How best to build a sequel for an understated hit of a game? Perhaps KeokeN Interactive appears to have the right idea with Deliver Us Mars, the follow-up to Deliver Us the Moon.
For all intents and purposes, Deliver Us Mars is a proper sequel, but its story wisely also functions in a standalone fashion. It’s a more distinctive beast as KeokeN has laid out big ambitions and bigger scope. The same underlying formula is there, but with a refined blockbuster style layered on top. It’s part of a growing, and welcome, trend to have smaller names in the development space bridging the gap that exists below the heavyweights of the industry. For the most part, Deliver Us Mars continues that trend in a positive way.
Deliver Us Mars follows a determined effort to save humanity as Earth dies. The game centers around a mission to retrieve crucial equipment abandoned on Mars with the hope of rescuing our home planet.
The prologue packs an emotional punch
Set 10 years after the events of Deliver Us the Moon, players are put in the boots of astronaut-in-training Kathy Johanson. After an emotional prologue with a younger Kathy, we reunite with her years later as she’s fixing satellite dishes on Earth. Events lead to her joining a mission to Mars, which is where the majority of the game takes place.
Kathy is primarily on this mission to retrieve some Earth-saving tech, but she has an underlying, conflicting, agenda. She believes her disgraced long-lost father is on the red planet, and wants to investigate. With the group in a race against time to recapture their objective, Kathy’s own personal mission is likely to get in the way.
From early on, it’s clear where Deliver Us Mars, and indeed KeokeN, have stepped up its efforts from Deliver Us the Moon. Moon was concise, straightforward, and on the downside of things, a bit limited in what it aimed for on a mechanical level. With Deliver Us Mars, it’s clear much has gone into rectifying that.
This game adds higher production values, proper traversal, and large complex environmental puzzles to name a few obvious upgrades, and it’s to KeokeN’s credit that it almost feels like this series was always supposed to be this (relatively) grandiose. I must say when I saw the plot for Deliver Us Mars, I was slightly concerned about it because of the rather similar Mars-based narrative mystery of another upcoming game The Invincible.
Thankfully, there’s a clear difference in tone and direction, even if the setting naturally makes them appear like the same thing at times. There’s more of a Spielberg filter on Deliver Us Mars because of the focus on a broken family in a fantastical setting. It has a darkness, but it strives to keep the light in as well.
Kathy traverses Mars on foot and sometimes in an RV in order to get across the dusty surface of Mars to any number of habitable environments found on the red planet. These environments are the perfect showcase for her climbing skills. It may be the future, but Kathy takes some retro influences from Lara Croft by using climbing axes to work her way across the terrain. Usually, this leads her to a puzzle that appears simpler than it actually is.
Puzzles escalate in size, starting with basic item shuffling to overcome initial obstacles and progressing to more challenging climbing segments. It’s a mixture of logic and dexterity that works quite well. Of note is the laser cutter tool, which has limited capability, but is oh-so-satisfying to use when it’s called upon.
I think the fact it captures that winning AAA formula of traversal x puzzle x set piece helps Deliver Us Mars to hang with the big boys in its own way without compromising on the more intimate feel that comes from smaller teams creating a video game.
The laser cutter is a pleasing tool to use
Deliver Us Mars excels in its storytelling and world-building, striking a delicate balance. Having knowledge of Deliver Us the Moon certainly helps accentuate the richness of Deliver Us Mars’ atmosphere, but even viewed as a standalone experience, it garners so much goodwill from its hard sci-fi background that it manages to create a captivating world. The emotional aspect of the story is well-focused, and the high-quality writing and performances make it even more engaging.
Something that truly drives the game forward is the score. Sander van Zanten’s rousing orchestral swirl is the perfect accompaniment for a journey to space and Mars. It lifts up the story and its bigger moments in that special way only a good musical score can. It’s one of those scores I’ll look forward to listening to outside the game.
The biggest hurdle Deliver Us Mars has to confront is that of meeting its technical ambitions. I absolutely give a game like this the benefit of the doubt when it comes to technical hiccups because it’s a relatively small team trying to match the presentation of bigger, wealthier studios. They are there though. Don’t get me wrong, Deliver Us Mars is generally a good-looking game, but there are some frame rate hitches, pop-in problems, and animation anomalies. Besides these issues, the floaty jump in Deliver Us Mars is not to my liking. The slow-motion jumps of Kathy were particularly immersion-breaking.
These are small-fry issues at least, and the ambition of Deliver Us Mars outstrips much of it. It’s nice to have a sci-fi adventure of this scale that isn’t about blasting aliens. It has plenty of awe and wonder at the mysteries of the cosmos, but draws it back to a more personal human level. I’m always up for more of that.
DELIVER US MARS VERDICT
Deliver Us Mars offers a refreshing sci-fi adventure with an entertaining and emotional story at the forefront. It ups the scale from its predecessor and manages to reach for the stars relatively unscathed.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Any time a simple puzzle opens up into something new and bigger.
Engaging, emotional story
A really weird jump