Deliver As Mars follows in the footsteps of the hidden gem Deliver As the Moon, a game with enjoyable puzzle-solving and storytelling that mostly overcomes its technical and presentational shortcomings. The same is almost true of this sequel set on the Red Planet, although its larger scope amplifies its problems. Thankfully, a captivating narrative does its best to keep this flawed mission on track.
Despite being a direct sequel, you don’t need to have played Deliver Us to the Moon to understand the plot of Mars. Decades of man-made abuse have caused Earth to slide into an irreversible environmental collapse. Soon it will become an uninhabitable rock, but hope arises when a transmission from Mars indicates the location of advanced life-carrying vessels called Arks. Years ago, a group of humanity’s best and brightest stole these ships in order to leave Earth to its fate and establish a new colony elsewhere. As Cathy, a daring and eccentric young astronaut, you join a small team tasked with bringing the Arks back to Earth, but Cathy also has a compelling personal stake.
Cathy’s father, Issac, a brilliant scientist, was among the leaders of this evil group that stole Earth’s best chance to heal. In the process, he left Cathy to grow up on Earth dying without him. The game’s well-executed exploration of the pair’s loving-yet-complicated relationship hooked me, especially how Cathy copes with her desire to reunite with the man who effectively helped the human race achieve a goal. which leads to a tense conflict with his crew. The fascinating mystery about the fate of the Mars colony after Cathy’s arrival also kept me hooked to see what’s next, thanks to its compelling twists and revelations. The plot offers a well-worn but compelling argument about the morality of starting anew elsewhere in the face of humanity’s self-destructive nature.
Deliver Us Mars has such a good story that its sub-par presentation doesn’t do justice to it. Ugly, stoic character models sour the exceptional performances; It’s like watching a lousy animatronics performance macbeth, Mars itself would be a more awe-inspiring sight if not for the many instances of texture and environmental pop-ins. Save Us Mars doesn’t look terrible, but these constant faults distract from immersion.
Gameplay primarily focuses on puzzle solving and platforming, crossing only into “acceptable” territory. As in the first game, players switch between controlling Cathy and her robot drone companion to solve environmental tasks, often moving around to align powering light beams to open doors. The drone can reach small holes and carry objects, although this is not as well used as in Delivered to the Moon. The puzzles offer decently fun obstacles. However, Deliver Us to Mars lacks the gameplay variety of its predecessor, so beam alignment loses its luster by the end. Outside of that, the ever-entertaining hologram decryption minigame, where you rotate the drone’s camera to place nodes in slots, serves as the only other big recurring puzzle.
Platforming now plays a more important role as Cathy can scale special walls using climbing axes. This mechanic leans towards realism, with players aiming and hitting with each hand using the left and right triggers. Like the other mechanics, the action is good enough to work, but climbing becomes tiresome in long sections and becomes unresponsive in some instances. Jumping from one climbing point to another seems especially difficult, and I fell to my death several times when my attacks didn’t register. The game sporadically throws in a few hazards, like spinning blades or collapsing wall panels, but the climbing isn’t enough to handle them confidently.
The heroes of Deliver Us Mars quickly become involved with a spaceship that just barely makes it to their destination. One such story seems to be true about this game. An engrossing narrative fuels gameplay that otherwise feels functional but underbaked, making my time on the planet a mixed bag. Deliver Us to Mars shines best when it lets you embrace its story, but expect to stumble upon a number of design critters along the way.