December 27, 2012 by khrisgolder
Tiger Style Games (Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor) travels far and beyond to present gamers with another mystery, this time taking place on our neighboring red planet. Mars has been a regular stomping ground for movies and games these past couple decades. Is Waking Mars worth yet another long distance trip?
Take control of Liang, a lead member of the Mars research team, and set out to find your lost friend, 0ct0. Field support is given via HUD communications by another scientist, Amani, and a rather annoying A.I. program named Art. Amani and Art try their hardest to guide Liang to 0ct0, and eventually through the deep underground catacombs of Mars itself.
0ct0 leaves behind a trail of clues for Liang to decipher. As Liang tries to find out where 0ct0 has gone, the plot takes a strange twist. The researchers make an epic discovery: a body of water somehow formed deep beneath the Mars’ surface. Moments later, the base camp collapses, and the player is immediately presented with far more questions than answers.
The story holds depth and opens up some intriguing doors for future installments. Some of the voice acting and scripting are stellar in their ability to drive the game. However, there are frequent times when Art — the wannabe comic relief — dishes out the driest lines, sapping energy from the dialogue (thankfully, there’s a ‘skip line’ option). The ending is a bit lackluster, providing a rushed closure to the player who spent hours terraforming their way to some answers. Overall, the tone of the story brings the game’s premise to life, and it’s definitely a journey worth taking thanks to the relaxed puzzle solving gameplay.
Liang ends up dealing with much more than a missing colleague. Strapping on a jet pack, Liang takes to the rigorous Mars caverns. Area progression requires Liang to plant the seeds (protocaps) of extraterrestrial plants (Zoa) in designated areas (fertile terrains) to open membranous walls (Cerebranes), which allow Liang to travel deeper into the Mars catacombs. The cerebranes have different bio levels, and the removal of these obstructions require more and more biomass. Different zoa are introduced, and each provides a new element to the puzzle. Using these zoa is essential for restocking protocap supplies, repleneshing health, and increasing the room’s biomass, which eliminates the cerebranes from Liang’s path. The name of the game is to make a bunch of plants and deprive the obstacles of their air supply so they shrivel up.
Meanwhile, avoid hazardous terrain peppered with falling stalactites, crumbling platforms, acid, and a number of other dangers. Hazardous terrain can also kill plant life, adding another element to the game’s terraforming.
Waking Mars has a neat encyclopedia that explains how the separate zoas react to the different protocaps, but only after experimentation is performed. Knowing there’s a blank entry on the books encourages curious gamers to test out new combinations of constructive and destructive actions.
Presentation – Design and art direction come together to bring Mars to life, albeit in a cartoony way. Trek through an assortment of settings, which breaks up the assumed monotony of a red planet.
Optimization – Speed rarely slows, and runs smoothly on the most basic PC.
Ingenuity – Surprisingly diverse object affects are sprinkled throughout, and some of the alien life forms are pretty original.
Sound – Jason Liebrecht (Liang) provides a wisdom and wonder that helps drive the player’s exploration, which is coated with a simple yet entrancing soundtrack.
Entertainment – The game provides enough pacing between upgrades, boosts, and new plant species to keep the pace until the anticlimactic ending.
Waking Mars offers a decent plot, a few innovative puzzle concepts, and is wrapped neatly in sprightly artwork. The end was cut short to provide an excuse to make a sequel (and we definitely welcome one). Waking Mars is an orchestration of nuances, smooth gameplay, and sprinkled upgrades that makes it a solid experience.
GamerCheese Score: 4.0 out of 5.0