Sci-fi media says space is dangerous because it’s filled with evil galactic empires and advanced alien lifeforms out to kill you. In reality, the physical act of space exploration is already pretty perilous. That’s something narrative-driven adventure Deliver Us Mars gets across, with plenty of peril and conflict but no combat.
Taking inspiration from transcendent sci-fi films 2001: A Space Odyssey, Gravity, and Interstellar, with its own epic atmospheric score to match, this is the sequel to 2019 indie release Deliver Us the Moon. If that game avoided your radar, it won’t take long to get up to speed with the world developer KeokeN Interactive has built.
While the future it conjures up isn’t particularly rosy, with the climate crisis taking Earth further to the brink of extinction, the focus is more intimate. This makes for a surprisingly emotional character-driven yarn about family, but one that’s not without bumps along the way.
Space soap opera
After receiving a distress signal from her father, protagonist Kathy is selected for a mission to Mars and become’s the world’s youngest astronaut. Her old man is essentially a war criminal, who a decade ago stole a life-sustaining ARK colony ship and abandoned Earth, so there’s more at stake than an interstellar family reunion.
Plenty of indie productions tell their stories without onscreen avatars. Deliver Us Mars boldly shows off its characters, and not always successfully. Everything is more stylised than say, a photorealistic Naughty Dog production, but it’s hard to ignore the uncanny valley faces. In certain flashback sequences, child Kathy looks downright weird.
Fortunately, the script and actors’ performances are strong enough that you’re still drawn to the drama, which has its fair share of tearjerking moments throughout. Still, it’s a relief that there’s a mixture of third-person and first-person perspectives. The latter certainly feels more immersive when you’re just focused on the environments and the plausibly real technology, from the Zephyr ship the crew is journeying to Mars in to what colony life on the red planet might be like.
It’s the early hours in outer space when the game is at its most wondrous, even in the methodical way you’re running through all the safety checks for launch (don’t worry, this isn’t a hardcore space sim; you’re given cues on what buttons or levers to interact with) or when you’re just gazing at the stars in front of you.
Even without the threat of combat, there’s danger aplenty to overcome even before landing on Mars. Fortunately, Kathy has a handy laser to cut through vents and the like, while drone companion AYLA can be remote-piloted to navigate tight spaces, pick up objects, or even spy on conversations.
AYLA also lets you decipher pods to unlock recordings that provide more backstory of the Outward colony. These are depicted by minimalist holograms, so are less distracting than the main character performances.
Perhaps your best tools are a pair of pickaxes used for climbing walls, either naturally formed or manmade. Controlled by holding down your controller’s triggers, there’s a real sense of tactility and peril, since you need at least one trigger held to stay attached while you desperately look to the next spot Kathy can extend her arm to. Unlike Tomb Raider’s conveniently marked paths, you really do have to look for a suitable surface before moving further.
The other main puzzle element is tied to the MPT power beams that are central to the game’s fictional generators. You’ll be aiming a lot of these beams at panels to activate doors and machinery, but each one needs a specific amount of power. That means splitting or dampening the beam first with other devices. Your mileage may vary but we encountered a few too many of these throughout the campaign.
Deliver Us Mars is a more ambitious undertaking than its predecessor, and despite the title, is actually quite varied in its environments. Beyond the aforementioned flashbacks on Earth, Mars is more than just roaming a red desert on a rover. A chapter set on the planet’s polar ice caps is certainly a surprise.
It’s just a shame the journey is also something of a rough ride. Even if you can get past the wonky faces, animation issues and stuttering frame rates were common on the PS5 build we played. It was easier to aim the laser cutter by moving Kathy than standing still and aiming with the right stick, and some interaction prompts required pinpoint placement. Sometimes we couldn’t solve a puzzle because it turned out a bug had prevented the prompt from showing up, forcing us to quit and restart the checkpoint.
Hopefully these issues will be resolved with patches at or shortly after launch. It’s the game’s credit that we still found ourselves engrossed in both the science fiction and very human drama Deliver Us Mars strives for. Despite the rough journey, it just about sticks the landing, and all without firing a shot.
Deliver Us Mars verdict
Deliver Us Mars kept us invested in its intimate human drama thanks to strong dialogue and performances from its central cast. The atmospheric world-building successfully emulates the lofty science fiction captured on the big screen, in both the wonder and danger of space exploration.
Appreciating those finer moments requires a degree of perseverance over the rough and buggy journey, though – at least at launch. There’s definitely a mature and moving story here that deserves to be experienced, but the issues we encountered make the delivery less than interstellar.
Mature and atmospheric sci-fi drama though some variable puzzles and buggy issues get in the way of the journey.
Atmospheric world-building and score
Tense climbing mechanics
Strong emotional performances
Character models don’t look so great
Some rough performance and bugs
A few too many beam puzzles