Deliver Us Mars Review – WGB, Home of AWESOME Reviews
Deliver Us Mars is the sequel to Deliver Us The Moon: Fortuna, a narrative-driven game that had a lot of issues when it launched at the end of 2018. KeokeN Interactive removed the game from sale and worked hard to patch it up, including a reworked ending, before releasing it again minus the Fortuna subtitle. Then, last year, they released a PS5 and Xbox Series patch, bringing it back into the public eye. Now, KeokeN Interactive are back with a follow-up and although you can enjoy the story without having played the original, the cast of characters is largely the same, carrying on the story of the Johanson family. This time the focus is on Kathy Johanson, the youngest of the family who has spent years training to become an astronaut. Her story is an interesting one marred by monotonous gameplay. Although KeokeN Interactive’s passion and love for its game are undeniable, and it has certainly launched in a better state than its debut in 2018, Deliver Us Mars doesn’t always deliver the goods.
The Earth is dying due to global warming, species of plants and animals alike going extinct at an alarming rate and Humanity struggling to keep the lights on, even with the MPT technology Kathy’s father, Isaac Johanson, developed to send power from the moon. As told through flashbacks, Isaac and a company of others came up with a more radical plan, deeming the world a lost cause. They constructed three massive Ark ships with the goal being Mars where they hoped to establish a new colony that wouldn’t repeat history. Isaac’s older daughter Claire, whom he already had a rocky relationship with, desperately tries to stop him from taking a young Kath with him, viewing it as far too dangerous. At the last second, Isaac is separated from Kathy with no way back, and has to leave her.
Skip forward a bunch of years and Kathy has been training to be a member of WSA (World Space Agency) and become an astronaut when the agency gets a message from Mars for the first time. It’s a garbled mess. Only one word can be made out: “Moonbear,” the nickname Isaac gave his youngest daughter. So the WSA sets out to reach Mars, their plan being to retrieve the stolen Ark ships because they believe their technology could give the Earth a fighting chance of healing. Claire is heading the mission and despite her inexperience and youth, Kathy is also going along with two others, and while her objective is ostensibly the same, she clearly wants to find her dad.
There are two distinct themes, then: the first being the mystery of what happened on the red planet, and the second being the messy Johanson family. Although saving the entire Earth is certainly the most pressing issue, it’s really Kathy’s drive to find her father and get some closure that pushes the story forward and is what informs most of her decision-making. Kathy is a quiet and reserved protagonist, not afraid to push for what is right but also prone to letting her emotions dictate her choices which can lead to conflict with the rest of the crew.
It’s a solid sci-fi premise and using both global warming and secret organisations plotting bold plans without telling anyone else firmly ground it in relevancy. We live in a world where there are constant arguments about the effects of global warming, its causes and potential ways to combat it, all while we have massive companies talking about setting up shop on other planets and billionaires going to space. Using this foundation, Deliver Us Mars manages to tell a decently compelling story with a solid mystery and good family dynamic, though if you’re a sci-fi fan it might feel a bit too familiar. Much like the prior game, though, the ending is messy and leaves a lot of unanswered questions, perhaps in the hopes of another sequel.
Graphically and technically, the game is rough across the board, enough that I actually double-checked whether I was running the PS4 version by accident. Sometimes Deliver Us Mars looks quite nice, especially when you’re exploring some of the interiors. Floating in zero-g through a space station can be very atmospheric, and the few space sections where you’re zipping around the outside of a space ship are pretty cool. And then other times it looks bad, including some of the environments (the opening scenes on Earth are nasty, especially the horrendous pop-in) and the character’s themselves. Their faces appear to be sculpted out of wax and have strange dimensions, and the way characters move is stiff and awkward. That’s surprising because the developers went for full motion capturing which should have allowed for plenty of body language, an important tool in a story tied so heavily to the character’s emotions. But it seems like they took all that raw capture data and fed it through something else that resulted in faces barely having any emotion and hands that seem to be permanently stuck with their fingers stretched out. Deliver Us The Moon hid its protagonist behind a helmet for the entire game, a lesson that Deliver Us Mars should probably have stuck to.
It’s not doing the excellent performances any favours. KeokeN Interactive managed to gather up a talented bunch of folk to voice their story. Ellise Chappell takes on the role of Kathy, marking her first foray into videogame work. Her previous roles include TV shows Poldark and The Last Dragonslayer, and she shines in Deliver Us Mars, giving a really strong performance. The rest of the cast is giving their best, too, and the result helps mitigate some of the issues I feel the script has.
