Despite promises from certain Twitter-owning billionaires, it doesn’t look like we’re going to be sending people to Mars anytime soon. But fear not, intrepid explorers, because we can still venture to the red planet in Deliver Us Mars, an upcoming space game from indie developers KeokeN Interactive.
Deliver Us Mars is the sequel to the studio’s debut title, Deliver Us The Moon, which launched back in 2018. Set 10 years after the events of the first game, Deliver Us Mars continues the story of a doomed Earth, ravaged by climate change. We follow Kathy Johanson, a young astronaut who has joined a mission to track down the Arks. These massive ships were built by the lunar colony in the first game, and they have the power to reverse climate change and save the Earth. Kathy’s father was onboard the Arks when they fled the moon, so she also has her own motivations for wanting to track them down too.
We had the chance to play a short preview of Deliver Us Mars earlier this month, checking out two separate sections from mid-way into the game. The first of these sections took place inside one of the Martian colony buildings, while the second was out on the Martian surface in the wreckage of a massive crashed spaceship.
The first of these two sections - exploring the Martian base - felt very familiar, rekindling a lot of the same ideas and concepts that the first game had explored. The plot follows on from Deliver Us The Moon, as we track what happened to the lunar colonists after they abandoned Earth and ventured off into the solar system to found their own society. The story is revealed via audio logs and hologram recordings that show the internal politics and struggles going on within the breakaway faction, helping you piece together why they fled to Mars and, more importantly, where they’ve all disappeared to.
There is a lot of atmosphere building (somewhat ironically given the setting) as you explore the detailed environments filled with subtle storytelling. There are collectables to find, and holograms and audio logs to uncover that all help to unravel the mystery of the now abandoned Martian colony.
These early segments made the expanded scope clear from the off, as we got to experience back and forth dialog between Kathy and another member of her crew. This time around, KeokeN has employed motion capture tech to bring Kathy to life during conversations, and the results we saw were very impressive.
Outside of the mocap, one of the biggest additions this time around is the climbing mechanics which were introduced in the first segment. These really came into the forefront during the second stage of the demo as we had to scale a massive wrecked spaceship to reach the bridge.
While a lot of games feature climbing, it’s usually mechanically simple and rarely requires you to do more than press a button to magnetise yourself to the wall. Deliver Us Mars takes a much more involved approach, requiring you to actually control your arms using a combination of both joysticks and triggers. One of your pickaxes needs to be attached to the wall at all times, or you’re going to find out that Mars’s 38% of Earth gravity is still easily enough to splatter your body after a long drop.
This adds a lot of tension to the climbing sections, as one wrong move could see you plummet to your death.The constant fear that you’ll let go of the wrong trigger at the wrong time makes these sections surprisingly nerve wracking.
There is a trade off here though - the climbing definitely feels a lot clunkier and slower than in something like Tomb Raider, where Lara can shimmy and swing her way across walls with ease. This does kinda ruin the pacing when you’re supposedly climbing against the clock as the ship you’re scaling falls apart, but the payoff comes from the increased tension and from what we played, it seems to be worth the trade.
When we weren’t doing our best Lara Croft impression, scaling cliff faces and ruined space ship hulls, there were also puzzles to be solved. Most of the puzzles we encountered during our preview were variations on redirecting laser beams which…. well it’s not the most original concept in gaming, but there were a few neat wrinkles that kept the puzzles interesting.
There is also a Hardspace Shipbreaker-style laser cutter that can be used contextually to cut away debris and open panels. It’s a cool addition, though it seemed quite contextual during our preview session. While we didn’t get to test them, we also know that vehicle sections will be making a comeback, along with the addition of scuba diving and zero-G sections - you even get to fly a space shuttle at one point, which sounds rad.
When we spoke to Koen and Paul Deetman back in May, they talked a lot about how they wanted the sequel to amp things up. Deliver Us The Moon was a fantastic space drama with an engaging story, but the lower budget and smaller team meant that a lot of clever corner cutting was needed - you never really saw anyone’s face, or interacted with other characters except via radio communication, and it was mechanically quite simple with a few puzzle types that repeated throughout the game.
You can definitely see this greater ambition on display here. The environments are bigger, new mechanical challenges have been added, and the scope of the game has been expanded a lot too - Deliver Us The Moon clocked in at around 4-6 hours depending on how much exploring you did, and while we don’t have exact numbers for the sequel, KeokeN claims that it is a significantly longer game experience.
There is a little indie game jank still floating around - Kathy doesn’t have a falling animation so when she does drop off a wall it looks kinda odd, but these are minor flaws around what otherwise seems to be a very solid core.
There are still some telltale signs of that game’s smaller development team on display, but Deliver Us Mars looks like it’s all set to expand upon the brilliant foundation that the previous game set, and we can’t wait to see the full release when it launches on February 2, 2023 for Xbox Series X/S, PS5, PS4, Xbox One, and PC via Steam and Epic Games Store.