Just before my group of four young astronauts with major, personal conflicts of interest blast off to the red planet, I’m assured by our team leader that, while some corners had to be cut to get our ship spaceworthy, it should do its job just fine. And it does… kind of. Which is a great metaphor for Deliver Us Mars as a whole. This platforming, puzzle-solving, interplanetary adventure is trying to do too much with too little, and it ends up touching down just North of adequate.
The backstory for our plucky, rebellious, sometimes even endearing hero, Kathy, is that she was separated from her father Isaac just before he boarded a colonization mission bound for Mars. Years later, she’s been through astronaut school on a climate-ravaged Earth and a mysterious transmission from Isaac spurs her and her older sister, Claire, to seek seats on the mission to bring the colony ships back. Periodic flashbacks do a respectable job of filling in the complicated and painful story of their family along the way.
Deliver Us Mars Screens
The launch sequence from Cape Canaveral is among the strongest. It has you perform various checks and landing procedures that feel authentic and tactile before watching through the front window as your ship, the Zephyr, leaves Earth’s atmosphere with no cuts or loading screens. You’re not briefed on any of these procedures ahead of time, which led to a lot of me swiveling my mouse pointer around frantically trying to find the highlighted switch for the internal power interval or whatever, but it was neat once I got the hang of it.
Outside these scripted sequences, Deliver Us Mars consists of first- and third-person explorations of an orbital facility and the surface of Mars itself, featuring some fairly simple puzzle-solving and occasional, frustrating platforming. There are several sections where you have to bounce wireless power beams around, matching the voltage on doors and terminals to get to the next area. They’re generally not too difficult, but I found some of the trickier ones satisfying to solve.
What wasn’t nearly as satisfying were these obnoxious climbing wall segments. You have to click the left and right mouse button at the same time to grab onto a wall to begin with, and you have to do so with enough room that you don’t slide off of the climbing surface. But this action is so unresponsive that whether you can get a purchase or not feels more random than anything, especially in some cases where you have to jump at an angle. Also, one of the moves you need to progress in some of the later segments is never explained at all, and I discovered it by accident when I was just trying out random buttons in frustration after I’d been stuck for several minutes. Pro tip: You can hold S and press spacebar to jump to a wall that’s behind you.
This lack of direction even extends to some segments of the main story where you have several different ways you can go, but aren’t told at all which is the right one and can end up wandering way off in the wrong direction. There is an option under Accessibility to always display quest markers, and while I don’t necessarily need a big star constantly guiding my every step, it could really use some sort of middle ground. If you tell me to go to Ark Vita without ever giving me a hint about where it is, that seems like you’re really leaving me to twist in the wind.
At least the characters are endearing. What few of them there are, anyway. Neil Newborn (whom you may remember as Resident Evil: Village’s maniacal Heisenberg) gives a great performance as Isaac, a complex character with conflicted motivations. Kathy herself is brought to life by Ellise Chappell, who gives a convincing performance with a wide emotional range. And the story is respectable, with the mystery of what happened to the Martian colonists pulling me forward at each turn.
The character models can’t really keep up with it, though. They have a very doll-like, uncanny valley look to them – when we get to see their faces at all. A lot of backstory is delivered through these pre-recorded holograms where hairless, faceless crash test dummies pose in place while dialogue plays. It really looks like placeholder art you’d see in an unfinished game, and the developers just never had the time or resources to replace it. There is also a whole chapter toward the end that jumps from one scene to something completely unrelated, giving me the sense that they cut a significant amount of plot without doing a very good job of stitching it back together.
Performance, especially during cutscenes, is also a major issue. My RTX 3080-powered system exceeds the recommended specs, but in many cinematics I would see my framerate drop below 10 fps, even with DLSS on. I had to turn off the per-strand hair rendering altogether because it kept glitching out. In regular gameplay, it’s usually fine. But this is clearly not a very well-optimized project.