A homegrown game is always interesting to watch. Dutch company KeokeN Interactive managed to deliver an interesting sci-fi thriller with Deliver Us the Moon. No aliens, no guns or lasers, but a linear adventure where while solving puzzles you gradually learn more about the mystery through lore documents and holograms.
The sequel, Deliver us Mars, builds on what was established in the first part by introducing – in addition to a strong story – more diverse gameplay. Unfortunately, technical issues get in the way of this one considerably.
Let’s start with the best element of Deliver Us Mars; the story. Ten years after the adventure on the moon, we play with Kathy Johanson, the daughter of the instigator of all the problems from the previous part where the best man left us to our fate on a dying Earth, while he left for Mars with a number of colonization ships. After a mysterious message from her father, Kathy, along with her sister and two fellow astronauts, sets out to find her father to bring him and the ships back. You can already tell that knowledge of the previous game is crucial, and Deliver Us Mars assumes you played it. Deliver Us Mars’ story plays twistedly clever with moral issues, and I was driven from beginning to end to figure out what had taken place on the now-extinct Mars colony and what had driven her father to make his choices.
Unlike Deliver us the Moon, your character now has a face and Kathy is accompanied by three fellow astronauts and partner robot AYLA. A big improvement besides the static holograms that tell the story, as it makes the main characters more human. That the voice acting is of a high level definitely works to make the whole thing even stronger. On the other hand, the facial animations are dated and the performance of cutscenes is shaky. Character models also look somewhat static and plastic-like, but this may be a conscious stylistic choice.
Looking at the gameplay it is – besides some scripted setpieces and exploring Mars and the ARK colonization ships – divisible into a couple of parts. Puzzles where you have to aim energy beams at doors to open them (and which can get quite spicy toward the end) and hugely clunky platforming. Kathy is equipped with two picks that allow her to climb along certain walls, something we also saw in the recent Tomb Raider games. Here, unfortunately, it works a lot less smoothly. With the left trigger you control her left arm and with the right trigger the right arm, sounds simple enough. Climbing is rather slow and it happened more often than I liked that a registration didn’t come through and I clattered down out of nowhere. Checkpoints are fortunately plentiful, but at each checkpoint the screen pauses for a fragment. Pretty inconvenient when you’re just halfway through a jump and that hitch just doesn’t make it across….
The highlight of the game for me was not even on Mars itself, but the segment where you leave from Earth to Mars. From the launch where you have to operate the buttons and switches yourself, to a piece of spaceship maintenance where things obviously go explosively wrong, I would have liked to have seen a lot more of this.
The story of Deliver us Mars is strong and the gameplay, despite being repetitive, can be called “okay.” Graphically, that is far from the case. Bugs and glitches still plague the game at the time of writing and during my first playthrough caused me to turn it off several times out of frustration. And then not to get my sound back when it suddenly disappeared after I paused it for a moment.
Swishy walking and climbing animations of protagonist Kathy or an AYLA teleporting around in front of your eyes I can still turn a blind eye. After all, we’re not talking about a game with a AAA budget. But the fact that stable 60fps is difficult even in quiet moments, or that there is more pop-in than I’ve seen in recent years, is not neat. And that’s just talking about the stretches before you get to Mars.
Once you arrive on the Red Planet, the graphical issues don’t stop, and as crude as it sounds; it almost looks like the developer botched it. Flickering white textures and squares are irritating and distracting, but the fact that walls and floors literally don’t connect in several places and you can see out through those gaps is simply sloppy.
With more gameplay options and actual characters telling the story instead of just “lore holograms,” I had hoped Deliver Us Mars would be more interactive than a walking simulator with puzzles like the first game was. This is the case, but the amount of bugs and graphical glitches make me wonder if this was too much of a good thing for developer KeokeN.