The last time PlayStation VR (PSVR) owners visited Mars in The Martian VR they spent 20 minutes there before being whisked away to safety, with minimal interaction and generally very little to actually see. The return trip is a marginal improvement since Unearthing Mars from Winking VR is a little longer, a little deeper, but still lacking in both the mechanics to make it an engaging game and the story and characters to make for a memorable narrative.
Things kick off on board a space station orbiting the red planet. You’re cast as an unnamed co-pilot that’s part of a three-man mission. One of your fellow astronauts stays on board the station while you and the captain head down to the surface of Mars to discover its origins. It plays out over 10 chapters that last anywhere between a few minutes to nearly half an hour, while the entire thing runs for somewhere in between one to two hours.
There’s a lot to like about Unearthing Mars on paper. For one thing, it’s a varied experience that recognizes that VR games don’t necessarily have to be about refined mechanics being repeated over and over again. You use two Move controllers and you’re constantly doing new things with them, be it helping to pilot a ship, driving a buggy, or even taking up arms towards the end of the game. Knowing that the game was going to put me in a variety of situations gave me hope that Unearthing Mars would be one of PSVR’s more memorable adventures.
Sadly, just a few hours after I finished it, the game already risks fading from memory. Unearthing Mars struggles to make a lasting impact as it bobs along from one sequence to the next, with only fleeting moments of intrigue peppered throughout. Movement is confined to fixed-location teleportation, keeping you rooted to the spot when you’re longing to reach out and explore the environment. Driving the buggy is turned from a potentially fun mechanic into a chore as you aimlessly accelerate through empty swathes of land.
There’s very little life to it, to the point where you struggle to pinpoint exactly what even the developer would think was so compelling about it. If it was about immersing you and making you believe you’re standing on Mars, then the flat environments with simplistic textures keep you rooted in reality. If it was about a sense of adventure then the (almost) complete lack of threat or challenges keeps any from drumming up.
What works best here are the puzzles and action mechanics, though they’re only used in two chapters and overly simplistic. A first-person shooter segment is particularly impressive, boasting the kinds of production values rarely seen on PSVR, but it lasts perhaps five minutes and lacks depth.
You can see several opportunities for something deeper and more meaningful throughout; you’ll spend a lot of time with your captain and share the bulk of your experiences with her, but you’ll never get to find out anything more about her or what drives her to push on in such pressured circumstances. Nothing here’s particularly bad it’s just lacking in substance; perhaps that’s enough for a first-time VR experience, but anyone that’s been playing with PSVR over the past few months won’t find anything new or exciting here.