As VR continues to become more and more mainstream, we’ll begin to see less of the “VR Experiences” that define the early days, and more games with set genres. Unearthing Mars, however, is still in that “VR Experience” phase. That’s not a bad thing, and you can certainly get some mileage out of it, but does it go far enough to reach Mars?
You play as the co-pilot of an exploration trip to Mars with the goal being to find out about a crashed satellite. Of course, things aren’t exactly what they seem, and soon you and the pilot begin to see visions of what Mars used to be and how it ended up in its current state. It’s not a bad idea, but the plot itself is pretty weak and not really noteworthy. Worse, it’s dragged down by the terrible voice acting of the main character, who sounds like he’s hilariously confused all the time. In the end, I just couldn’t care for Unearthing Mars‘ plot.
Gameplay constantly switches genres every few levels, so it’s tough to pin it down to one specifically, and some levels are much better executed than others. Unfortunately, the worst levels are on display right from the start. Early levels require little more than listening to characters talk and occasionally hitting a button or pulling a switch when instructed. Sometimes you have to answer a question in which the game gives you two answers. If you select the wrong one, the characters just crack a joke and ask the question on loop until you get it right, leading to a general waste of time. In a game that’s ten levels long, you don’t really get to do much of anything until level 5.
Once you get half way through the game you’re then introduced to the rover, which is the most used of all the gameplay elements. Here, you’ll use the right move controller to move forward, and the left to move backward. You can twist the controllers to steer, but there’s nothing you need to do other than drive to glowing spots on the map and get out to do some kind of work. The rover controls pretty well actually, but maybe this is more because I never had to do any precise movements or timed challenges. All the scenes with the rover are just a leisurely stroll from point A to point B.
Occasionally you get out of the rover to perform some small tasks such as using a small mining laser to chip away at some rocks to harvest crystals or climbing a tree and collecting alien fruit and feed it to weird cat-pig things. None of these are particularly difficult or require much out of you. It’s often just pointing the laser where you need it or going where you’re told and doing a few things you’re told to do. There’s also the strange final level, which has you drinking a bunch of sodas and lifting weights until the screen turns black and you finish the game. It’s a bizarre ending.
It’s not until the last few levels when you get into the major gameplay ideas besides the rover although it’s a bit too little too late by that point. Level 8 consists of solving a bunch of out of place puzzles carved into random stone tablets. The ideas behind the puzzles aren’t bad, but they’re extremely easy to solve and required almost no effort on my part. Then level 9 suddenly takes a strange left turn into the game becoming an out of place first person shooter. Here you get a gun in your right hand, a shield in your left, and are told to shoot at swarms of advancing aliens. Most of the enemies die in a single shot, making them a breeze. Occasionally a stronger enemy wanders in and these take an almost absurd number of shots to bring down, to the point where the constant vibration and trigger smashing of the Move controller was actually bothering my hand. It feels like a proof of concept for a totally different game.
I actually thought Unearthing Mars was pretty nice visually, which is the one thing it truly has going for it. There was some effort put into each environment, and I actually enjoyed wandering to the edge of areas and staring off into the distance taking everything in. Some of the later segments looked particularly great, especially when you get chances to view “old” Mars. The late game alien battle felt as hectic as it should, with aliens fighting all over the place. It gives a good sense of the massive scale of the fight. Similarly, the soundtrack is surprisingly well made, and I came to appreciate when it made its way in. It certainly tried its hardest to make each scene feel a lot more dramatic than it actually was.
It just feels like all the effort was put into looks and Unearthing Mars doesn’t have the gameplay to back it up. It tries a bunch of different ideas, but none of them ever last long enough to take root and even if they did I’m not sure any of them are worth it. Maybe we should just leave Mars buried?
Unearthing Mars was reviewed on PlayStation VR using a copy provided by the developers.
Unearthing Mars switches gameplay styles a little too often to be consistent, and none of the ones it switches to really carry the game. It looks nice, but that's about all I have to say for it.
- Enviroments Look Nice
- Tries a Bunch of Ideas
- Good Soundtrack
- Story is Weak
- No Idea Stands Out
- Boring First Half
- Nonsensical Last Level
- Terrible Voice Acting