Deliver Us Mars Review–No Spoilers
Once the source of wild speculation, our neighbor planet Mars is now a pretty familiar place. We’ve all seen the pictures, thanks to the amazing Mars landers and rovers. It looks eerily like our own southwest, it has weather and seasons and if you’re Matt Damon you can grow potatoes there. Mars might be giving up at least some of its secrets, but there are still plenty of mysteries to uncover. That’s the premise of Deliver Us Mars. Does it manage a successful touchdown or land with a thud on the Red Planet?
I’m going to be pretty cagey about Deliver Us Mars’ story. This is a game about solving both an overarching mystery and answering several more intimate, family-centered questions. You play as Kathy Johanson, a woman with space exploration literally in her DNA. As a child, she watches her father and older sister shuttle between a dying earth and the moon. She dreams of going there herself. She gets her wish, only to watch her father escape the moon on a Mars-bound spacecraft, leaving her behind. Talk about abandonment issues.
Smash cut to years later, Kathy is a grown up woman and bristling with impatience for the space agency that has framed her father both as a hero and traitor. A distress signal is coming from the Martian colony. Eventually, Kathy finds herself Mars-bound and — probably no surprise — her spacecraft crash lands. Faced with uncertain survival, she has several tasks ahead of her. In addition to simply finding a way off the planet, she also needs to find out what happened to her father and what disaster befell the Martian ARKs and their promise of saving the Earth. The fate of several other characters and the story’s uncertain ending all venture into spoiler-land, so I’ll sidestep all of that.
The narrative that powers Deliver Us Mars definitely contains a few surprises and unexpected twists. It’s a very linear experience, delivering a number of its story beats via holograms and other environmental clues. As a sequel of sorts to Deliver Us the Moon, it feels tonally in line with the earlier game. My biggest gripe with the story is that some of the narrative beats and characters rely on pretty well-worn tropes. The child flying a toy rocket dreaming of space. The plucky young woman chafing against authority. Much of Deliver Us Mars’ gameplay is mechanically similar to that of Deliver Us the Moon.
Puzzles and Platforms
While I can’t dive too deeply into the plot, I can talk a little more at length about Deliver Us Mars’ mechanics. Like Deliver Us the Moon, it’s a puzzle and exploration-driven adventure game. Similar to the first game, Kathy does most of her exploration solo, but she has a robot drone that can help her solve puzzles by moving around the environment and placing objects as needed.
Deliver Us Mars relies on a couple of types of puzzles. One category of puzzle involves Kathy positioning laser energy beams to power doors or open up new areas to progress the story. Often in tandem with these puzzles, Kathy must also figure out how to move, wall-crawl, jump, or climb to seemingly inaccessible areas. Generally speaking, the end goals of the environmental puzzles aren’t especially obscure, though they can feel artificial and gamey. Where I experienced some frustration was in Kathy’s imprecise and mechanically unrefined movement. Games that require climbing or platforming need to make those mechanics a priority. Whether on Earth or lower-gravity Mars, Kathy’s jumping felt floaty and unpredictable. Her double axe-aided wall-crawling looked like it was missing a few frames of animation every time she moved.
As with many games in the same budget tier, Deliver Us Mars has some excellent level design and satisfying puzzles, but a lack of polish in the mechanics of movement gets in the way of full enjoyment.
Just Over the Horizon
Thanks to the flood of real-life images and recent movies and games, we have a pretty good idea of what the Red Planet looks like. Deliver Us Mars excels at impressive, sepia-toned landscapes, haunted and hulking derelict spacecraft, and vertiginous heights. Visually, the game is a significant step up from Deliver Us Mars, inching much closer to looking like a big-budget title.
Character models — and especially faces and subtle, expressive animation — are still a work in progress. Sometimes they’re awkward enough to distract from the well-acted (if not always inspired) dialogue. As already noted, the lack of precision in character animations can have an impact on gameplay as much as aesthetics.
Deliver Us Mars has excellent music and environmental sound design by Sander Van Zanten. The music is a synthesis of orchestral samples and more electronic textures. The sound design meets the needs of creating audio for all the interior and exterior spacecraft and planetary sounds, but even takes into consideration the impact of the Martian atmosphere.
Deliver Us a Sequel
After a rocky start, Deliver Us the Moon ended up being an adventure game success, and Deliver Us Mars will not disappoint fans of the first game. It tells an interesting and sometimes surprising story and delivers an awe-inspiring Red Planet. Some unrefined mechanics and gamified puzzles carry over from its predecessor, but overall Deliver Us Mars is a genuine step forward for the franchise.
***Xbox Series X code provided by the publisher for review***
- Generally engaging narrative
- Impressive environments
- Puzzles are interesting
- Unrefined mechanics
- Some gamey puzzles
- Character models and faces can be distracting