RED DAWN

Take On Mars turns the Red Planet into a sim­u­lated sand­box of sci­ence and sur­vival.

PC GAMER (UK) - - Review - By Andy Kelly

I’ve been play­ing Take On Mars on and off since it was re­leased through Steam Early Ac­cess in 2013. This slow, strangely re­lax­ing game about trundling around the Red Planet, tak­ing soil sam­ples, ap­pealed to me the same way Euro Truck Sim­u­la­tor does. But over the years it’s mu­tated into some­thing else en­tirely. Un­der­stated re­al­ism has been qui­etly pushed aside to make way for manned mis­sions in­cor­po­rat­ing sur­vival, base-build­ing, and ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy.

Ad­mit­tedly this is more im­me­di­ately en­ter­tain­ing than scoop­ing up soil. The pop­u­lar­ity of Andy Weir’s novel The Mar­tian has un­doubt­edly in­flu­enced the game’s di­rec­tion. So much so that the 1.0 re­lease con­tains a sin­gle­player cam­paign in which you play Mark Wil­lis, an astro­naut with a back­ground in botany stranded on Mars. It’s a se­ries of en­ter­tain­ing, var­ied sce­nar­ios that teach the ba­sics of sur­vival, build­ing, and other parts of the sim­u­la­tion.

Wak­ing on Mars, sur­rounded by flam­ing de­bris as the oxy­gen warn­ing on your HUD shrieks, is a pow­er­ful open­ing. Your first pri­or­ity is search­ing the rub­ble for sup­plies to re­plen­ish your O , and 2 fix­ing the scary-look­ing crack on your hel­met. It’s a nicely pro­duced se­ries of mis­sions, with some de­cent voice act­ing, but let down by the game’s clumsy con­trols. Ev­ery­thing you do in

Take On Mars feels in­cred­i­bly la­bo­ri­ous. Walk­ing around in a space­suit in low grav­ity is prob­a­bly pretty un­wieldy in real life, but it makes the game need­lessly frus­trat­ing. Not to men­tion the twitchy physics that send ob­jects fly­ing into the air or get­ting stuck in things. I was more will­ing to for­give this jank­i­ness in Early Ac­cess.

If manned mis­sions sound too ex­cit­ing, you can play through the robotics space pro­gramme in­stead. This has you man­ag­ing a bud­get and build­ing ve­hi­cles to ex­plore the planet. You start with ba­sic probes with low-res cam­eras, but as the money rolls in you can cre­ate ad­vanced car-sized rovers like the real-world Cu­rios­ity. It’s a very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence, and there’s some­thing strangely tran­quil about it. Es­pe­cially given how at­mo­spheric the game’s re­al­is­tic re­cre­ation of the Red Planet is. They’ve cap­tured bril­liantly the haunt­ing, des­o­late feel­ing of what it might be like to be alone on an­other world. The red sand dunes, an­cient craters, and ghostly sun­sets make for an evoca­tive set­ting, whether you’re rolling around as a rover, so­lar pan­els rat­tling in the wind, or settling in for the night in your new base.

take on mods

If you’d rather cre­ate your own mis­sions, or down­load user-made ones from the Steam Work­shop, Take

On Mars comes with an Arma- style ed­i­tor. With this you can place ob­jects, pre-built bases, ve­hi­cles, and what­ever else is in the game’s deep toy­box. And be­cause th­ese are the same tools the de­vel­op­ers use, ded­i­cated play­ers have cre­ated some pretty im­pres­sive stuff. Some mis­sions even take you away from Mars, to such places as Earth’s moon and a replica of the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion. So even if you’ve ex­hausted the bun­dled sce­nar­ios and cam­paign, there should still be plenty of ad­di­tional mis­sions to dive into, cour­tesy of the com­mu­nity. The qual­ity will vary wildly, of course, but it’s cool to have the op­tion.

Take On Mars is still an un­usual game, even if it has drifted into the in­creas­ingly pop­ulist realm of the base-build­ing sur­vive-’em-up, of which there are far too many on PC. Its Mar­tian deserts are beau­ti­ful to look at, and strug­gling to sur­vive on such a hos­tile world is an en­ter­tain­ing, of­ten ter­ri­fy­ing chal­lenge. An over­all feel­ing of clunk­i­ness – which can make some­thing as sim­ple as load­ing a few oxy­gen can­is­ters into the back of a buggy feel like a chore – tested my pa­tience at times. But when you’re out there among the craters, alone, grow­ing pota­toes or con­duct­ing ex­per­i­ments, there’s a feel­ing of seren­ity that keeps me com­ing back to de­spite its many faults and frus­tra­tions.

Manned mis­sions in­cor­po­rate sur­vival and base-build­ing

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