Deliver Us Mars Preview – On a mission to the Red Planet

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This are looking pretty bleak for mankind in the future of KeokeN’s Deliver Us series. Earth has been ravaged by climate change, the ties to bountiful energy sources were untied, and the advanced efforts to meaningfully spread mankind to other planets have been stolen away. The events of Deliver Us The Moon’s desperate last chance mission gave us hope, but in Deliver Us Mars, Earth has set its sights on reclaiming more of the vital resources that were one shot up through the stratosphere.

Deliver Us Mars is set some ten years after the Fortuna mission to the Moon, but its mission is no less vital to the hopes of Earth. Back in our energy rich heyday, self-invested shadowy organisation Outward set out to colonise Mars, stealing and ripping away vessels known as ARKs to power their efforts. It’s time to figure out what happened on that privateer mission to our red neighbour, and try to reclaim this potential saviour.

It’s a more optimistic tone than Deliver us the Moon, with Narrative Director Raynor Arkenbout saying, “We start with the premise that there is a way to reverse this damage, I think it’s good that we start with hope. […] What I love about the first game is that it had a problematic world situation and the ending solved a symptom, right? It solved the energy crisis, it didn’t solve the root of climate change is still a problem. So that left a big world open for us to still deal with, and this time we really wanted to grab the main problem, which is that the environment is still deteriorating, whether we have energy back into the mix or not. […]

“We start there, but we definitely go to more complex terrain. The narrative, thematically, will definitely go deeper than just being a space mission, save the world, everybody wins. We want it to be more complex.”

Deliver Us Mars science fiction

So yes, recovering the ARKs is the one main goal of Mission Opera, but Kathy Johanson has an ulterior motive for going to Mars. Her father, Isaac, went to Mars with Outward, was complicit in their crimes, but also left her behind with little explanation. It’s an interesting juxtaposition with the relatively realistic sci-fi tone of many parts of the mission.

Raynor explained to us, “We love to have a storyline that engrosses more and has something in that dramatic space about humans. So we’re going to make a game that’s maybe not like other action adventures, where the morality is just good-evil. We’re definitely more on the side of the genres where you expose a little bit more of the drama and subtlety, and I think that a personal storyline helps us do that.

“I think we get really excited about having a cast of characters that you can really cling onto and feel very human. None of the characters that we have in the game is an archetype of just something good or bad, they all have flaws, they all have something that’s great about them. You can see them as your friends, you can see them as terrible people, but I think that every player will have a different reaction, because all of these characters have something to like and hate about them.”

Much like Deliver Us The Moon, there’s a particular blend and tone to the storytelling and gameplay of Deliver Us Mars. For one thing, Mission Opera doesn’t exactly go to plan, the crew of the Zephyr space shuttle sent to Mars split up while making landfall and, in the relatively early section we went hands on with, trying to regroup and combine their efforts.

Deliver Us Mars Herschell Quarry

Kathy is a rather capable character in getting across the surface of the Red Planet. Coming across the Herschel Quarry, which has been transformed with large man-made structures to dig into the Martian soil, you need to get from one side to the other. The gravity of Mars being roughly 1/3rd that of Earth means you can (within reason) ‘Skyrim’ your way down certain inclines and sharp drops, but falling too far will still end in Kathy’s untimely demise.

So, it’s handy that Kathy packed her climbing pickaxes to help get around the place. Similar to the recent Tomb Raider trilogy, you can spot the areas where you can use these picks to hook in and move around. It’s an intuitive set up, with each hand’s attachment to the wall controlled with the gamepad triggers, guiding the next axe stab with an analogue stick. If you want, you can try and speed things along, using Mars’ gravity to potentially leap out from a ledge, or simply let go when wanting to climb down, then double pickaxe into a bit of soft rock to reattach and arrest your fall. It’s really quite satisfying, and the checkpointing is generous enough that you won’t feel punished if you get it a bit wrong.

It’s a part of what feels like more dynamic and engaging traversal through the world. One particular segment had me needing to leap and pickaxe onto a moving fabricated wall, while the trailers show Kathy leaping from one precarious platform to the next.

in general, there’s a semi-realistic tone to the adventure, from the movement speed and lower gravity to the blend of futuristic scientific technology being used. “It’s such a balancing act,” Raynor said, ‘and we had so many talks about where we want to be on that line. We definitely want to stay with grounded sci-fi, a harder type of sci-fi, but we do take the liberties on some points. For example, the machines that we call the ARKs are definitely more grandiose than humans can probably build for a long time. We definitely took the liberty of going a bit bigger with the sci-fi, but that’s all to serve the purpose of the story, which for us is the biggest thing.”

Accompanying Kathy is a hovering robot buddy AYLA, much like in the previous game. AYLA serves multiple functions, letting you scout out an inaccessible area and helping you solve environmental puzzles, and more notably in enabling the replay of key conversations and events from the Outward project.

Deliver Us Mars Butts

Entering certain rooms, you’ll have to move AYLA around in a light environmental puzzle to find the sweet spots for a holographic reproduction of events, filling in the backstory of what went on. It’s a story delivery that’s exactly like in Deliver Us The Moon, though I don’t remember the holographic butts being quite so shapely in that game – Raynor laughed when I asked him about this, replying, “Well, I mean the highest god has to have something, right? You have to have something to look at.”

These will also play well together with full-on flashbacks to Kathy’s childhood and her path into the space programme, adding another layer to the tale and building out her character through the game.

And then, as you pick your way through the abandoned infrastructure of the colony, you’ll need to manipulate the environments and solve puzzles to allow your progress. Getting up the other side required supplying power to the lift, with a bit of a brain-teaser found when needing to redirect power beams, pass them through power reduction fields and deliver the exact right amount of energy to conduits to open doors and enable dish controls.

Deliver Us Mars promises to be a worthy successor to Deliver Us The Moon, building on the engaging style of that game’s space-ward mystery with broader action gameplay, more layers and engaging characters to the story and generally raising the ambitions of what this game can try to do. It’s especially true for those who enjoyed the first game, but Deliver Us Mars is one to watch for early 2023.

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