Deliver Us Mars is an absolutely staggering achievement in both science fiction storytelling and game design from a relatively small indie studio that has once again punched well above its weight.
Spectacular. That’s the one word that repeatedly came to mind throughout my hours spent with KeokeN Interactive’s sophomore release. What spectacular sights Deliver Us Mars presents. What a spectacular narrative in focus. What a true spectacle this planet-hopping journey is in its moment-to-moment gameplay. Just how did such a small, relatively new team of independent developers achieve this spectacular level of quality?
The follow-up to 2018’s Deliver Us The Moon is another remarkable accomplishment from the Netherlands-based studio. It not only evolves and expands on the original gameplay formula in a number of exciting ways, but perhaps its biggest surprise is how it confidently leaps forward with an emphasis on near-AAA caliber writing and acting. All while presenting a new opening for players that may have missed the last installment to jump on the rocketship without missing all too much.
Deliver Us Mars is a sight to behold at almost every turn and a truly unmissable journey for those seeking to scratch the sci-fi itch in a way few video games do to this extent.
Deliver Us Mars – Key Details
- Developer: KeokeN Interactive
- Price (PS5): $29.99 USD | £24.99 GBP | $44.95 AUD
- Release date: February 2, 2023
- Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, PC
Deliver Us Mars – trailer
Although Deliver Us Mars is technically the second chapter in a story that began on the Moon in 2018, this new slice doesn’t come with any forced prerequisites. Newcomers can seamlessly enter from this point without the entire narrative going over their heads. But for those who have experienced the original, there’s a great deal of effort put into honoring the previous installment and even playing with expectations set by the first game in ways you may not see coming.
It strikes an excellent balance that delivers a fresh and exciting story for all who dive in, while still carrying the legacy of the events that came before.
Jumping ahead to the year 2069, Deliver Us Mars follows the journey of Kathy Johanson, the youngest daughter of renowned scientist Isaac Johanson — an individual we learned of in the first game, but only perceived through holograms. In this new journey, a spotlight is cast on this family as we dive much deeper than before into their ideals, philosophical beliefs, and bruised relationships, all while thrusting it amid a backdrop of global anguish and interplanetary ambition.
Presenting this dichotomy of tight-knit familial woes and vast, species-defining consequences is undoubtedly the narrative’s biggest strength. Every decision small and large feels utterly crucial and thus every conflict between these central characters is all the more gripping.
Along for the ride is a fully-fleshed-out cast, all realized to a greater degree of polish than anything we saw in the previous game. Tremendous writing lends to stunning performances across the board, the like of which are typically reserved for games of a AAA caliber with multi-million dollar budgets. Yet somehow a small team in the Netherlands has all but managed to stand toe to toe with industry giants. While motion capture lacks a certain polish we’ve grown to expect from the very best, it’s nonetheless astonishing what an independent team has accomplished here.
Particularly, Ellise Chappell as the game’s protagonist is genuinely remarkable through many of the most heart-wrenching scenes. It’s a surprisingly emotional narrative and Chappell is there through it all, punctuating many of the more impactful moments. As the youngest member on her team, yet one with extraordinary academic results on the ground, we see Kathy constantly having to deal with the conflict of trusting her instinct or respecting the commands of her seniors.
It’s a testament to not only the script but also overall direction on the mo-cap stage that Deliver Us Mars comes together as an incredibly well-delivered sci-fi story that will have you completely locked in until the very end.
Shooting for the stars
Outside of the aforementioned cutscenes, of which there are many, Deliver Us Mars treats you to a steady mix of traversal sections, puzzles, action setpieces, and the occasional open landscape to explore both on-foot and in a vehicle, as you uncover the game’s many hidden secrets. While a good number of the original’s gameplay systems have been retained here, almost all have been iterated upon to some degree.
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First-person exploration sequences are now much smoother to control, and can even be swapped out to third-person if you prefer. Navigating immense open areas is much more efficient than before thanks to refined vehicle mechanics. New climbing features also keep you on your toes through manual, pinpoint actions as opposed to automated animations. Even the puzzles are a bit more intuitive this time around as well. While none will have you scratching your head for all too long, they certainly help to break up the flow and keep you engaged.
