Memories of Mars, another entry into the currently trendy online survival-action genre, is currently in its second closed beta, so I jumped onto the red planet to see how developer Limbic Entertainment GmbH have sought to separate it from its contemporaries like Rust.
The premise, for what it’s worth, is that you awaken as a human clone on a semi-colonised Mars 100 years into the future, after some chaotic unknown event has caused the population to disappear. Hostile robotic monstrosities roam the barren wasteland of the planet’s surface, and players must travel between vacant mining operations, collecting resources and activating terminals to collect FLOPs (the game’s currency). FLOPs can be spent on a variety of actions within the games crafting and skill tree menus, unlocking new abilities and materials with which to construct fortifications, with the ultimate goal of surviving the other players and the Martian elements themselves.
The game supplements the oppressive and haunting atmosphere created by its landscape with a health and resource management system that will see players foraging for supplies. You must manage not only your health, but also stamina, nutrition, body temperature and oxygen levels if you want to survive in this dangerous environment. I often found myself out collecting iron on some windswept plain, when a check of my oxygen meter notified me that death was imminent and I had to dart to the nearest refuelling station. The micromanagement of all your stats can get a bit intense but it is immersive as well.
Base building is also a core element of the game and it appears to have been implemented well. There are a variety of structural pieces that can be purchased separately with FLOPs and combined in any way the player sees fit in order to create bases with which to survive the onslaught of other players and enemy NPCs.
The game’s location certainly lends an aura of mystery and tension to the proceedings, which is almost a gameplay mechanic in itself. You’ll find yourself often looking over your shoulder whilst travelling across a blustery desert to make sure no robotic spiders are crawling up behind to ruin your day and deplete your precious backpack. The threat is always real here, as everything you have gathered on your journey is dropped upon death, but upon respawning you can recollect your gear if you can make it back to the same spot on the map (and if no other player has swooped in and plucked your corpse clean).
However, a few issues typical of these emergent gameplay centric games do rear their head here too. Despite that game’s sprawling 16km2 map (Skyrim’s for reference was 44km2), there are currently only 85 points of interest in the game to explore. In similar games like Rust, DayZ or even Battle Royal titles like Fortnite or PUBG, the map is littered with smaller structures in which players can take a breather, collecting smaller amount of resources whilst heading to the bigger points of action. The setting of Mars means that from a design perspective small buildings and previous sign of life would be somewhat contradictory to the games themes of isolation on a foreign planet. The consequence of this is that most of the points of interest in the game appear to be uniformly industrial structures, that most player will gravitate towards as they have the most available resources, terminals for collecting FLOPs, or other useful services, such as memory banks for storing resources in the event of death. Whilst this can make for some busy gunfights, I found myself experiencing a lot of downtime whilst travelling, taking long walks between points, during which there was little to see or do.
Part of the nature of the open world survival genre is that they are true sandboxes. The design elements are limited in favour of crafting an experience which is catered towards players forging their own story. There is no single player or overarching narrative made apparent so far in Memories of Mars. You the player derive your own enjoyment from the mechanics and inherent tension that the games resource system creates. As a consequence of this, the game will offer the most enjoyment when playing with friends and interacting with other players, to create your own fun. Single parties will find the red planet (appropriately) a very solemn and lonely place to play. The dynamic and unpredictable reactions that players have when encountering each other and not knowing whether to attack or team up created some of the most fun moments I had in the game. Unless you’re especially charismatic though, shoot first and ask questions later seems to be the preferable strategy.
Along with the expected list of bugs for a game still in development, a lot of the game’s current foibles can be attributed to it being an early access title and still in beta. I couldn’t locate any Australian servers, meaning even with a strong connection my latency was a solid 200ms for the length of my time with the game. Hopefully once a player base is established a more diverse selection of servers will become available and these issues will be resolved. The game will release using Steam’s Early Access platform so prospective buyers should be aware that it is likely a fair way away from being a complete (in the traditional sense) game.
Take my first impressions of the game with a grain of salt, as there is no doubt a lot of features and polish which the developers will add to the game going forward, and to play it now one can see that it has a lot of potential for base-building open-world hijinks (just bring friends!).
Memories of Mars is due to release on Steam Early Access in Mid 2018.
Article by Dylan Cook
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