Return To Sender

HIGH The first sight of the colony’s oxygen engine.

LOW Trying to figure out how to back eject from an ice climb on a sharp time limit.

WTF The ships still have fuel enough to launch?

The modern media landscape being what it is, I’m never surprised to see a sequel. Often, though, I ask myself whether a particular one is necessary.

Deliver Us the Moon, a perfectly good game about a lonely effort to revive a lunar power station, didn’t seem to be crying out for one, even though the villains’ departure on an obviously-doomed planetary colonization mission was a clear hook. As it happens, the developers took the bait, and the story continues now in Deliver Us Mars.

Much has changed this time around. I felt that Moon suffered from the silence and general disembodiment of its main character, as well as the absence of other individuals to interact with. In  Mars the protagonist is vocal and numerous characters are frequently on screen, albeit somewhat stiff-faced. If anything, the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, as Mars has a bit too much chatter and far too many flashbacks.

Unfortunately, the expanded dialogue mainly reveals that many of Deliver Us Mars’ characters are completely insufferable, including those clearly intended to be sympathetic. The protagonist, Kat, is perhaps not the worst, but she’s introduced to us as a child willfully destroying a toy just given to her by her father, and this foolhardy self-centeredness ends up driving much of the plot.

Of course in a game in which the Earth is suffering a climate catastrophe, there’s plenty of willful destruction to go around. Deliver Us Mars is a depressing experience, devoid of optimism for either the potential for colonizing space, or our chances of rescuing the Earth.

As the title suggests, the fleeing scientists of the first game decided to make their new home on Mars, a location not clearly superior to the Moon as a potential home. Their efforts have gone both better and worse than expected. The terms of the story and of Kat’s connection to one of the colonists require that the scientists have, without support from Earth, developed functional industry on an alien planet at a pace that beggars belief, which is just one of the plot’s many striking implausibilities.

A game of this kind tends to fill those holes by dotting its levels with bits of lore, and Kat can find holograms and snippets of text. Yet, it feels like there’s frustratingly little to glean even from surroundings that should be data-rich. This leaves gaps in the story, like how anyone came to think that sending four people to bring back three giant, possibly unfueled spaceships was going to work.

As it happens, the task involves a lot of walking. Much time is spent in plodding traversal, occasionally spiced up by floaty drives in a rover that handles like the second coming of Mass Effect’s Mako. Outdoors, Kat has a time limit on her oxygen, although thankfully the devs eschew Moon’s habit of strewing areas with canisters containing ridiculously tiny quantities of oxygen to extend the timer. The limit rarely matters except when Deliver us Mars asks her to do a bit of rock (or ice) climbing.

The climbing approach is fairly standard. Kat has a pick in each hand controlled by a mouse button or trigger. Holding down that control slams the pick in, releasing it allows her to reposition it. It’s all right as far as it goes, but rock-climbing feels like a mechanic in search of a purpose. The developers gamely keep trying to supply one, but however many platforming challenges Kat encounters, each scenario seems modified to suit the climbing, rather than the climbing being a natural solution to any problems the story poses.

There are also puzzles to solve in the form of routing power beams (generally for opening doors) and positional tasks that are used to unlock holograms. I did not find these to be interesting but at least they, unlike the climbing, felt like they belong.

The sense of story being divorced from events is further accentuated in sequences where Kat is asked to perform tasks related to spacecraft launch. As a highly trained astronaut, Kat should know exactly what to do, but as a player I was forced to scan around until I found an active control panel, figure out how to use it, then carry out a request. None of this was particularly difficult (and at least it fit the context) but it accentuated the divide between the character and me, not least when I was asked to slide forward a throttle and did this while Kat’s immobile hand was visible elsewhere onscreen.

Deliver Us Mars demands a sequel, in the sense that it artlessly uses a couple of post-credits scenes to set one up, but there’s nothing here that left me wanting more. Its puzzles are rather dull and the most notable gameplay activity, rock-climbing, feels like it belongs in an entirely different game. I don’t care for most of the characters that survived Deliver Us Mars’ sloppy, facile plot, and its scenario is hopeless and depressing. A third installment may be inevitable, but I’m not eager for that package to arrive.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by KeokeN Interactive and published by Frontier Foundry.It is currently available on Windows PC, PS4/5, and XBO/X/S. This copy of the game was obtained via the publisher and reviewed on a home-built Windows X PC equipped with a AMD Ryzen 2700X processor, an ASRock X470 motherboard, 32 GB RAM , and a single GeForce RTX 3080 graphics card using driver 531.29. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Mild Blood and Violence. Per the ESRB: “This is an action-adventure game in which players assume the roles of astronauts investigating a lost colony on Mars. From first- and third-person perspectives, players explore spacecrafts and colonies, solve puzzles, and avoid hazards (e.g., electrical bursts). As players progress, they can unlock journal entries depicting holographic images of violence/peril: colonists suffocating to death; characters sucked into space as a result of a terrorist attack. One sequence depicts an exploding space craft, with a woman left on board. Some scenes depict human corpses scattered across facilities, including a man with blood on his face.”

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. However, they cannot be altered or resized. During the course of play, there are several noises that are important, for instance a chirp indicating that another quarter of the oxygen tank has been used or an alert from the that a collectible has been identified. Although there are visual counterparts for these noises I noticed that the sounds were more accurate about status and directed me to search areas I had otherwise ignored. I believe the game will be more difficult without the assistance of sound.

Remappable Controls: On PC, this game offers fully remappable controls, but I have seen complaints that this is not true on other platforms. Players on console might want to investgate before a purchase.

Sparky Clarkson
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