Tom Quirk plays a lot of video games, but when he isn't, he is reading fantasy novels and watching way more television than is healthy.
Mars Underground is an unusual game being developed by Aussie developer Moloch Media. We initially looked at it as one of the winners of the PAX Indie Showcase, and now I’ve had several hours with it.
Set in a small town, you play as Mars, a new kid at school who goes through his normal day, only for the town to be wiped out in a giant explosion. Fortunately, it seems you are stuck in a time loop, constantly reliving the day of March 15th before the end of the world.
Free to explore the town and reset events at any point, the player can live out their “Groundhog Day” dreams of messing about a small town with no consequences, learning the ins and outs of this strange place and unraveling the weird mysteries of what exactly is going on. Although the town seems normal at first, things quickly go off the rails. Such oddities include talking toilets, a psychologist who can teleport and break the fourth wall, and an alien invasion in the nearby park that the population doesn’t seem to notice.
The sense of freedom in this surreal setting is one of the main draws of Mars Underground; every new item found is a new potential location or activity to do. Each day lasts 10 different phases, with time passing during screen transitions. There is an oddly voyeuristic appeal to following around each character around in their pre-determined schedule. Acquiring new discussion topics and items carries over between loops, so there is value to finding something, and then resetting to see if it can be used at an earlier time period.
Admittedly, Mars Underground can feel a little aimless; the closest thing it has to a goal is to unlock all the endings. Whilst progress is made by finding new items to unlock the paths to new endings and locations, much of your time in Mars Underground, as with many adventure games, will be spent wandering around trying everything until you figure out the path forward. Fortunately, the game drops hints if you go a few cycles without achieving much, so it is unlikely the player will get stuck for long.
Mars Underground is an adventure game as much about the setting and location as it is about the puzzles. Sometimes it can be fun to do something crazy to see how characters will react, like starting a fight, or putting poo in your pockets, or breaking into someone’s house. No-one else will remember it, so why not? If you’re looking for an adventure game that focuses more on surreal atmosphere than narrative and puzzles, Mars Underground may be what you’re looking for.
Mars Underground will be available on PC and mobile devices today, March 15th.