Mars. The big red thing that sits in the sky. The planet that has been the focus of our attention for hundreds of years. I’m a bit of a star-gazer myself (when I’m having a smoke on my balcony…) so I was definitely interested in Unearthing Mars due to its intriguing premise: Explore the Red Planet and find out what’s been going down.
Unfortunately my hype died down almost immediately after getting into the game. The reason? It isn’t a pretty one, that’s for sure. To be fair, it’s not a terribly ugly-looking game, but it’s just nothing to write home about either. It was noticeable from the get-go as I stood in the control room of our space station that was heading towards Mars. What was also noticeable was the laughable voice acting, too, and it didn’t get any better as the game progressed.
Ok, enough with the negatives for the moment, let me tell you a bit about the game. Unearthing Mars is, at its core, a puzzle/exploration game with a tiny bit of first-person gunplay. I really want to make a point of saying that the gunplay is incredibly tiny and is just a small section of the game, just in case there are some who’re thinking of buying this just to blast space aliens to pieces. The game starts with you in the aforementioned control room before sticking you in the co-pilot seat of the craft that will descend to Mars. The opening act was actually pretty tense as one of the engines failed and it was a bit touch and go. Your input in the situation is minimal to say the least; it’s a matter of pressing/pulling the highlighted object in a timely manner, but it was still pretty intense thanks to the big, dramatic, operatic music that bellowed throughout the rough landing.
Once on the planet, you’ll have a bit of a mooch around with your commander. Movement isn’t free, unfortunately, and you’ll need to ‘warp’ to set locations spread short distances apart. No freedom here, folks. It worked well enough, mind, but it did feel a little restrictive and it was a shame I couldn’t really go in all the nooks and crannies the game teased me with.
From here on out it’s a simple case of follow instructions, solve a few light puzzles, and even drive the buggy car. Don’t get too excited about the latter; it was a chore and a half. Instead of just letting you drive from the inside, or maybe just leave you in the vehicle to play around with the bits and bobs, you’re tasked with controlling it with the PS Move wands. You’ll pull the right trigger to go forward and the left trigger to reverse. Turning is done by tilting the PS Move wand. It works pretty well but there’s one major problem: The bloody camera. Instead of the camera following your vehicle as you accelerate, the camera remains stationary. Yes, you can just sit there and hold accelerate and watch the buggy roam off into the distance. To stop this happening you need to press one of the face buttons on the left PS Move, and this brings you back behind the buggy, but you’ll be doing this every 10 seconds if you want to have a passing chance of staying in control of the bloody thing.
So the gameplay isn’t exactly groundbreaking, let alone great fun. Unearthing Mars doesn’t do a great job at entertaining via gameplay, but it does have an interesting story. However, it’s all half-arsed. I’m reluctant to post spoilers in this review, but what follows may veer into spoiler territory, so if you don’t want anything ruined, read no further.
You crash-land on Mars and after a bit of wandering around, you discover some magical crystals. These crystals give the two characters visions of what Mars used to resemble before it was the red planet that we now know it to be. The potential for some really well-thought out narratives is right there – the developers must have literally had them in their hands – but it’s squandered away with a short shooting sequence and a poor quality cut scene. It’s a crying shame, really, because I was really getting into it. How do these crystals work? What was life like on Mars? Why did that event at the end happen? And more. Yet, here I am, disappointed once more by another VR game. It’s the story of my life these days…
Unearthing Mars has its moments, it’s just a shame that they’re few and far between. Still, at least it’s better than Fox’s rip-off Martian VR “experience”.
Unearthing Mars PS4/PSVR Review
Unearthing Mars is full of squandered potential. The puzzles aren't especially challenging, the gameplay is a little drab, and the presentation is sub-par. Yet there's still something within it that I kind of liked: The story. Perhaps a step away from VR could give the developers the room needed to really expand on narrative that was presented here. Because, in all honesty, I was pretty bummed out when the credits started to roll.
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*Reviewed using a PS4 Slim.