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