Ever wanted to find out what it would be like to control a rover on Mars? Well, Mars Simulator – Red Planet brings all the glory of landing, controlling, and navigating a rover on Mars. My initial assumption was it would be an honest to goodness, well-polished simulation focusing on educating people about the surface of Mars and what to expect. Suffice to say, the results were less than stellar across the board.
Mars Simulator – Red Planet is available for purchase on Steam for $7.99
The focus is a rover is launched to Mars and to the game’s credit, it does give insight into past attempts to take pictures of Mars and to land rovers on its surface. Many of the attempts have failed with many of the rovers missing their mark entirely, landing strangely, or there is a malfunction during the process. There were even a couple of times where the rovers only worked for a limited amount of time on the rare once one did land on the surface of Mars.
The player is put in the position of completing the next mission to Mars successfully. They must ensure this next Mars rover reaches its destination, lands safely, and can roam the surface of the Red Planet. Success means valuable information about the surface of Mars and its atmosphere for research and insight. Failure means yet another rover has fallen victim to the mystery of space.
The controls for Mars Simulator – Red Planet are frustrating and clunky from the first mission. While I appreciate the insight and brief history lesson on past attempts made to land a rover on the surface of Mars, my enjoyment ends there. The first mission involves moving the rover into a small circle so it lands safely and deploying a parachute when it’s a few meters off the ground.
This first mission took me over half an hour to complete because parachute moves so slowly, even when keeping it aimed consistently in one direction. I spent many attempts getting close to the circle and trying to land the rover, but ultimately always ended up right outside the circle. After what felt like the seventeenth attempt I was finally able to get the rover land just inside the circle and complete the first mission.
Thankfully, it is easier to progress throughout the missions that can range from taking pictures on the surface of Mars to collecting rock samples. There is not a lot to do besides these two things, even though players can save their pictures and upload them to Earth. Collecting rock samples can be a pain since the rover must be situated at an odd angle to pick up a rock sample. There were several times I had to constantly make the rover back up, reposition it, and then drive it forward again just to get one sample. Other times the rover seemed unable to interact with much of the rocks which meant driving up to every red boulder or pebble to find a viable object to obtain a sample.
The only aspect of gameplay that seemed polished and well thought out was taking pictures on the surface of Mars. While there was hardly anything of interest to take a picture of, Mars Simulator – Red Planet did feature a cool mini-game for uploading pictures to Earth.
The rover has a wi-fi like a signal that shows how strong its connection to Earth is wirelessly at any given point in time. When navigating around Mars this signal will rise and fall sporadically, only rising when the rover is in the right area. Uploading pictures means finding the strongest signal strength and uploading all the pictures taken while on Mars. Players can do this during most missions and it provides some motivation to explore the planet.
Speaking of appearances, there is not a lot to see when driving around Mars. Granted, going into the simulation I did expect to see red quite a bit, but it’s the appearance of the entire planet felt disappointing. Most the time it felt as if I were driving the rover through placeholder textures of Mars rather than the planet itself. Up close the textures were pixelated, uneven, and felt flat compared to real-life pictures I’ve seen of the Red Planet.
If anything, the graphics part of this simulation felt as if it was the alpha version of the game instead of the final product. I would be willing to give it a pass if the game was still in development or certain aspects weren’t finalized. Sadly, this is not the case and it feels like a wasted opportunity to truly give that feel of exploring the surface of Mars. There weren’t even any extra elements like clouds of red dust flying up when the rover is being driven around or tracks in the dust to show where it’s been.
Even small, basic details like this were completely absent in the final product. While I understand, there are limitations that can stem from limitations of the hardware, game engines used, and other factors here it just felt so empty. There seemed to be little to no effort put into the graphics for the simulation. The only halfway decent object in the entire game I felt was given even remote attention to detail is the rover itself.
The Mars rover has a Wall-E like appearance to it that makes it cute and in the beginning a joy to drive around when it’s revealed for the first time. Sadly, the rover is the only highlight appearance wise for most the Mars simulation. After that first initial introduction of seeing it roll out of its delivery package, there isn’t much else that caused me to feel an ounce of joy.
One thing the simulation got right is the atmosphere and sound design. The Mars simulation is completely silent save for the occasional beeps and whirrs when the rover is moving around. Ignoring the bad graphics and just focusing on using the rover and the sounds, it did feel like I was truly exploring the Red Planet.
Mars is completely empty and honestly, would anyone expect to hear anything when exploring the surface of the planet? The vast emptiness feels lonely, desolate, and lifeless. The vibrancy of the rover is a stark contrast when it whirrs loudly when gathering a sample or is beeping when uploading pictures to Earth.
While I understand it’s a simulation, the option for some background music to break the monotony or a meteor striking the surface of the planet would have been a nice change of pace. The feeling of apathy of just wandering aimlessly with a buzzing, beeping rover gets old after a while. I would have even loved to hear rocks rolling down the hillside on Mars, shifted by the wind or even the rover itself when its driving past.
The wasted opportunity here for a truly immersive experience hurts, which is worst ten-fold for space enthusiasts I imagine. Exploration has always been a joy of mine, which is why I usually opt out for open world games, but here it feels wasted. It is little for a player to do beyond taking pictures of the same red rocks over and over, dealing with clunky controls, and trying to land the rover in the first mission to play the rest of the game.
The design of the rover is fine, but the lack of substance for the rest of Mars Simulator – Red Planet is shocking. Even just a few extra elements like the rover leaving tracks behind in the red dust as a visual cue to players about where they’ve been before or even some storm elements would be a welcome distraction. In the end, I’m sad to say this is not a title I feel fans of planet exploration should pick up.
|+ Brief in-depth history of past Mars rover landing attempts||– Games feels unfinished|
|+ Sound design fits the empty atmosphere||– Clunky Controls|
|– Bad graphics|