Us PC gamers are always slightly wary of ports. The reasoning behind it is twofold, primarily stemming from the fact that many ports are rush jobs, leaving us stuck with interfaces that were obviously designed for another platform and failing to take advantage of our PC hardware. It’s also partly due to our slight bruised pride from no longer being the platform any more and the issues with ports just seem to be yet another strike against us. Strangely enough though I’ve found ports from the portable market, mostly from iOS and Android, have actually been quite good with Galaxy on Fire 2 genuinely surprising me with how well it translated to the PC platform. Waking Mars is another title that found its fame on the mobile market and now, thanks to Steam’s Greenlight project, has found its way onto the PC.
Waking Mars is set in the not too distant future of 2093 where a team of scientists, including you playing as Liang, have been sent to investigate some of the caves that were discovered on Mars. You’re not going in blind however as some time before your team sent a robot, named OCTO (presumably because it had 8 legs), down to investigate and the pictures it sent back indicated there was life down there. However shortly after sending those pictures communications were lost and whilst his recovery wasn’t a prime directive it did necessitate the need to go down and investigate these life forms further and discover a whole new world that has been lurking underneath Mar’s surface for an eternity.
Unlike most of the adventure/puzzle/point and click adventures I review on here Waking Mars isn’t done in pixel art fashion. Rather its done in a hand drawn style, one that’s very familiar but I can’t place my finger on where I’ve seen it before. Whilst the animation is a bit wonky at times, for both your character and some of the NPCs in the world, it’s still quite passable. The colour palettes are also quite bright and varied which helps to make sure that you don’t get visual fatigue looking at the same sodden brown landscape for hours on end.
The core game of Waking Mars is a cross between exploration and puzzle solving. Primarily your aim is to increase the “biomass” of each section by making the various creatures and plants reproduce in the little section you’re currently in. Initially this just starts of with you planting seeds and watering them (which then makes them produce more seeds) but it grows into a complex puzzle of what you should plant where and managing the different types of soil in order to make sure you can produce the required amount of biomass. Once you reach the required level the door to the next level will open up, allowing you to dive deeper into the cave.
As far as puzzle mechanics go its pretty novel especially when you get further along when there are certain plants that will kill other plants which also spread voraciously if not kept under control. Each room obviously has an intended solution, one that if done properly will see you complete it with a minimum of fuss and waiting. This can be something of a blessing or a curse as early on you don’t have the right tools to undo your mistakes. Thankfully up until a certain point all the puzzles are designed to not block you until you get to a stage where you can generate any number of the right seeds you need, as shown below.
This particular level also demonstrates the potential for emergent game play mechanics that can be lovingly exploited should you have the time to do so. In this particular area I had what I called a Yellow Seed Reactor (the ones that can grow in the acidic ground) where regular green seeds seemed to collect. Also in the same area was a couple of those life forms that eat the green seeds to reproduce and since the seeds will keep coming as long as I don’t pick them up they had a near infinite supply of food with which to reproduce. In the same area there was also one of the acidic plants that reproduces when it eats one of those little things so whenever I needed a couple of those seeds I’d simply travel back there and wait.
Indeed the way I completed that level was by simply sitting there and watching the reactor in progress as there really is no limit to the amount of times those little buggers can reproduce. It can also backfire horribly on you as they run away when you get near them and the collision detection gets a bit wonky when there’s 100 of them together, usually resulting in a mass suicide that drops hundreds of biomass in a second. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was hilarious though because seeing them all explode out only to fall over and die is pretty bloody funny.
Past a certain point however the puzzles start to feel very samey as you’re just repeating the same motions over and over again. Once you’re in the big chamber you have pretty much unlimited access to all the seeds you need which makes most of the harder puzzles moot but at the same time it also means you’re forever trucking back and forth between locations in order to get the right materials ready in order to progress through. This might not have been as much of a problem if I was playing it on my smart phone since I’d only be playing it for 10~20 mins at a time (and its broken up perfectly for that) but sitting down and playing it for a couple hours means the repetition gets to you and doesn’t make for compelling game play.
The story is also semi-interesting although it feels like it was lacking any direction. Your motives seem to wander from investigation to getting back to base camp to investigating random signals at different points on the map, all without a clear sense of direction. There’s heaps of additional objectives to do but there’s no driving force, either in upgrades or in terms of the story, to push you to do them. Again this feels like an artefact of its mobile origins where it was designed to be picked up and played for a bit and then put down again until the next session.
Waking Mars is fun and novel, exploring an idea that all my fellow space nuts would love to be true. The core game mechanic is certainly refreshing after all the exploration/puzzler games I’ve played of late but after a while it starts to look all the same. The so-so story that has troubles with direction and pacing doesn’t help this either but that doesn’t stop Waking Mars from being a game that’s worth a look in. I’d probably recommend it on Android or iOS as it seems to be well designed for that and whilst it doesn’t translate badly to PC I still think you’d have a better time elsewhere.
Waking Mars is available on Android, iOS and PC right now for $4.99, $4.99 and $9.99 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC with 3 hours played and 47% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ll be honest, hack ‘n’ slash games aren’t really my forte. Sure I’ve played a couple in the past and enjoyed them (like Infinity Blade) but I was never able to get into the big titles like God of War, Bayonetta or Darksiders. I think it comes down to the (usually) rather thin plots and lack of hooks early on in the game that fail to grab my attention, making them rather easy to put down. Still on recommendations from my friends and family I purchased a copy of Warhammer 40K: Space Marine and was pleasantly surprised by how gripping this hack ‘n’ slash game was.
