I have some wonderful memories of Mars. s a tiny little fella, scampering down to my local newsagent, 35p clutched tightly in my sweaty palm, to purchase my very first Mars. The sweet burst of sugary goodness, the gooey centre, the fairly dubious aftertaste, it was like ambrosia of the gods to my 7-year-old self. Sadly, Memories of Mars has nothing to do with chocolate bar. Instead, it focuses entirely on Mars the planet. Who would’ve guessed?
Memories of Mars is a sci-fi open world survival game. It offers an entirely online world occupied by other players, providing the choice of both PvE and PvP servers, and sets you loose to try and carve out an existence. Now, full disclosure, I’ve never played a survival game before this one, so fans of the genre are probably going to find a lot to disagree with in this review as I dissect the genre that you love. On the other hand, if you too are a survival newbie, then read on and we can learn together.
Your protagonist in Memories of Mars is a clone who has just awoken from a lengthy nap to find the facility they were created in to have undergone the Resident Evil treatment. The laboratory is badly damaged and mostly abandoned, the few people who remain are congealing in puddles of their own body fluid, and it could generally do with a bit of a spring clean.
A neat tutorial gives you the basics, though anyone who has played an FPS before is sure to be right at home as you leap, jump and sidestep your way to freedom. Finally you make your way to the surface of the red planet, and it’s there you discover that your mission is to find out what happened to the colonists and how to prevent the same disaster from befalling you. But first you’re going to have to do some resource gathering. Lots and lots of resource gathering.
The first few hours of your time exploring the vast open world of Memories of Mars are spent picking up chunks of iron ore and nitrate left strewn across the landscape. Once you have enough, you can use your portable 3D printer to build various items and objects. These start off pretty basic – a mining tool, torch and the world’s most average pistol – but as you amass FLOPS (the game’s skill points) you can unlock higher level gadgets from an expansive skill tree.
The problem is, to do this you’re going to have to amass a vast supply of those resources. This amounts to doing little more than standing in front of a glowing rock and holding down a button whilst your mining tool supposedly does its thing. I say supposedly, as the limited animation simply shows chunks of rock disappearing whilst the mining tool sparkles a bit.
This basic gameplay loop is rather boring then. Having to collect fifty chunks of iron ore just to print out some pistol ammo does not make for a particularly time. Also, for a survival game, I didn’t find it terribly hard to survive. Your space suit’s oxygen can be replenished with ease from the plentiful oxygen pipes, whilst my food meter depleted so slowly there was little pressure to find sustenance. Sure, this easier level of challenge can be seen as a positive – survival games have a general reputation for being pretty sadistic – but without the constant sense of risk and danger, I felt there was little reason to do anything. Why bother trying to survive if your character is going to manage just fine without you doing anything?
Perhaps the challenge will come from the enemies you encounter? This being the future, an AI has run amok and spawned an army of spider bots to kill anyone they find. These minimally animated grey blocks jerk from side to side, pew-pewing lasers at the player’s face. Fortunately early models cause little damage, so rather than messing around retuning fire with the universe’s dullest handgun, I found running up to the spider bots and repeatedly punching them was far more effective.
I’m aware that Memories of Mars is not Doom Eternal, nor is it trying to be, but the combat is so mundane and flat. It really would have benefitted from some cathartic, explosive action. Even high level weapons and giant mechs fail to elevate the sedentary gunplay. It might have been a better idea to jettison the combat entirely and focus on the far more successful building mechanics.
It’s the building that really saves Memories of Mars from obscurity for me. Going all Kevin McCloud and constructing a vast space base is certainly satisfying and the scale of your construction can often be awe inspiring. Whilst trudging around the landscape you can find the bases of other players and some will blow your mind, both in terms of scope and complexity.
The other thing that will blow your mind is considering the extensive free time these people must have in order to accumulate all the resources they needed for their grand design. At least they don’t have to worry about a sneaky space weasel raiding their pride and joy, pumping FLOPS into your construction will keep it standing whilst you’re away from the game. Is the building worth the grind? For me, it wasn’t. There’s just to many other things I’d rather be doing, even if it does mean I miss out on making a space station so awesome it would make the Death Star envious.
Other than finding their bases, there was little other interaction to be had with other players during PvE. That all changes if you head into an in game event and the PvP component of the game. This element would definitely benefit from a tutorial, or any kind explanation at all. They do provide a great opportunity for looting, but I struggled to have any sense of what I should be doing, resulting in a confusing and frustrating mess. I spent all my time running from loot point to loot point before attempting to escape with my ill gotten gains. There’s also some pretty severe frame rate drops on PS4 and lag to contend with.
Having said that, there was a lot more fun to be had than standing behind a space rock and chiselling away with my mining tool a hundred times or more.