Virtual reality allows us to see a myriad of exotic sights that would typically be unfathomable in real life – I’ve already been to the Moon, through Space, and across bizarre lands that I’d never be able to dream of. I’ve also been to Mars in ‘The Martian VR’, but the less said of that the better.
Developers Winking Entertainment are giving Playstation VR owners another chance to visit the Red Planet though with their new release Unearthing Mars, a game that sees humans venturing to Mars to uncover its deepest mysteries. Is it better than ‘The Martian VR’? Definitely, though it’s still hardly groundbreaking stuff with its incredibly basic gameplay mechanics and presentation.
Unearthing Mars mixes up puzzling with short action sequences, putting you in the shoes of an Astronaut who has been sent down to Mars to find out more about its secrets. After some minor hiccups whilst making your descent to the Red Planet (you start off in a Space Station), you’ll be tasked with completing a set of diverse objectives.
Now one thing I’ll give Unearthing Mars credit for is the variety of things you get to do. The adventure is fairly short with it easily completed in less than two hours, but at least those two hours offer a lot of different things to do. You’ll be driving a buggy, taking part in a shoot-out, solving mysterious puzzles, and you’ll also help control your spacecraft through a huge sandstorm. Sure, it’s essentially a lot of stuff you’ve done before in other video games, but at least this is all in one package.
Despite this variety though, nothing in the game was particularly engaging. Each of the ten chapters on offer is over fairly quickly, so you never really get the chance to fully engross yourself in what you’re doing – it just felt like a series of tech demos strung together into a game. Granted, none of the things you do are outright bad from a gameplay perspective, but there’s never any depth to them either. Whilst this might’ve been given a free pass when Playstation VR first launched, there are too many better titles out now that actually offer a deeper gameplay experience for it to be simply overlooked.
There’s no free movement in the game either, with Unearthing Mars taking the ‘comfortable’ approach of allowing you to teleport to a selection of pre-designated areas. Whilst I understand that this is to keep nausea levels as low as possible, I would’ve preferred to have at least had the option to move around freely – we are exploring Mars after all, so it would’ve certainly enhanced the feeling of presence upon the planet. Other games have allowed it, so why not here too?
It was a similar situation when driving your buggy, with the camera fixed in one location as you sped around. You could easily press a face button to move the camera back behind the vehicle, but you’d have to do this every single time. Again, this may have been to make driving less nauseous, but other games have handled it in much more effective ways so I can’t understand why Winking Entertainment took the fixed camera angle approach.
It’s hardly a pretty game either, with sketchy character models and environments that look pretty drab. I know that Mars hardly has a reputation as being a pretty planet, but there’s something incredibly lifeless about its presentation. It does start to become a bit more interesting to look at when you discover crystals that allow you to see how Mars looked in the past, but even then the visuals are reminiscent of those found on the Playstation 2. You’ll certainly never be wowed by your surroundings. (Don’t be fooled by the inaccurate representation offered promotional screenshots I’ve used in this review – I knew I should’ve took some myself!)
Whilst Unearthing Mars has its flaws, at least the premise remains intriguing. Sure, it might not be scientifically accurate, but I actually enjoyed seeing the fun story unfold and explore the more imaginative interpretation of Mars in the past. Using the move controllers to control the game worked well too, with the in-game tracking fluid and allowing gamers to complete all actions with no fuss.
I have to be clear and say that Unearthing Mars isn’t a bad game, but it certainly isn’t the most engaging of titles you’ll find on Playstation VR. The premise is intriguing though and some aspects of the gameplay are fun; it’s just lacking depth in almost all facets of design.
It’s a hell of a lot better than ‘The Martian VR’, but those looking to take an epic expedition to Mars might not find what they’re looking for with Unearthing Mars.
Developer: Winking Entertainment
Publisher: Winking Entertainment
Release Date: 07/03/2017
Format(s): Playstation VR