If someone was to ask you “what is the most brutal and unforgiving game you’ve played this generation?”, what would you say? Would it be Dark Souls, maybe Sekiro, some may even say the Trials series, but for me, it has to be Tharsis by Choice Provisions. It’s a game in which survival is half down to skilful management and strategic choices, and half random rolls of the dice. Now, thanks to Qubic Games, Switch owners get to experience this challenging game both at home and on the go.
Originally released back in 2016 on the PC, Mac and PS4, the newly released Switch edition has had numerous tweaks and optimisations implemented, based upon the feedback from the initial launch. The Easy mode has been adjusted to ease you in more, rather than throwing you into the deep end without any support, the Normal mode is a bit more forgiving, and the Hard mode is insane – if you last 5+ days in that mode, well done! So, this isn’t simply a port of the original version, it’s the definitive edition to pick up.
I’ve played this game in the past but is this new version any easier than I remember? Let’s find out…
It’s the near future, Earth has received a mysterious signal from Tharsis, on Mars. Obviously, this must mean that there are extraterrestrials upon the planet who are calling out, searching for other life forms within the galaxy. As such, the people of Earth build the Iktomi, a six-man operated ship which has the incredible mission to go to the source of the signal and investigate who, or what is sending it out. However, things don’t go as smoothly as planned – halfway into the mission, the ship is hit by a micrometeorite storm which sadly takes out two of your crewmates who were maintaining the ship, as well as destroying your pantry, sending all your food rations into space – nooooo.
Although what just happened is a tragedy, leaving four of the crewmembers in shock aboard the ship, this is only the start of the events which are about to unfold. The meteorites continue to indirectly attack, damaging other sectors aboard the ship and reducing the integrity of the hull. It also doesn’t help that the crew are still in shock and continue to become more stressed due to the lack of food and the death of their colleagues! However, although your ship is still in contact with Mission Control, you have no choice but to continue onwards towards your goal, Mars.
Despite the lack of food and dangers all around impacting upon the surviving crew members sanity and health, these four must work together and repair the ship on the fly whilst providing ‘support’ to those in need. The game will test your morality as it presents you with rather tragic and fatal choices the closer to your goal you get, pushing you to the edge as it forces to you make life or death decisions. The question is, how far will you go to ensure the mission is a success?
Tharsis is a very brutal and challenging game – yeah, I’ve said that previously but I just wanted to say it again (and I’ll probably say it later on as well). If you haven’t got two or three sectors of your ship on fire or in imminent danger, then you’ll be dealing with dilemmas regarding who to save and who to sacrifice (which is always fun). However, the actual gameplay is a combination of strategic thinking and randomness, resulting in often frustrating and rage-inducing gameplay (at least for me it was).
Each turn begins with a ‘breakdown’ of which sectors have, well, broken down, as well as a report on how these issues will affect the integrity of the ship if they’re not fixed this turn. You have the role of decision-maker as you send the various crew members to repair the segments or set them to work within certain areas to buff and help out the others. This is where the randomness comes in, each action is ultimately decided based upon the roll of a dice – if you go into a room on fire, you may have to roll a nine to fix it (for example). So, once you’ve rolled your dice and used them to determine if it’s fixed or not, you’ll either need another crew member to come and help with their dice or you’ll have excess dice leftover which you can invest into the room’s purpose or store them for research items.
The game is all about balancing maintenance, working, surviving, and thinking about the greater good. Sure, if you don’t repair a room that is on fire then you may end up taking one damage to the ship, but if everyone gathers in another room and invests their rolls wisely, you could gain a few extra hitpoints to null-out the damage before it happens. You can also send people to work in the gardens, creating food to feed your fellow companions – something you’ll want to do if you don’t want to resort to…
That’s right, in Tharsis you can command your team to kill (or chop up the dead members) and eat other people to stay alive. Obviously, this move isn’t recommended as the more they eat, the more stress they gain, but it does increase the number of dice they have at their disposal on the following day (whilst balancing it out by reducing their health). In all of my playthroughs so far I’ve had to eat a few of my fellow travellers – they may not taste good, and they may cause my crew to go a little insane but it’s the circle of life, the survival of the fittest, the only meat available.