This time around, a vast majority of puzzles in the game follow in the footsteps of The Talos Principle or even Portal 2. More often than not, your goal is to direct beams of energy through a room, hitting targets with just the right amount of focus to engage a system or open a door, for instance. This means forcing energy to flow in the right direction, placing equipment in its path to reduce its strength, and often setting up multiple connection points to guide beams around twists and turns. They’re certainly nothing all too original but they serve their purpose and help push you along to the next, more enthralling sequence.
One thing that can’t be denied is how Deliver Us Mars takes a lot longer to properly get going than its predecessor. The first few chapters are considerably slow as you come to grips with all the narrative elements in play and learn the basic survival mechanics for the mission that lies ahead. There’s a good chance this more methodical onboarding could grow tedious for some and perhaps turn them away, though your perseverance is definitely rewarded. When the game does decide it’s time to strap you in and trigger the ignition, you’re in store for one of the most breathtaking introductory sequences I’ve seen in a video game in quite some time. And from there, the momentum rarely lets up.
Whether it’s quietly plodding through abandoned research facilities in an attempt to uncover the truth of its former inhabitants or driving through staggeringly large swaths of land with the desert heat permeating every frame, the attention to detail throughout will more than likely blow you away. It’s once again a truly staggering accomplishment from such a small team of developers that I often had to stop what I was doing, take in the enormity of the scene, and ponder just how they did it. The sheer scope of certain chapters and the detail that comes into focus as you draw near is the work you’d expect from industry leaders with hundreds of employees.
Unfortunately, this ambitious design does come with the occasional setback, at least on console. While playing through on PS5, even the current-gen build struggled to keep up with the information on-screen at times, especially in those bigger, outdoor settings. Frame rate dips were a noticeable issue throughout, and while some sections were improved through a day one patch, it is still noticeable during the game’s most demanding scenes. In a sense, it almost appears as though settings have been maxed across the board on the console port, tanking frames in the process when even medium-tier settings would suffice given the stunning detail on display.
Similarly, while an early patch resolved a good number of gameplay-related quirks, particularly with placing objects in puzzle sections, I still encountered a handful of bugs that halted the action in a second playthrough. More often than not, when items glitch out of your control, it requires a reset by heading to the main menu and starting the checkpoint over. While not entirely game-breaking, it’s worth bearing in mind these issues can still hinder your enjoyment at times.
Occasionally, the AAA quality does wear thin as well, albeit in much less noticeable examples. It’s a few small details that give the experience a feeling of being rough around the edges at times, the sort of extra level of polish you’d expect to see from the very biggest dev teams today, lacking from this overachieving indie studio. Be it the infrequent animation jank, an awkward movement bug, or even just the amusing fact Kathy doesn’t have an animation to equip her climbing gear. Instead, it just instantly appears in your hands for one frame before vanishing in another. None of these elements break the immersion to a significant degree by any means, but they are present, and perhaps a few extra weeks in the oven could have helped to really tighten up any loose ends.
A true great in the sci-fi genre
Standout sci-fi games, especially those that venture away from our home planet and navigate a much broader scope, have become increasingly hard to come by of late. Following on from a generation that saw the likes of all-time greats in the Mass Effect and Dead Space trilogies, the genre has slowed in recent years. Fortunately, the team at KeokeN Interactive is doing its best to revitalize the category and present wholly original, enthralling adventures for a new generation.
The Verdict – 4 / 5
Deliver Us The Moon was an excellent first step in living up to that mission statement and releasing a sci-fi game not to be forgotten anytime soon. Now, Deliver Us Mars builds from that success with far greater ambition in mind. Yet even with its sights set on new, lofty heights, outside of a few technical hiccups, it undoubtedly manages to stick the landing against all odds. It’s an absolute must-play for fans of the genre and the future couldn’t be brighter for the team of overachieving indie devs in the Netherlands.