Just before my group of four young astronauts with huge, personal conflicts of interest lift off to the Red Planet, our team leader assures me that although some corners had to be cut to make our ship spaceworthy, it should do the job all right. And it does… sort of. That’s a great metaphor for Deliver Us Mars as a whole. This puzzle-solving interplanetary platforming adventure tries to do too much with too little and ends up just north of reasonable.
The backstory for our brave, rebellious, sometimes even lovable heroine, Kathy, is that she was separated from her father, Isaac, just before he boarded a colonization mission to Mars. Years later, she’s graduated from astronaut school on a climate-ravaged Earth, and a mysterious transmission from Isaac spurs her and her older sister, Claire, to scramble for a seat on the mission to bring back the colony ships. Regular flashbacks do a respectable job of filling in her family’s complicated and painful history along the way.
Bring us Mars screens
Cape Canaveral’s launch sequence is among the strongest. You must perform various checks and landing procedures that feel authentic and tactile before watching through the front window as your ship, the Zephyr, exits Earth’s atmosphere with no cuts or loading screens. You’re not notified in advance of any of these procedures, which caused many of me to wave my mouse cursor around, desperately trying to find the highlighted switch for the internal power interval or whatever, but it was neat once I got the hang of it had of it.
Aside from these scripted sequences, Deliver Us Mars consists of first- and third-person exploration of an orbital facility and the surface of Mars itself, with some fairly easy puzzle-solving and the occasional frustrating platforming. There are multiple sections where you’ll need to bounce wireless energy beams around to adjust the voltage on doors and terminals to progress to the next area. They’re generally not too difficult, but I’ve found some of the trickier ones to be solved satisfactorily.
What wasn’t nearly as satisfying were those obnoxious climbing wall segments. You have to press the left and right mouse buttons at the same time to hold on to a wall at first, and you have to do it with enough space so that you don’t slide off the climbing surface. But this action is so unresponsive that whether or not you’re able to make a purchase feels rather random, especially in some instances where you have to jump at an angle. Also, one of the moves you need to advance in some of the later segments is never explained at all, and I accidentally discovered it just trying random buttons in frustration after being stuck for a few minutes. Pro tip: You can hold S and press the spacebar to jump to a wall behind you.
This lack of direction even extends to some sections of the main story where you can take several different paths but aren’t told at all which is the right one and can end up straying wildly in the wrong direction. There’s an option under Accessibility to always show quest markers, and while I don’t necessarily need a big star constantly guiding me every step of the way, it could really use some sort of middle ground. When you tell me to go to Ark Vita without ever giving me a clue as to where it is, it seems like you’re really letting me spin in the wind.
At least the characters are lovable. How few of them there are anyway. Neil Newborn (whom you may remember as the demented Heisenberg from Resident Evil: Village) gives a great performance as Isaac, a complex character with conflicting motivations. Kathy herself is brought to life by Ellise Chappell, who gives a compelling performance with great emotional range. And the story is respectable, with the mystery of what happened to the Martian colonists pulling me forward at every turn.
However, the character models can’t really keep up with that. They have a very doll-like, eerie valley look – if we can even see their faces. Plenty of backstory is provided through these pre-recorded holograms, in which hairless, faceless crash test dummies pose in place as dialogue plays out. It really looks like placeholder art that you would see in an unfinished game and the developers just never had the time or resources to replace it. There’s also an entire chapter near the end that jumps from one scene to something completely unrelated, which makes me feel like they cut a significant chunk of the plot without putting it back together very well.
Performance, especially during cutscenes, is also an important issue. My RTX 3080 powered system exceeds the recommended specs, but in many cinematics I would see my framerate drop below 10 fps even with DLSS enabled. I had to turn off rendering of the hair per strand entirely because it kept glittering. In normal gameplay, it’s usually fine. But this is clearly not a very well optimized project.