The game developer redemption arc is growing evermore common these days. From the pinnacle successes like Cyberpunk 2077 to lesser known titles like Remnant 2 managing to punch way above their weight the time feels right for developers who want to prove themselves to gamers once again. Still I was wary of Deliver Us Mars, its predecessor having left me, and many others, on a cliffhanger that made the game feel very unfinished. So imagine my surprise when I look back at it, all those years later, and see that it has managed a very positive review rating on Steam. The sequel also appeared to be well liked, so I was curious as to whether or not they made good on their promise to finish the game.
Whilst they didn’t meet the deadline they set themselves they certainly did release the last chapter of the game, much to everyone’s delight. I, of course, had moved onto greener pastures, but knowing that I was willing to give Deliver Us Mars a shot.
SPOILERS FOR DELIVER US THE MOON BELOW
It’s been ten years since the Fortuna mission went to the Moon to figure out why it stopped beaming power back to Earth. That mission was successful in restoring the power link back to Earth, but that hasn’t saved our world from peril yet. The Moon’s inhabitants have long been presumed dead, and the World Space Agency has kept its sights back on Earth, trying to make sure that they keep the energy transmission going for as long as the aging hardware will hold out. That was until they received a garbled message from Mars, seemingly a distress call. The WSA, knowing that this transmission likely came from the Arks, could be the opportunity they need to gather technology required to save Earth. Are you going to be capable enough to bring the Arks home and, hopefully, save humanity?
There’s no real nice way of putting this but Deliver Us Mars feels like it’s a generation behind from a graphics perspective. This is possibly due to its cross-platform release on previous generation consoles, but in any case it’s quite clear that a lot of corners were cut in the process of making this game. Comparing some of my screenshots from the original game it does look like there’s some direct asset reuse between both of them, which would account for some of it, but there’s a lot of other things that just make the whole experience feel rather dated. Stiff animations, character heads and bodies not quite matching up and the fact that my rather high spec PC was still running at full tilt for pretty much all my playthrough. Since it didn’t do that even for Cyberpunk 2077 I’m sure there’s a lot of optimisation that could be done here.
Deliver Us Mars follows the format of the original albeit with much grander ambitions for its puzzle and platform mechanics. For the most part it’s an exploration/walking simulator game, putting you in an area which you’re (mostly) free to explore to uncover bits of additional story and world lore. There’s the inclusion of a climbing mechanic which will have you ice pick climbing your way around all sorts of weird obstacles. Puzzles now take a note from the Talos Principle’s book, having you connect lasers in various configurations in order to open up doors or activate something. There’s also the decoding puzzles, but they’re mostly just an exercise in playing warmer/colder in three dimensions. It’s certainly a more broad game than its predecessor was and, for the most part, they all function well enough.
Having spent almost 30 hours playing the Talos Principle 2 the power transmission puzzles weren’t much of a challenge but even then most of them are pretty straightforward. All of them are self contained, so you don’t need to do any major backtracking to get things moving. No all you’ll need to do is figure out where everything you can interact with is, what you need to get to to finish it then backtrack your way through the puzzle elements before it all clicks together. There’s a built in hint mechanic if you get stuck for too long, which isn’t too heavy handed as well, so even if you get stuck you’ll likely be able to figure it out once you get a lifeline thrown your way.
The climbing mechanic is, unfortunately, quite terrible. It takes inspiration from the wrong places, feeling like a more janky version of GIRP (the sequel to QWOP if you remember that) where you have to hold down your mouse buttons alternatively in order to move your ice picks around. The hit boxes on things aren’t very precise, so you’ll often find yourself pinging off things you should be able to hook onto or jamming your icepick through solid steel. Worse still is the hitbox for when you reach the end of the climb and your character jumps up to the ledge. Depending on how you approach it you can miss this entirely and, thinking that you’ve actually made it, end up plummeting to your depth. So the climbing becomes this awkward guessing game of trying to figure out which edge case you might hit whilst also trying to balance the actual act of climbing. It’s simply not fun and doesn’t add anything to the game experience at all. The same effect could’ve been had with an Uncharted like system without all the drawbacks.
The inclusion of rover driving also feels like the developers had, at one time, even grander ambitions but weren’t able to make that work within the constraints they had. I say this because the rovers seem pretty well realised for something that’s only used a handful of times, something that could’ve also been easily handled with a train system given you can’t really explore with the rovers at all. Not that I’m complaining about the game being on rails though, I think that helps with the game’s most redeeming feature: its narrative.
If you’re still reading at this point you’re likely wondering why I played this game for any length of time at all and, in all honesty, the only reason is because the story is just so damn compelling. I remember sitting down to play it for the first time, thinking I’d give it an hour, and in the first 10 minutes thinking I was about to commit myself to a week of hot garbage. But no, there I was a couple hours later, bemoaning the fact that I was playing what looked like a previous generation game that had a story that was weirdly drawing me in. This is even without me going back to the previous one to complete the last section or watching a plot summary to refresh my memory. I did that after I finished my first session though.
PLOT SPOILERS BELOW
What I think captivated me about it was the fact that it stayed true to the roots of what I’d consider great sci-fi: using futuristic technology to explore the human condition and its challenges. The struggle between those wanting to save Earth and those wanting to start fresh are readily relatable to anyone who’s embarked on a long term project. The flashbacks, whilst seeming somewhat trite to begin with, helped build out the backstory of the main characters, enough for you to be able to sympathise with their motives even if you don’t support them. Then the conclusion, which you could argue was somewhat predictable, gives enough resolution whilst opening up the possibility for some interesting things to explore in the next iteration. I was honestly cursing the devs the whole time as if they only put as much effort into the actual game as the narrative they would’ve made something truly great.
PLOT SPOILERS OVER
Deliver Us Mars then is a beautiful tale crafted poorly. Its graphics are previous gen, the puzzle mechanics simple and the platforming done in such a hamfisted way that they could all be scrapped and the game would be better for it. The narrative carries the whole thing on its shoulders, bringing me back for session after session and somehow making me forget I was playing something that looked like second year university students had modelled it. So I’m in the fun position of wanting more of everything from the devs here: more stories in this world, more attention paid to the visual experience and, hopefully, better puzzle platforming mechanics to go along with it. I can’t in good faith score the game well, but that won’t stop me from hoping for more.
Deliver Us Mars is available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S right now for $42.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 6.7 hours playtime and 57% of the achievements unlocked.