You play as Captain Titus of the Ultramarines, an elite super-human soldier who serves the Imperium of Man. One of the Imperium’s forge worlds, a planet dedicated solely to the manufacturing of the Imperium’s armaments, has come under attack from an Ork invasion. Titus is then sent to the planet in order to delay the invasion for as long as possible in order for an Imperium fleet to arrive. Of course the Ork invasion isn’t the only thing out of the ordinary on this forge world as Titus finds out as the game progresses.
Space Marine does an excellent job of incorporating the vast lore that exists within the Warhammer 40K world. Way back when I was a big fan of nearly all of the Games Workshop games and I’m sure I’ve still got one of the boxed 40K sets sitting up in my parent’s attic somewhere. Right from the start you get the feeling that this particular story is just a sliver of the giant universe in which it is set. Thankfully most of the details of the story aren’t hidden text dumps scattered around the place, with most of the important details being revealed in dialogue exchanges between the characters.
Relic has also done a fantastic job with the set pieces that you’ll come across during you’re adventures in Space Marine. All of the environments have a sense of epicness about them, from the wide open spaces that are filled with countless enemies to the underground tunnels that seem to go on for forever. Yet again this reinforces the larger than life feeling that this game seems to convey, constantly reminding you that you’re but a small cog in the giant wheel of the Imperium of Man.
The graphics as well, whilst nothing spectacular, work quite well within the context. I was never good at painting my collector of miniatures but I always loved seeing the ones which people had done right. Space Marine then evokes that same feeling as they’re extremely well done in true Warhammer styles. This extends to all the additional things like the foley, camera work and use of slow motion to really round out that epic movie feeling. Overall the look and feel of Space Marine is just exquisite, but that would be for nothing if the game wasn’t fun to play.
Combat in Space Marine is meaty, fast paced and just plain fun. There are 2 distinct modes of combat that you’ll use extensively throughout the game. The first is standard 3rd person shooter style which is your standard cover based affair. I’ll be honest and say that this was probably my least favourite aspect of the game as the shooter sections always felt like a distraction from true base of a hack ‘n’ slash game: the melee combat. Still there’s a variety of weapons to choose from (usually placed in piles in front of you) and your choice will determine how easy or hard a particular section is so there’s a definite bit of strategy in Space Marine that traditional hack ‘n’ slashers lack.
However the melee combat is really what makes Space Marine just so fun to play. Initially it’s somewhat of a chore as you’re just set up with a tiny combat knife but you’re quickly paired up with the iconic Space Marine weapon: the Chainsword. After that point it’s just simply glorius as you carve your way through untold hordes of enemies. They also change it up a bit when they introduce two other weapons (the Power Axe and Thunder Hammer) which breaks up the monotony considerably. The fury bar also makes for some interesting moments as once this bar is full you can unleash it, increasing your damage considerably and enabling you to regenerate health as you fight.
Of course this is all taken to a whole new level when you’re given a jet pack which allows you to rocket skyward and then charge back down to earth, devastating anyone who’s in your landing zone. These sections always felt way too short but they are by far the most fun sections in an already amazingly fun game. There’s not much strategy to it but anyone can find the fun in rocketing around the place whilst laying waste to legions of foes.
The multi-player in Space Marine is unfortunately a somewhat mixed affair. The core game play takes all the things you encountered in the single player and mixes them up into the now familiar persistent levelling multi-player experience. You start off with a few basic classes, weapons and perks available to you and as you level more of them are unlocked. The weapons, unlike other similar systems in say Call of Duty: Black Ops, can be somewhat game breaking in certain combinations. This is alleviated by the fact that you can copy an enemies load out when they kill you (for 1 life only) but the balance seems to kick in around the level 10~20 mark, which might be off putting to some players.
The most unfortunate part about the multi-player in Space Marine is the lack of dedicated servers for hosting. This means that you have no choice of who you’re paired up with and all it takes is one player on the other side of the world to start making the game laggy. On the first game that I played it was completely unplayable with me and my fellow LANers being matched to people that were no where near us at all. Changing this up to just us (plus a few other locals) alleviated the lag completely, but getting this in a public game seems to be nigh on impossible.
I played some more multi-player last night just to see if the issues were still occurring and whilst it was no where near as bad as it originally was there was still several occasions when it would starting lagging considerably or delay the game for 10 seconds whilst it waited for the current host to catch up. Talking this over with one of my mates who was a long time player of Dawn of War (another Warhammer based Relic game) this should have come as no surprise as they’ve had a history of atrocious netcode in nearly all of their games. Honestly when all the big names gave up quickly on the idea of serverless multi-player after one iteration you have to wonder why Relic went down this path as it basically ruins what could be an extremely fun and captivating multi-player experience.
The game itself though stands well enough alone though that a bad multi-player experience really can’t detract from the sheer enjoyment I had during my time with Warhammer 40000: Space Marine. The settings are amazing, the lore deep and thoroughly engrossing and the characters believable and aptly voice acted. Space Marine hits all the right buttons and there was never a time when I found myself wanting to put the game down out of frustration, instead feeling myself improve gradually as I mastered all aspects that the game presented to me. For fans of the Warhammer lore I’m sure they’ll enjoy this faithful experience and for regular gamers there’s enough action and thrills to keep you interested right up until the final crescendo.
Warhammer 40000: Space Marine is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $88, $108 and $108 respectively. Game was played on the hardest difficulty with around 8 hours in the single player and 3 hours in multiplayer.