I had the good fortune to participate in the latest Memories of Mars playtest. This upcoming survival shooter is under development by Limbic Entertainment and being published by 505 Games. Our Reviews Editor had previously checked out the title at PAX South 2018, and I had a chance to try my hand at the game via an online playtest not too long afterward.
Memories of Mars is a game that I can best described as "Rust, but on Mars". I know some developers may not appreciate such a direct comparison. However, I've logged many hours in Rust (both in Legacy and its successor version) and the parallels are obvious. I enjoy Rust and I've enjoyed the little bit of time I've had with Memories of Mars. How exactly this new game will solve the fundamental problems of its spiritual predecessor remains to be seen.
The first playtest I attended in January of 2018 came with a lot of caveats about possible bugs or server crashes. That's perfectly fine and entirely expected - the game is still very much in development. The version I more recently played is one month further along. Needless to say, I've seen some marked improvements in that time. A number of annoying animation bugs (like the Aim Down Sights function gradually getting messed up until you were staring at your shoulder) had been quashed. Gameplay seemed smoother overall. New issues do pop up occasionally, like your character raising his hand constantly after using a healing item. Despite those hiccups, no servers crashed this time around. Development definitely seems to be moving towards a positive direction.
The experience begins in a facility that's strangely devoid of life. You can pick up a few essential items (including your first firearm), slap on a helmet, and head out into the Martian wilderness almost immediately. While I would have appreciated a more free-form play experience, the developers were aiming to get us participating in a structured event of sorts where we would form two teams and fight over an objective on the world map. We were completely free to abandon this mission and run off on our own if we felt like doing so, but I decided to stick with the tour group this time around.
Memories of Mars features a "build anywhere" system for construction. While you may have to occasionally navigate around terrain collisions and the like, you can essentially plop down a foundation anywhere that catches your fancy. This won't just mean placing bases out in the open plains - we had the option to place foundations on cliffs and construct our bases a good bit above sea level if we felt like doing so.
Normally, players need to gather up materials in order to build, but we got free reign to experiment thanks to the magic of developer cheats. Everything is based on a pretty simple system of snapping parts like many other games in the genre. Crafting & storage units currently attach to existing walls rather than as free-standing structures, and there wasn't yet much in the way of visual customization or decoration available. Central to their design philosophy is the idea of being able to build bases quickly, meaning that PvP scenarios will give players the opportunity to hastily construct some cover whether they're attacking or defending a particular area.
That's not to say you'll be able to build sprawling Martian cities with no drawbacks. All of the game's essential systems use the FLOPS currency. This includes progressing your character's skill tree, unlocking blueprints, and paying base maintenance fees. While the developers are adamant about players having a lot of freedom, I think this sort of system (if properly calibrated) might be able to temper the tendency of games like Rust to have one massive faction with a gigantic, unassailable base. (At the very least, it will be a real FLOPS-sink for the big boys to maintain.)
I chatted with one of the devs about how the game is progressing. We won't be seeing any sort of farming system in the game. If you want food, oxygen, or FLOPS, you're going to have to venture out and salvage it for yourself. They said that early experiments included these systems, but they just weren't very fun and they decided to scrap it. Fun definitely take priority over realism in Memories of Mars; for example, food & water needs are combined in a single kCal meter.
After a good twenty minutes of playing with our Martian building systems, the attendees were split into two groups to engage in PvP. Two blue beams pierced the sky and we were told that a particular area was available to fight over. Much like Rad Zones in Rust, we would be heading to this place and trying to secure terminals in order to acquire FLOPS for our group. A decent set of firearms and ammo were at our disposal.
Combat felt pretty good overall, but this isn't a strictly PvP game. PvE enemies like robot spiders and worms absolutely infested the location we were fighting over. Our immediate task was to secure the area from these technological creepy-crawlies, which proved to be a challenge. Once we smashed the bots, we secured a terminal. The team tried its best to set up defensive positions for the incoming enemies. While I managed to gun a couple foes down, they eventually overwhelmed us and secured the area completely.
The little battles we had were fun, and I had some more questions about how things would work in Memories of Mars. Mainly, I was concerned about the potential for offline raiding. Any player of a sandbox survival game knows the gut-wrenching feeling of logging in to an utterly devastated base. In this game, you're safe after logging out. Others can still assault your base, but you have the ability to create automated defenses to protect it if no one happens to be online. That's not to say that your home away from Earth will be impregnable, but a seasoned player should be able to comfortably log off knowing that no one can take their stuff without a fight.
A lot can change in the coming months in the development of Memories of Mars. A dev did confirm to me that microtransactions will not be a part of the experience. I also know that there will be no terrain terraforming either. Even so, the developers added the caveat that the world map might slightly change due to server events. From what I played, the game has noticeably improved in just the space of a month. I think it's shaping up to be a solid title in the genre. If you're down to blast off, Memories of Mars is aiming for release sometime in the Spring of 2018. For now, you can add it to your Steam wishlist.
What do you think of Memories of Mars? Do you think this style of game can still work in the Battle Royale era? Let us know in the comments below!