I don’t think anyone was expecting or even asking for a sequel to Unearthing Mars, but I have to give Winking VR credit where it’s due. This follow-up hones in on the one slightly engaging fragment of last year’s lifeless adventure game; pew pew laser battles. The result is an experience that’s marginally less mediocre, though often even more confounding.
In fact, the game’s opening sequence caught me off guard. I’d forgotten, for example, that Winking’s character models are some of the best I’ve seen on PSVR, with some in particular boasting lifelike details. The production values overall seem to have had a boost, too, from the sprawling vistas of an ancient city buried in the mountains of an Earth long forgotten to the incredible intricacies applied to the game’s array of alien technology and spacecraft. Even the plot that sees you taking virtual history lessons to learn about the titular scuffle holds promise.
Sadly, it quickly becomes clear that potential will to go to waste on a relatively dull if mercifully brief on-rails shooter with few decent ideas about how to explore its intriguing premise.
PSVR’s excellent Aim controller is front and center this time around, which you would hope could capture the same kind of immersive empowerment of, say, Farpoint. Instead, firefights feel like a stripped down version of already archaic on-rails shooters like Time Crisis; enemies file into fixed locations, you shoot them in the head and move on without much thought. Most of the stationary battles don’t even give you any cover to at least let you simulate ducking out of the way of attacks. A handful of encounters do allow you to switch between vantage points but, for the most part, it’s a case of warping to fixed spots and killing everyone before you can move again.
With no difficulty modes to put your skills to the test with, most shootouts are more a battle with patience than challenge; I found myself racing to finish the game before my attention stretched too thin. One power-up that momentarily slows time and exposes one-hit-kill weak spots inevitably got spammed not because it was fun to use but because it represented the fastest way to tear through the otherwise bullet sponge enemies.
There are some momentary thrills to be had. A plasma grenade launcher brings about a satisfying level of destruction, for example, and one mid-game boss fight actually features the kind of intricate design that suggests Winking is capable of far more thoughtful shooters than the other 90% of the game. But Unearthing Mars 2 largely fails to capture even a basic degree of immediacy in its combat. As soon as I’d located two over-powered weapons that made short work of the enemy with their continuous streams of damage, I never looked back.
Perhaps the most entertaining thing about Unearthing Mars 2 is its erratic nature, which isn’t so much born from the desire to provide variety but instead the acute feeling that the game was developed by different people on different days. In some levels death means restarting while in others you just press a button and continue on. The first five of ten levels unfold simply enough back-to-back but then the latter half of the game suddenly separates levels with visits to a bar with the supporting cast. Here the dialogue is so forced that you can pinpoint the introduction of a nonsensical late-game plot twist the moment it’s first mentioned.
And the dialogue really is something to behold, mostly due to the fact it reads like it’s still in the storyboarding stages. At one point, your character bemoans having to make a sizeable leap over a gap before turning off and finding another route. A few levels later, he vaults over a canyon a hundred times the size without so much as a breath of excursion. Beating the final level, meanwhile, paves the way to watching 10 minutes of two characters, one of which you’ve never seen before, have an argument about the ethics of warfare. I honestly couldn’t tell you for a second which side I was meant to be on and who wanted to do what.
Honing in on the original game’s most effective sequence doesn’t do much to elevate Unearthing Mars 2. Dull shootouts and a story that’s both too boring and incomprehensible to follow put the game’s impressive production values to waste. Unless it’s willing to put in the time and effort to create more engaging content like the mid-game boss fight, Winking VR best abandon the hope that this could ever be PSVR’s premiere sci-fi franchise.
Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War launches exclusively on PSVR on September 18th. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.