for your actions - he and the other companions will support you, but only if you treat them and the people in the world with compassion. Kill your enemies and drain their lifeforce (a currency in the game) and the world will take a dim view of you, even if they totally deserved it. There is a dark side of Mars, and it can be yours to control.
Throughout this moral morass are threaded light RPG mechanics. Skill trees allow you to define your character's path, initially giving you power over your stealth and fighting skills - parries, counter-attacks and pushes. Eventually the game takes you down the more interesting route of Technomancy, giving you magic powers via pseudo-science upgrades. It's allied to a fairly clicky combat system that's more Witcher than Dragon Age. You'll be whacking away with metal pipes and putting the hurt on people, rather than pausing and considering the weak-spots.
Speaking of metal pipes, there's also a crafting system that makes use of the loot you'll collect. It can be grabbed from piles of junk or looted from corpses, and put to use to create better weaponry. Handles and powers can be added, changing an item to better resist electric assaults, for example, or to boost the crit chances. Armour can be augmented as well, to protect you from the people and the mutant animals that you'll come up against. My favourite creature that I was shown was a mutated mole, if only because it meant someone made the effort to bring moles to Mars.
What you're fighting for isn't exactly clear. There's a plot twist that will change the latter half of the game, and the world has plenty of little hubs and dungeons to explore, so there's a chance your game won't be the same as a friends. In fact, in order to see the whole story it might be necessary to have more than one playthrough. It's not an overambitious game in size, though: it's download only, and more sprightly than sprawling. That in itself is unusual for an RPG - it may just make Mars: War Logs one for the books.
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release: May 2013