Review: Unearthing Mars (PSVR)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • HTC Vive
  • Oculus Rift

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • 4K HDR

Extras:

  • PlayStation VR Required
  • DualShock 4 None
  • Move Required (2)
Title: Unearthing Mars
Format: PSN (10.08 GB)
Release Date: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Winking Entertainment
Developer: Winking Entertainment
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 7
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Some of us bought PlayStation VR in order to experience this. We gazed longingly at pictures of the headset on websites wondering what amazing worlds we would visit. It’s likely that many of us had that desire to walk on the famous red planet in VR, and seeing what most of us will probably never actually experience: exploring Mars.

Unearthing Mars represents the second visit to the red planet on PlayStation VR, and as much as I went in wide-eyed, I ended up removing the headset with mixed feelings. This is not a terrible game, because it’s not really a game at all. I know, I know, “I’m sick of VR experiences instead of full games.” Well, it’s not quite that situation either.

This feels more like an interactive book, those old choose-your-own-adventure ones, divided into ten chapters where you have to achieve certain tasks before moving on to the next one. Truthfully, it seems like VR is presenting us with such new experiences that judging them with the same standards you would use on a full game seems unfair. So moving forward, Unearthing Mars is an interactive story, not a game, although it has gaming elements like first person shooting. Got it? Good.

The problem is that most of the individual elements aren’t really that exciting. They make the whole of it just a run-of-the-mill endeavor, and not one that I would likely revisit. On the flip-side, this interactive story is unique in that there is a narrative revolving around ancient civilizations on Mars. So there is a motivation to move forward, and quite honestly, I quite enjoyed the roughly two hours of the short story.

That said, getting past some of the chapters felt like homework, and that was made more evident due of the lack of instructions on what had to be done. Yes, panels on my dashboard highlighted when I need to press a button to initiate a launch sequence, but then my captain asked me to change a value on one of the panels, and I found myself using the Move controller to tap a touchscreen, and it began to flash.

“Um, ma’am, how the hell do I change that thingy to 75%?” The timer reached zero, and I failed at the task. A small dial appeared in front of me, showing that I was losing points within the mission. When that dial reached zero, it was game over and I had to start that chapter over.

… the graphics do hinder it a bit …
Other chapters are self-explanatory and more enjoyable. Also, the entire thing was pretty engrossing in terms of VR presence. Hell, the first-person shooter segment was a blast and I would love to have had more chapters like these. There are also some stages where you control a rover and explore the surface of Mars. Some of these come complete with minor puzzles to solve.

Walking around the environment is done by pointing your Move controller where you want to go, but unlike other games using the teleport technique, this one gives you a limited number of nodes that you can warp into. This made the exploration component feel a bit limited, but it didn’t really hurt the experience in any way.

Visuals:
I mentioned that the entire thing was pretty engrossing. I wasn’t lying, but I must add that the graphics do hinder it a bit. I’ve seen uglier games in VR to be sure, but this would probably hang out with those ugly games in school, instead of the cute ones.

With standards curved to compensate for VR it really isn’t a bad looking game at all and some of the environments do suck you in. Hell, even the credit sequence is pretty awesome. I also caught myself in awe while climbing to a tall peak and surveying the Martian landscape.

… I don’t mind smaller experiences like this from time to time …
But character models look pretty lifeless, and lip-sync leaves much to be desired. The interiors look decent enough, but the graphic panels in your ship and along the walls are created with very low res textures, reminding one of the PlayStation One era.

Audio:
Voice acting is not bad. I’ve certainly heard worse. Intense moments are aided by the decent job the actors did, to be sure. Sound design is also up to par and wearing headphones enhances the presence afforded by VR. The music on the other hand is pretty damn epic, truly enhancing the grandeur of your mission of discovery.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Unearthing Mars is not a game in the traditional sense of the word. But, so long as we get full VR games to support our new headset, I don’t mind smaller experiences like this from time to time. I know I used that word again: experiences. But VR opens up the possibilities for a lot of new expressions of narratives, and this is not a bad thing.

I sure as hell wouldn’t mind experiencing a VR Star Wars story some day. So I can’t fault this one for not being Battlezone or Eve: Valkyrie. But I must judge it on its own merits and flaws.

For the current PlayStation Plus price of $11.99, I would venture to say that it’s not a bad deal. But at its $14.99 non-sale price, I would have to advise against it. For five bucks more, you could own another recent VR release that is absolutely worth your cash.

Score:
6.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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