Mars First Logistics Early Access Review – One small step for man…

Posted on June 22, 2023

I’m always keeping my eye out for weird, atypical experiences that you can’t quite get anywhere in games. So, when Mars First Logistics, a Melbourne-developed physics simulator all about creating Mars rovers to carry and deliver obtuse packages popped up on my radar, you better believe I was itching to get my hands on it. Finally launching in Early Access, I’ve got to spend some time with the quirky, colourful title and through all the challenging craft barriers I’ve had an absolute blast.

Seeing Mars First Logistics being one step closer to its full release is all the more exciting given its already promising early look at last year’s PAX Aus. That’s no exception here. In fact, as far as Early Access runs go, the game feels incredibly content-complete and well worth checking out.

It’s a good thing too – already you’ll be spending a lot of time just tooling around and experimenting with designs. With all the features already present, this time can balloon out. On the design screens, you can pull apart your rover like LEGO, having pieces such as motors, connectors, wheels and the like just some of what you can mix and match together.

As you might expect, having something of an engineer-trained brain will help exponentially in your adventures in Mars First Logistics. You may very well struggle with how best to position your motors so that claw attachments, fashioned like a mini crane, can pick up a crate or box of interest. Some of the puzzles are in making a craft even capable of picking up a delivery in and of itself.  Maybe it’s all about how to effectively move a package up a steep, rocky hill. Other ventures that seem like a more breezy ride from A to B become even more difficult when you arrive at your destination, only to learn an object such as a beam now has to be stationed vertically at its drop-off point.

Unlockable blueprints that let you craft set rovers (such as buggies or ore carriers with rocket jets that let you jet into the sky) make this easier as a bouncing-off point or foundation for adding on to build something more complex. Similarly, turning the experience into cooperative online play certainly lightens the load, making jobs easier. However, in turn, this distracts from that isolated atmosphere which is one of the game’s strengths.

You see, though Mars is relatively arid, only populated by the outposts and half-built man-made structures, it’s still gorgeous. Mars First Logistics sports a cel-shaded art style reminiscent of games like Sable. The earth of Mars, including its cliff faces and crevices, is painted a vivid orange, illuminated by pastel yellow skies. When it turns dark, the stars come out to play, and the ground is now deep purples, emphasising the extra-terrestrial environment.

“…as far as Early Access runs go, the game feels incredibly content-complete and well worth checking out.”

Backing up your experience is the soundtrack created by Untitled Goose Game composer Dan Golding, comprising largely of pop songs that have a lo-fi and out-of-this-world feeling to them. A particularly neat touch is that songs often only really kick in when you’re on long stretches of progress where you’re uninterrupted by your otherwise constant tripping, fumbling and falling down hills and cliffs.

Every struggle is emphasised. When you’re slogging up a hill, you don’t get the tunes. You must sit and think about what you’ve done, hoping you eventually conquer it all and rise to the top, being greeted with gorgeous views and that sweet moody music.

Everything you do is in service of your future in Mars First Logistics. These delivery jobs all earn you money which then can be used to buy more parts, further expanding your toolkit to create bigger and better rover crafts. The game keeps this loop up well by also offering quirky side jobs if you’ve hit a roadblock, with the discovery of satellite towers meaning you can take missions further out. There is already a bounty of tasks to do and I’ve only scratched the surface.

Most of the charm however is just in the comedy of errors one can experience. I truly felt like I was in my own episode of Looney Tunes as I’d comically plummet off cliffs or crash a payload head-first into a rock. The fantastic news for those more rookie players like myself is that there’s no grading for your jobs. As long as you get the object across the finish line, you’re done. The money’s yours.

While I see room for graded missions to be added for the more hardcore players, it’s super heartening to know that Mars First Logistics is taking a The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdomstyle approach to its building mechanics. Simply put, if you can get it moving, it’ll work.

I hope Mars First Logistics take off. There is some real potential in clip-sharing quirky moments in the game, whether that’s weird crafts you’ve got working or painful crashes. It’s a cool, creative and relatively more approachable spin on the physics sandbox genre that many should get their hands on.

Mars First Logistics launches in Early Access on June 22 via Steam. We strongly recommend delving in and getting your hands dirty.