Those issues are motivations and reasoning. Kathy is a prime example: her decisions are motivated almost purely by emotion, which makes sense given her familial involvement and young age, but it also leads to her doing some incredibly dumb stuff or ignoring orders. That storytelling technique can work in the right situation, but when she’s part of a space agency she’s been trained for most of her life, it can often make her a little frustrating. There were quite a few moments where I let out an exasperated sigh because of something Kathy did or some information she decided to withhold. Other characters also struggle to communicate their reasoning or motivations, too, which led to quite a few head-scratching moments. It’s not like the rest of the four-person crew are much better: despite their supposed experience, they are woefully underprepared. One suffers from clear PTSD that is quite obvious from day one, making it difficult to understand why they’d even send her. Her partner is also on the crew, creating a sense of divided loyalty, and Claire is Kathy’s sister so there are apparent problems there. Why the hell are these four unprepared people dispatched on such a vital mission? There are hints that WSA is severely understaffed, so that could be the explanation, but it’s never made clear. Hell, surely you could find one senior commander to go on the mission and ensure that these young-inexperienced muppets don’t crumble.
Deliver Us Mars is a game of slow exploration of the environments, picking up some written logs, and watching holograms and cutscenes. It fits into the so-called walking-sim genre but does also try to bring in more gameplay elements that we often see. One of the biggest puzzle types is where you have to position energy-producing tripods around to fire beams of energy needed to open doors and power up machinery. There are splitters and reducers to consider, too, which is important because certain receivers won’t activate if you feed too much power into them. And getting those implements usually means having to direct a beam to one door so you can pop in, grab a splitter, use it on the original beam to activate two things and so on. Ignoring the obvious question of why anyone would develop a system like this, much less use it as the backbone for most of their technology, it can be quite fun at first. Figuring out the order that things must be turned on or opened can be satisfying. After those first few times, though, it loses its appeal and the designs of these scenarios don’t evolve. Each one feels like a slightly longer version of the last one with the same basic pattern: have a look around, then spend a minute or two experimenting to find the right order.
I also discovered it’s possible to accidentally lock yourself in some rooms, forcing you to quit the game. This doesn’t appear to be deliberate and there’s no way to restart the last checkpoint, so while you’re busy trying to work out the order in that doors need to be opened you might wind up stuck inside one of them.
Another form of puzzle is the holograms, used heavily to fill you in on what was happening onboard the ARKs. The idea is you have to guide three holographic blocks into a sphere, done by moving a drone back and forth, and side to side. I use the term “puzzle” loosely because there’s no actual reasoning required to do it – you just move around a bit until they lock into place and the hologram plays.
The other major gameplay component is platforming and climbing. The platforming is about as basic as possible: a floaty jump and crouching are the extent, and there isn’t much room to fail. Climbing is more fleshed out with Kathy automatically whipping out her climbing axes when she comes near an appropriate surface. Each trigger controls an arm, and by pulling the trigger Kathy will slam her axe into the wall. and then by using the left stick you can control her free arm to pick a prime spot to slam the next axe into. The idea is that as you can climb you have to selectively dig into the wall because if you hit metal or stone or anything like that the axe will just bounce off, which is perfectly okay provided you haven’t already let go of the other trigger. Later on, there are some jumps thrown onto the mix, making for cool moments where you pull bother triggers to dig the axes into the wall and slide to a half seconds before falling into an abyss.
The problem that climbing has is exactly the same issue the rest of the gameplay has: it’s fun, for about the first 5 times. After that, it begins to feel like filler designed to slow you down. In fairness, almost all gameplay is essentially filler intended to prolong the whole experience – that’s just what games are. But obviously, the key is to make that filler fun and entertaining, and Deliver Us Mars struggles with that. The satisfying ‘thunk’ of your axes digging into the walls only goes so far, and once the initial novelty has worn off you’re left with very little except a slow, ponderous climb up a wall. Worst still are the moments when there aren’t even any obstacles on the climb, so it’s a couple of boring minutes pulling the triggers.
I don’t mean to belittle the game too much for its gameplay woes. Deliver Us Mars is intended to be a narrative-driven game first and foremost, and many games in that genre typically don’t even try to include any gameplay outside of walking around and staring at things like you’ve just munched an edible and are now entirely fascinated by a fence post. But I have to consider the fact that Deliver Us Mars does try to have some gameplay elements, and that by the end of the game I honestly think I would have been happier without them.
Deliver Us Mars is a really tricky game to draw a conclusion about because it has so many elements of varying quality. I did enjoy the concept of the narrative, l liked the focus on the family dynamic to bring everything together – but the characters can make infuriating decisions and the gameplay is dull. Ultimately, I enjoyed seeing where the story was going but found the process of getting there to be a slog. If you adore slower-paced narrative games and are willing to accept the gameplay limitations then Deliver Us Mars might be worth picking up.