The first time you play Tharsis you’ll be given the default team, a team created to show you how the game works during the tutorials and initial stages of the game. Any subsequent playthroughs allow you to pick your team from a roster of nine colleagues (which you unlock as you play), each with their own skills and bonuses within various rooms and towards their colleagues. For example, you could pick the psychologist who will ease 20% of stress to all people in the same module as them (if you roll a five or more), the commander who can repair four damage with a roll of one on the dice, or maybe the cannibal who will kindly offer their body parts as food for the others.
Also, as mentioned above, if you know that you have no chance of rolling enough dice to save a component of your ship or put out a fire, you can invest the rolls into the research instead. Research allows you to gain one-off advantages such as moving through the ship without getting damaged (as you usually get hurt if you move thought a section that is on fire), giving health to a crew member, or increasing the ship’s defences. You’ll also be given ultimatums at the end of some rounds, forcing you to pick between events that happen to your team. Will you sacrifice two to save the others, or will you increase stress to give everyone an extra dice?
Other than the main game, there are ten pre-created missions for you to play through, each one offering a new ‘goal’ to try and achieve. So, if you don’t fancy trying to stay alive with four crew members as you head for Mars, how about only having one survivor and having to last five weeks, or being aboard the ship with a deadly virus, trying to survive four weeks without everyone dying through the fatal illness? These missions vary in difficulty as they test your strategic mind as well as how long you can endure under stressful situations.
Tharsis is a very challenging and brutal game (told you). Even on Easy, you’ll die many times before you successfully complete your mission upon the red planet – even then, you may only make it with a few crew members and not the entire team. But, that’s the fun of this game, the replayability is very high as each playthrough is random due to the events which occur being different each time. So, although you may have been forced to eat everyone within seven days on one run, you might make it to day ten on the next (where the ship blows up due to you not rolling enough to repair a vital component).
However, don’t let this put you off the game if you’re not into permadeath and chance-based games, each time you lose you always want to get back in there and try again. For those who get used to the mechanics, learns the best way to handle things, and have multiple lucky runs in a row – I dare you to take on the Hard mode and make it to Mars with all of your crew members alive…
As Tharsis is an almost-static strategy game, the visuals are pretty much on-par with the likes of the PS4, very clean, sharp and detailed. I only play in portable mode and everything was easy to read and the game operated with no performance issues or bugs. The sound effects and music build the atmosphere, creating a sense of being alone in space with nobody to help you as your entire world crumbles around you. If you’re interested, you can grab the music they used within the game here: https://atomnation.bandcamp.com/album/half-age-ep
If you’re looking for a challenging and brutal strategy game to play at home and/or on the go, Tharsis is for you. With your entire world literally breaking down all around you, tough decisions must be made and your morality will be pushed to its limit, should you save the ship or sacrifice a crew member to prolong the life of those still alive? With its newly revamped difficulty modes, the Nintendo Switch edition makes it a little bit easier for newcomers whilst still being just as challenging as I recall on the PS4. Despite how frustrating and unforgiving the game can be, just remember; in space, nobody can hear you scream…
- - Very challenging, yet you always want to give it one more go when you lose
- - Visually, the game looks great in portable mode, almost indistinguishable to the PS4 edition
- - The music and sound effects create the perfect atmosphere, lonely, isolated, and hungry for flesh
- - The game will push your morality as you're tasked with saving the ship or your dignity (although your crew mates do look mighty tasty)
- - Although the game is mainly based on random rolls of the dice, a lot of strategy is required if you wish to make it to Mars alive
- - The game is brutal and very challenging, so those who get frustrated easily may feel overwhelmed
- - As the game is mainly luck-based, it's easy to have a great run then encounter an event which screws you over