In our latest PSVR game review, I have dug into Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War (pun intended). It is the sequel to (no surprises) Unearthing Mars and is billed as a fast paced VR First Person Shooter. Having not played the first I was pleasantly surprised by a good looking intro that gave me a backstory and purpose and then a sleek tutorial to get me up to speed on how to play the game.
With some strong PSVR titles released in the last month, like Astro Bot and Firewall Zero Hour, I was looking forward to getting back into my Virtual Reality for some sci-fi blasting!
Released by Winking Skywalker Entertainment a year after the original, Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War features Aim Support, a good range of weapons and even time control elements (think Max Payne).
Winking Entertainment previously released Don’t Knock Twice on PSVR, and they are becoming a regular name in the VR universe and they were kind enough to give us a review code. So it’s on with the VR headset, out with my Aim controller and time to get my arse to Mars.
As FPS platforms go, PSVR has had some real highs like Arizona Sunshine and Firewall Zero Hour, and some real (real) lows like Bravo Team. Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War comes as the game landscape seems to be improving on PSVR.
The story revolves around fighting an ancient Martian civilization, that existed long before human set up camp on the blue marble next door. You play through the memories of a character that was there the first time round rather than travelling back in time. When it comes to quantum physics it’s more Assassins Creed than Back to the Future. The original game had mixed game play with only the last few levels as a FPS. Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War sticks with the gunplay the whole time.
It’s a clever use of the “memory” mechanic as it means that you can’t control the character per se, but choose when to move where they moved before. This is not a game that gives full locomotion control, but does a good job of making you think it is.
In fact it hides it so well that it took me a while to realise this is more of posh wave shooter than a fast paced FPS. As you point your Aim it highlights areas you can move to and depending on what colour the ghost image is depends on how you move; with teleport, fast move or bullet-time, which works really well. As game structure goes, it is standard fare, travel through area, clear minions, face boss and destroy.
But while the waves feel reminiscent of last years VR titles, the boss fights are really good and you can use the move points (mentioned above) at will to avoid its attacks and target vulnerable areas. The scale of the environment is big and some of the bosses are huge.
Because its on rails, the PSVR on a standard PS4 can handle everything that Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War throws at it. The textures are good and everything moves nicely, although some character popped in with very short notice.
The villain of the game comes to you in flashbacks and at this point the design of the game went downhill. While the rest felt original, this character appears like a ghostly Emperor Zurg, there to taunt you about your attempts at getting through the mission. VR titles will forgive impeccable graphics for decent immersion, but I didn’t find a lot of that here. It looks alright but lacks any real sense of atmosphere.
The developers of Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War have gone with a “floating gun” approach to the protagonist so no looking down to see how you look. Again, that tends to take some of the reality out of it.
In Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War the sounds attached to the use of Aim controller are good and correlate to each of the six guns you can equip, sound effects in general are relevant, well placed and well synced. The creepy voice over memories don’t interfere and you can hurry them along if they get boring.There is music, but it’s standard background arcade shooter music, the pace picks up when it has to but it doesn’t add any substance to the game
Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War has ten missions so it will take a few hours to play through. There is no decision making or route decisions so you’ll probably play it once. If you are a trophy hunter, there is no Platinum available so I didn’t find myself wanting to go back and beat each boss in one go, just to get a medal. The game moves along at a good pace and is fun to play. But it didn’t make me want to come back for more and once you get the hang of the games rhythm, it can be completed in 2-3 hours.
Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War is a standard VR-FPS wrapped up in a pretty good skin, with teleport movement to distract you from the fact it feels like a wave shooter. It looks good and sounds alright but it lacks any atmosphere and the story has no sense of gravity. It was fun to play, but death in the game came with a sense of relief and I found myself wanting to play titles with a bit more to them.
With PSVR starting to grow its catalogue of decent titles, games like Unearthing Mars 2 struggle to stand proud among them. But the development and look of the game make me confident that the devs could deliver something great in the future. But for me, this ain’t it.
Disclaimer: We were given a review code in order to provide this review.