Focus Home Interactive are looking set to make waves on digital distribution platforms this year, with three titles gearing up for release this summer. Of them, it’s arguably Mars: War Logs that holds the biggest surprises: not because it looks set to break the gameplay mould, but because only a couple of years ago this would have been a full price retail release.
With many similarities to the critically underperforming Red Faction: Armageddon in both art direction and gameplay design, we can only hope that Focus Home Interactive has paid attention to the reasons why that straw was stringer than THQ’s back. At this point in time the signs are positive, as the emphasis is most definitely on creating a third-person action videogame that pushes against the boundaries of that which you would expect from the Xbox LIVE Arcade and budget priced releases on PlayStation Network, if not your expectations of the genre.
The build Electronic Theatre recently got hands-on with offered very little in the way of story, but from what could be established it’s easy to assume that the player is a do-gooder wrongly incarcerated, with his mission being to escape the Abundance prison camp. However, as things progress the player will stumble upon some twists and turns that paint a bigger picture and force upon you a grander objective. This will carry the player through three open plan maps, upon which the player will travel back-and-forth in order to complete their objective, beginning with the aforementioned prison camp.
Of course, beginning the adventure in prison means that it’s not long at all until you meet some unsavoury characters. Teaching the player the basics of the combat system, a small skirmish with a gang of in-mate thugs does well to suggest that there’s flexibility in the combat system without throwing everything at the player all at once. There are plenty of new additions to come further down the line, but even your starting skills offer up enough variety to make things interesting.
Most closely resembling the fighting system from Rockstar Games’ The Warriors, sees the player mixing basic combos with block breakers, weapon attacks and distraction techniques. It’s a heady mix even at the start, but as players progress through the videogame and unlock new stages on their skill tree some more elaborate attacks will become available. Fancy shooting lasers from your finger tips? Creating a localised electricity field? Perhaps even a charge of power that dramatically increases the speed of your combos? All of these abilities and more have already been revealed, and proven to have a significant impact on the way the videogame is played.
As mentioned above, Mars: War Logs features skill trees as both a mark of and reward for progression. There are three included in the videogame, each with a number of different levels to progress through. It’s the Techromancer tree that offers that special abilities mentioned above however, and this tree won’t become available until a specific point in the plot. Along with the skill trees come the crafting system which allows players to improve items and change their attributes, both in terms of statistic and visual presentation. Players can also create consumable items of worth, such as health kits,
Mars: War Logs’ hub style level design looks intriguing to say the least, with a different art direction promised for each, and the speech system that appears simplistic but allows you to persuade non-player characters (NPCs) to do your bidding is certainly a welcome touch. Thinking on NPCs, the player will be able to meet a number of characters that will accompany them on their mission. A small sample of this was shown in the preview build available to Electronic Theatre and as long as the team at Spiders manage to get the companion AI up-to-scratch we’re confident that this could be a welcome addition to the formula.
Set for release this summer, and for a wallet-friendly price, Mars: War Logs is looking set to challenge expectations of what it means to be an Xbox LIVE Arcade title. The scenario and combat may not offer much that we haven’t seen before, but their dressing and the additional flexibility proposed by the speech and companion systems could amount to something well worth investing in. In essence then, Mars: War Logs is a very by-the-numbers action videogame. However, hopes are high that it can come together as more than the sum if it’s parts when it launches on digital platforms.