Normally, we wouldn’t review something like The Martian VR Experience. Normally we’d give you some quick impressions about what would likely be a fun, if forgettable piece that puts you in the world of the movie. We’d tell you that if you’re a fan of the franchise then it’s something you’ll want to see, but everyone else can probably skip it.
Normally, though, studios don’t charge for this sort of thing.
Despite lasting around 20 minutes, The Martian VR costs $19.99 on HTC Vive and PlayStation VR. I suspect that’s a decision made by publisher 20th Century Fox and not developers The Third Floor and The Virtual Reality Company. For your money, you’ll get to experience a handful of scenes from last year’s Ridley Scott sci-fi epic in VR, taking on the role of protagonist Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon in the movie. It’s far from terrible, but at such a hefty price tag it’s impossible to recommend until it’s on a sale that drastically slashes its price.
The Martian VR Experience covers pretty much the entire movie, so you’ll want to actually see it before trying this to avoid spoilers. It begins as Watney crash-lands on Mars, and subsequent scenes are strung together somewhat awkwardly by snippets from the movie itself, appearing in virtual windows. When a scene that makes sense for VR crops up, you’ll be transported back into Watney’s body to experience it first-hand.
For the most part, these scenes are seated, stationary experiences, which feels like a decision made to accommodate the PlayStation VR version. You’ll use each headset’s respective position-tracked controls to interact with the environment around you much in the same way you do in other VR experiences like Job Simulator. At one point you’ll control a crane, at one point you’ll drive a buggy, and at another point you’ll steer through space with your hand.
As far as gameplay goes, this is actually a pretty refined and visually impressive experience. The detail on the suit Watney wears is striking, even if the decision to include arms often bends them at weird angles and drags you out of the immersion. The helmet covering your view is also one of the best we’ve seen in VR; it really feels like you’re housed inside the claustrophobic shell throughout.
Many of these scenes are redundant and brief, however. At one point you’ll hear an explosion, the screen fades to black, and you’re transported outside to see debris flung in front of you. The sequence lasts about five seconds and comes off as incredibly lackluster. Every task is simplistic, and if you’ve had an HTC Vive or any major headset for more than a few days, there’s probably nothing here you haven’t tried before. Mars itself has already been virtually visited a few times, in fact, such as with Mars Odyssey.
Still, there are some moments of VR awe to be had here. Driving a buggy across the surface of Mars is wonderfully satisfying, making you wish for more of it. Sitting in the cockpit of a spacecraft and pressing the necessary buttons feels like heading back to your childhood to play astronauts for real. Without spoiling anything, the final few moments of gameplay successfully managed to trick my brain into reaching out to grab something I thought was really there.
Final Recommendation: Pass
Ultimately, The Martian VR can’t hide the fact it was meant to be experienced at conventions and booths, not as a premium product in your home. As a free experience, this would be a good chance to jump into the world of one of the best movies from one of the world’s most renowned directors. For $19.99 though, it’s a pretty insulting experiment into how much consumers are willing to pay to be advertised to. The Martian VR is a failure not for its developers, but likely the publishers behind them.
Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.