Back in March 2017, Winking Entertainment published Unearthing Mars for the PSVR headset. It was a two-hour first-person adventure in which you, and your team, land on Mars in order to solve some puzzles and engage in some FPS moments. Personally, I never played the original game but I have heard it was met with lukewarm reception due to its slow nature until the final combat moments. As such, Winking Entertainment has just published Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War which flips the mechanics on their head and this time focuses heavily on combat and action over puzzles and exploration.
Going in blind, I’m happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised by what I experienced. Sure, there are some design choices I don’t 100% agree with, but overall I had fun for the two-three hours it took to complete this sequel.
Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War has an interesting, yet confusing, story that kept me both invested and questioning what was going on throughout my whole adventure. It might just be me, but I find it hard to follow narratives that come from some non-native English developers, as I tend to sometimes get lost – I did the same in Gene Rain. I enjoyed the mindless combat in that game yet couldn’t understand what was going on half the time. As such, this is what I gathered was going on…
You’re a faceless protagonist (literally – see above) who’s the Deputy Commander of the ‘Unearthing Mars’ mission. At the Ark Research Center, after your co-pilot has comforted you and held your hand a few times too many during the uncomfortable flight there, our mission is made clear. We are to allow our consciousness to enter the Phobos Fragment as we enter the body of White Gun, a mysterious being who led the assault on Mars. Think Avatar meets old-school Assassins creed – you’re within their mind yet as the player, you can control their actions. This results in a few funny quips between you and the A.I. as she’ll constantly tell you to choose which direction you want to go but if you reach a dead-end, it just means White Gun got lost!
As you work your way through the martian infested structures on Mars, you’ll encounter a number of enemies, some mini-bosses and even a rather big badass boss as well. You’ll also get to traverse through Ancient Earth as you try and ‘unearth’ the truth behind what’s going on and who your enemy really is. As I said, the story starts off rather mindless and simple, but towards the end, it starts trying to get deep and ultimately lost my concentration. It’s not a bad story or a boring one, it just got a little confusing – so I just guessed at what was going on and shot anything that moved!
Aim the controller!
Okay, my first semi-compliant, semi-issue, is in regards to Unearthing Mars 2‘s controls. There is literally no support for the move controllers, only the DS4 and the AIM controller. Having played the whole game through with the DS4, I can imagine it would be really, really good with the AIM controller, but I don’t have one Plus I can’t see why this wouldn’t work just as well with a single Move controller. Let’s talk about moving and shooting as two separate entities – again, this is with the DS4.
As we’re reliving memories (exposition and reasoning), you can’t freely move where you want. You ‘travel’ to set locations that pop up as you progress, they are usually a few feet in front of you and highlighted so you can see them. You’ll even get ones off to the side behind walls and boxes in order to gain cover should you wish to become less exposed to enemy bullets. I thought this would be bad, but it actually works really well in Unearthing Mars 2 as it stops anyone from getting nauseated and it keeps you going in the right direction. You can also rotate at 90-degree increments by using the right stick.
But how do you aim? Do you wobble your head like in most games? Nope. The game uses the motion controls within the DS4 so it knows where you’re pointing your gun! At first, I thought it was using the light ala move controllers, but I hid it behind my back and still worked perfectly, meaning it’s all gyroscopes instead. This also means your gun is held in the middle and not off to a side and can take a little getting used too.
Now you know the basics, what about the actual mechanics of Unearthing Mars 2? Well, the game is basically a wave-based shooter but with an on-rails travel mechanic. As you move around, you’ll occasionally not have anywhere to go as enemies begin to spawn in. These can be either taken out with your primary or secondary weapon, via shooting environmental hazards like barrels and loose rocks, or activating bullet-time and making their head explode. Which do you think is the most fun? Yes, another infamous mechanic here, when your ability meter has recharged (which is a matter of seconds) hit Cross and everything slows down with red ‘weak point’ indicators on them. Shooting these whilst in slow-mo will cause instant deaths and body parts to go flying.
Not to feel left out, the movement mechanic also has a rather nifty slow-mo ability. When you’re moving around, some of the ‘points’ you can warp to are yellow, jumping to one of these causes you to jump from your point to that one in a rather elegant slow motion. This effect is really cool and not only does it make you feel like you’re in an action movie going slowly past the enemies, but it also highlights the red weak-points as above! This means you can gracefully jump around and blast everyone’s face in whilst you re-create the lobby scene, from The Matrix, in your head.
