Occupy Mars released for PC on 10th May, available in early access via Steam. Built upon the Unity engine, this sandbox survival game sees players build and survive on Mars. Being an avid fan of all things space travel and an ex game developer, I’m excited to see a space game developed in Unity for a change. Too many games are built (half-heartedly) upon the Unreal Engine level templates.
Not Just A Dream, But Reality
We work for ERA, and have been sent to Mars to help make the colonisation of our nearest neighbouring planet not just a dream, but a reality. Landing in the [zone], our job is to begin colonisation procedures.
Before jumping into the game, we’re able to customise our character, and quite thoroughly too. Growing up on games such as Oblivion, Skyrim and World of Warcraft I appreciate this customisation feature. As I’m sure many of you will agree, you feel more invested in a character you helped create.
Character choices locked in, Occupy Mars offers three game modes; Campaign, Free play and Tutorials. Our spacesuit contains an AI which helps us along our journey, and some mandatory tutorials take place in the Campaign mode anyway… so there’s no real need to check out the tutorials mode if you plan on playing Campaign. Consider having a look if you intend to go Free Play.
In campaign mode, you’ll mainly be helping out around the station, learning the basics of how to properly manage yourself, your suit and your surroundings. Tasks and objectives are structured and organised around your company manager’s needs. There’ll be tasks to clean up or fix sloppy work from other characters in the game, as well as manage food and waste systems. To be completely honest I found this mode to be a little slow and lacking. Plugging in fuses and turning levers isn’t quite what I expected from a planet exploring survival game.
Free Play Mode
Luckily for me, Free Play is much more up my street. With options to change the difficulty level (which essentially changes the available resources and starting equipment) you’re thrown straight into colonisation. Landing on the planet’s surface in a small capsule, all alone, you’re put to work immediately on restoring a damaged base. A quick tip: don’t assume all bases have pressure. Keep your helmet on until you’re sure!
Occupy Mars throws a few challenges our way, such as the spacesuit being unable to handle night-time temperatures. We also have all the basic stats of a survivable game; health, stamina, hunger, hydration. Being on Mars, there’s also oxygen and spacesuit power levels to consider. So keeping an eye on the HUD is a must. Removing your helmet when in an oxygen rich environment is a good way of conserving your suit O2 levels. Removing your helmet while exploring the planet’s surface, however, is not advised.
Mars has an atmosphere, so it also has weather – I’m pleased to see this mechanic included in the game. Weather events do provide some fun challenges. Watch out for sandstorms, dust devils, tornados, solar storms, meteor showers, lightning strikes and incredibly cold nights. Kudos to the developers for putting some serious effort into making Mars behave like… well… Mars.
Graphics & Audio
I played Occupy Mars with the following machine specs; Ryzen 5 3600X, 32GB RAM, RTX 3070.
Occupy Mars clearly strives for photorealism, and for an indie game it achieves it fairly well. Lighting, shadows, textures and 3D models offer just enough to immerse you in the game world. If I was to be picky, I’d highlight that while interacting with NPC’s the mouth movement is not synced with the audio. The NPCs can feel a little stale and lifeless because of it. Though it has to be said, it’s not that big a deal, especially in Free Play mode.
Overall though the audio is pretty good. Background music blends between western and space vibes, which really suits the big red planet. For once, I didn’t find myself lowering the background music volume. Special FX sounds such as airlocks opening and engines spinning up are done really well, you can tell some serious effort has gone into the audio design. The AI built into our suit isn’t annoying either, and it’s a welcome companion on an otherwise lonely planet.
Unfortunately the game suffers from some performance bugs. For me, Occupy Mars has a 90% chance to crash when exiting game. There’s also some quite noticeable FPS drops at times – but only in the Campaign mode. The lighting is also an issue for me, with things either being incredibly dark or incredibly bright and reflective. The only time I could really find a balance was at night, when lightning felt toned down a little. But keep in mind it’s still early access and only a few weeks old, I’m sure the bugs will be ironed out.
By all measures, Occupy Mars is not a small game. If you’ve ever played ARK, Rust, or anything like Dyson Sphere Program you’ll probably know how big these kinds of games can get. They’re really what you make of them. You could throw up a simplistic base in a matter of hours, but fine tuning and resource management fanatics could easily dump some serious hours into this one.
The Campaign introduction feels a slow, while the Free Play mode feels too quick – a balance needs to be struck between the two.. Once you’ve come to grips with the basic controls, tools and methods you’ll need to get started though, things do open up and you’re able to explore with more freedom and confidence.
Occupy Mars is a little heavy on the intro/tutorials, and takes a bit of time and investment to get going. But if you can stick it out until you’re out on the planet’s surface, the game becomes much more interesting and fun. There are some performance issues which to be completely honest would put me off playing for the time being (at least playing Campaign). Overall though, Occupy Mars shows some serious promise. With some tweaking and a few updates, it has the potential to be a really strong game, and I look forward to seeing it progress.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.