Waking Mars for (PC)

Posted: August 5, 2013 in Uncategorized


Waking Mars
Waking Mars is a brilliant and unique game that is difficult to fit into a particular genre. It’s a platformer set in the year 2093 in which you explore a cave called “Lethe Cavern” filled with strangely hypnotic and beautiful creatures that you interact with and study. Notice I said “study” and not “melt with plasma rifles”. Typically, when a game takes place on Mars, (Red Faction, Doom) the game-play will revolve around exterminating life rather than creating it. You learn the habits and traits of the creatures and exploit their behaviors to advance deeper into the cave. The plot unravels with brief but frequent conversations between the player-character Liang who is a painfully boring astrobiologist, an irritating artificial intelligence module referred to as “A.R.T.”, and a girl named Amani who is the only character with any personality and manages to single-handedly keep the narrative engaging.

Now before we go any further, I need to get something off my chest about the character “A.R.T”. As I mentioned before he is quite irritating. What bother’s me the most is the fact that the game actually acknowledges that he’s annoying. According to the game’s plot, A.R.T.’s voice module was tampered with as a practical joke. My question is this: If the game developers recognized that a character isn’t very likeable and even shoehorn in an excuse as to why he’s unlikable, why not just re-design the character? If it was an attempt at humor, they failed horribly.

While it may have failed at producing great characters, Waking Mars succeeded in practically every other aspect, The sounds, visuals, and casual game-play mesh together to form a soothing yet engaging experience. Liang’s research log that you keep on the lifeforms you encounter include things like predation, reproduction, behavioral traits, and vulnerabilities. There is also an abstract on each creature summing up everything you’ve discovered about it up to that point. The research aspect of the game is very immersive and makes you feel as if you’re actually on some kind of science expedition.

The early parts of the game are quite linear but it unfolds into this massive, interactive, sprawling labyrinth teeming with life. Each cavern you explore has a “biomass” quota which must be filled to unlock creatures called “Cerebranes” that block certain paths. You increase the biomass by throwing seeds and spores onto fertile area’s to create new life. Some spots are acidic and will only support certain kinds of lifeforms, while other areas are water saturated. Some creatures will feed on others and you can use their corpses as fertilizer to enhance an already fertile area.

One of the best things about Waking Mars is how you don’t necessarily need to directly interact with these self-contained ecosystems. You can plant one seed and simply observe as life spreads across the map. It reminds me of an ant farm in a way. Often times I found myself forgetting about my current objective and simply playing with the game’s world. I would feed the “Phyta” organisms until they became extremely over populated and then herd them towards predators to thin out their numbers. The only part of the game-play I found to be aggravating was when you needed a particular type of seed/spore and have to backtrack to find one, thankfully there is a quick travel system so it’s only a minor annoyance.

Overall, I heartily recommend this game. It will appeal to casual gamers due to the hypnotic visuals, excellent soundtrack, and simple controls. Hard-core gamers will appreciate the complexity of the game that slowly reveals itself as you delve deeper. That being said, I feel this game doesn’t have much replay value mostly due to the fact that a majority of the appeal of the game is the sense of discovery. Once you have “solved the mystery” there isn’t much desire to go back. Priced at $9.99 on Steam I feel this game is a great bargain.

-Spencer “SpenceNaz” Larson