For me, the stand-out feature of Unearthing Mars 2 was it’s boss battles. In total, there were five major battles, with one of them appearing twice and the end boss consisting of three stages. These were all lots of fun, massive in scale and really hard. I feel that if I was to replay the game today, I would be able to take out three of them without dying, but the final boss would be impossible for me as I was terrible at killing him. However, for those willing to try – there is a trophy for killing each of the bosses without dying (3 trophies) and one for completing the game from beginning to end without dying too. Unsurprisingly, nobody has got that one yet in the EU region! Also, there is no platinum trophy – which is a shame.
There is also a selection of six weapons, three main and three secondaries. I’ve tried them all and they all operate differently, which is great. They also have their own set of stats which clearly lets you know the advantages and disadvantages each one holds. Will you take a fast and long-lasting, but weak, laser gun or the standard pulse rifle which is a bit slower but packs a bigger punch? What about the machine gun which takes a few seconds to start up and has a long reload time, or maybe the single-shot rocket launcher which is super powerful yet very, very slow? The choice is yours and can be changed before each chapter or in-game at certain points.
Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War looks really good in VR. There is no comfort settings other than the 90-degree turning and ‘jumping’ around, so no blinders or visual limitations. I would have liked to use a single Move controller, but it’s not the end of the world as the DS4 did the job just fine and the AIM controller would be perfect I imagine. Visually, the game isn’t as clear as recent games I’ve played, most likely due to the resolution, but the game still looks really good in VR. There is a great sense of depth and the opening shot (above) where you’re flying over the colony is a great example of what the game can do with its immersion. The boss battles are equally as impressive, especially when you go into slow motion and slowly fly past them shotting them as they are turning to try and hit you.
However, not everything can be perfect, can it? For the majority, Unearthing Mars 2 looks and sounds great. However, when you’re out of the Anim… Sorry, the Phobos Fragment, the animations of your fellow colleagues are rather robotic at times and seem less realistic than the creatures within the device. I did enjoy the voice acting though, it wasn’t amazing AAA quality but it was fully understandable and pleasant to listen too. I know sometimes small indie titles which have been voiced don’t end up quite how they’d hoped, so I was happy with Unearthing Mars 2.
Okay, I went into Unearthing Mars 2 blind as I’ve not played the first one and I’d only heard negative thoughts about it in the past. As such, I actually went in expecting this game to be bad (sorry developers). However, I didn’t stop playing it until I’d finished it, which was about three hours I think, and really enjoyed playing it after the initial getting used to the DS4 controller. The travel mechanic wasn’t anything new, but you don’t just teleport, you actually see White Gun moving, well, you move, as you pick the placement in some instances – which is why I see this as a combination of a wave-based shooter and on-rails rather than a teleportation game.
The slow-motion segments were fun to use, especially against a massive tank boss later on in the game where you use it to slowly fly around the front of the incredibly huge machine and blast all of its weak points. I equally had fun trying out the various weapons and going into Bullet-time then blasting the enemies heads off and bodies apart – that’s always a laugh.
I would say that the story did start to put me off a little towards the end – especially when a few of the chapters (there are 10 in total) are nothing but story segments which progresses the story with little to no actual gameplay. This reminded me of Lunar Stone: Origin of Blood, which also had a few chapters that were just the story and not action. Either way, I think this is a fun 2-3 hours game that fans of FPSs will enjoy – especially if you have the AIM controller.
Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War is a fun FPS with some unusual gameplay mechanics to aid you on your journey. As you play with either the DS4 or the AIM controller, you’ll travel through set ‘points’ as you relive the memory of an ancient soldier fending off against the Martians. By taking advantage of the slow-motion jumps and ability, you’ll be able to blast your way through the hordes of enemies you’ll encounter. Graphically the game looks very nice, the immersion is great and the voice acting is good, the only thing that lets it down is the story as it can get a little confusing at times. The gameplay can also get a little repetitive as each area, albeit looking different, is very similar in terms of gameplay, until you reach a boss battle.
If you enjoyed the final combat section of the first game, are looking for a two-three hour VR game to pass the time, or you like what you’ve read and seen above, then why not give Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War a shot and see what you think.
Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War£15.99
- Interesting use of slow-motion as you traverse from point to point so you can shoot the enemy where it hurts!
- Interesting environments with a nice feeling of immersion and some great cutscene VR moments
- The VR looks really good and worked without any loss of tracking
- I 'imagine' the AIM controller will be great, DS4 was okay but AIM will be better
- Takes 'faceless protagonist' to a whole new level!
- The story gets a little confusing towards the end as it tries to bring in more narrative over action
- With six guns, there isn't a large variety - but they are all different, which is cool
- The animations in the real world are a bit robotic, and your co-pilot seems to like holding your hand a lot
- It felt a little short - at around three hours
- The combat is pretty simple but you can increase the difficulty to make it more of a challenge