Are you ready to step into the dusty boots of Roy Temperance, the toughest man to ever get repeatedly slaughtered on medium difficulty? Are you ready to wrestle with an exuberant camera, that gets so over- excited in combat it can't remember if this is a third-person game, or one where you don't really need to see anything at all? And are you happy to tolerate the quirks of a UI that was designed by someone with a grudge against human convenience?
If so, you should consider Mars: War Logs – a budget title that's more entertaining than all my complaints about it would seem to imply.
Roy is a gruff, leather-clad cowboy in a Mars penitentiary. He takes our narrator, Innocence Smith (actual name) under his protection, and plots their escape. There's a strong whiff of morality. The mutant-a-like Dust are treated like slaves, and 'serum' found in human blood is treated like money. But a modest dev budget has led to a game world that an estate agent would describe as 'cosy' or 'bijou', with a lot of time- wasting back-and-forthery.
Combat is a mix of action-response and hotkey-assigned gimmicks. Your basic pipe-thwacking combat involves a simple attack, a guard- breaking kick, a block and evasive roll. Button-mashing is suicide: the game buffers attack commands, so impatient clickers like myself need to learn to calm the hell down.
As the enemy gangs get bigger, melee stops being an option. Stealth can thin the mobs or clean up entire areas. Crowd control comes from stunning attacks and grenades. Some battles are triggered by conversation trees, giving you a chance to liberally cover the floor in exploding traps, right under your enemy-to-be's nose. Then, simply call him a dick and run away. It's cheap but it's valid. Don't judge me.
In the second chapter, you gain Technomancy: a kind of single- element magic providing some easily interrupted slow-cast spells. Most of the pleasure from War Logs is gained from abandoning one tactic for another, and breaking a long chain of deaths. Most of the frustration is gained from running in circles trying to regenerate health like a cross between Wild Bill Hickok and Benny Hill.
There's plenty wrong. The deeply uncanny valley of facial animation, the stilted delivery of the awkward, subtlety-free script, a clumsy UI that forces you to craft items one at a time, and please, let's not forget that camera. There's the rushed final act, and the fact that I was lovely, did all the side missions, yet never got my reputation above neutral.
There's also a B-movie charm to War Logs. It's clumsily goodhearted, and has a couple of great moments where you feel like you're affecting the world. Every bit of it needs more time and money, but it's something of a surprise to find that I left the game genuinely fond of its big, fractionally-realised ambition.