We really enjoyed Deliver Us The Moon when we reviewed it last year and Deliver Us Mars is set 10 years later. You play a young Kathy Johanson, and the story kicks off as an 'origin' story with a nice family setting, when you go swimming with your big sister Claire, who figures in the prequel.
The relaxed atmosphere soon becomes more dramatic as you find Kathy in some mysterious installation with her Dad, Isaac Johanson, who is the apparent "baddie" in Deliver Us The Moon. The gameplay is all about exploring various locations and fixing or unlocking things.
In a panicky scene, Daddy Johanson starts the launch sequence for the final colony ship, and, when given an impossible choice, abandons you and hops aboard the ship, apparently being stolen by the mysterious cabal known as 'Outward'. After this traumatic event, which paints good old dad in a very poor light, the game skips forward.
Jumping forward several years to 2068, Kathy, now known as 'Kat' is now all grown up and working for the WSA (Worldwide Space Agency) at Cape Canaveral, repairing vital STREAME points on a MPT (Microwave Power Technology) dish. This involves using a STREAME laser beam to unlock things, and aiming the emitters to align with STREAME receivers on huge transformers. It's a nice, gentle introduction to the game’s cleverest puzzle element. If you're wondering what a MPT dish is, these massive structures receive the transmissions from a facility on the Moon that produces energy from the plentiful Helium-3 found in lunar soil.
To help you reach places inaccessible to humans your hover droid ASE unit can be flown through ducts and operate switch panels. These flying beach balls reminded me of 343 Guilty Spark in Halo, only without the attitude and psychopathic "kill all humans" tendency. Kathy has a personal ASE that she calls Ayla, which you can control remotely at various times by pressing 'Y', the rest of the time Ayla follows you around like a puppy, often getting in your way, sometimes amusingly, sometimes annoyingly.
Anyhoo, now a year later in 2069 your mission, which you are reluctantly included in because of a lack of trust in you due to your father’s actions, is to recover the ARK colony ships stolen by the mysterious Outward and taken to Mars. You take off aboard the built-on-the-cheap ship Zephyr, fortunately designed by your genius rocket scientist sister Claire who is also on the crew–as commander.
The game looks gorgeous throughout. The character models aren't exactly 'state-of-the-art,' but the animation is smooth as silk, apart from the lip sync, which, disappointingly, is non-existent at times. I couldn't help noticing there are no water ripple/splash effects when Kat's wading around in flooded areas either.
The basic controls are nice and standard; Left stick for movement, Right stick to look, 'A' is jump, 'L3' is run or swap view in certain circumstances, 'R3' is your flashlight (very handy at times) and the 'View' (or 'Back' button as I always think of it) brings up Kathy's Astrotool, which keeps a record of all collectable objects in the game.
Music comes from the award-winning composer Sander Van Zanten, and would grace any big-budget sci-fi movie, often reflecting the nature of many of the scenes.
Playing like a Space Tomb Raider, Deliver Us Mars has cosmetic similarities to Dead Space and Mass Effect, but there are no hideous monsters or laser rifle-wielding aliens. This might mean some gamers will think Deliver Us Mars must be 'boring', but if you think you can't have drama, tension, danger, excitement and emotion without monsters then you're wrong.
In the game, 2 main puzzle mechanics crop up regularly. The STREAME laser points are used to power up devices and open doors, and need to be placed and aimed accurately to do so. Boosters and splitters also come into play, and the more complex "puzzles" required quite a bit of head-scratching brain activity on my part. We’ve had similar puzzles in games like Zelda, Tomb Raider and Uncharted but the sneaky cleverness of some of these had me clapping my hands in delight when I figured them out. Holograms are collectibles that fill in the backstory, but also have a clever mechanic. In order to decode a hologram you must place Ayla in just the right spot in space to project it. Angle, height and distance from the hologram is key here.
Climbing is also a large part of the game and you must place Kat's rock/ice axes (by pressing, holding and releasing the Left & Right triggers) in the right place (ie not in hard rock or metal) to climb/descend safely. There are also a few driving and diving sections to mix up the action. Along with the numerous dialog-heavy cutscenes that drive the plot along, Deliver Us Mars is perfectly paced to hold your attention.
Deliver Us Mars feels like an epic title, the more you explore the more you discover about the backstory and the crew's relationships, including both some genuinely humorous and sad interactions. This is without doubt a high quality game, one of the best of 2023 so far, especially considering the £24.99 price tag. Hopefully this series will become a trilogy and we'll get back to Earth, and deliver it.