Waking Mars for Linux Review

excellent
key review info
application features
  • Explore an open-ended network of exotic caverns
  • (6 more, see all...)

Waking Mars is a bizarre 2D platformer developed by the Tiger Style studio and made available for Linux with the latest Humble Bundle, Android 4.

Two decades ago, there was a gaming genre that spawned quite a few titles. Players had to operate vehicles, with the help of thrusters, and keep them from falling. Many times it was just about landing space crafts, but the gameplay was simple and addictive.

The last game that used this kind of mechanic, with moderate success, was Space Taxi 2, back in 2004. Since then, landing aircraft against the workings of gravity has fallen out of style.

Interestingly enough, Waking Mars only uses this core mechanic and focuses on an entire type of gameplay that hasn’t been exploited so far. It doesn’t even have a name.

This is one of the reasons why the game also garnered quite a few prizes, even if it hasn't been available for a long time.

Installation

We installed the version distributed through Humble Bundle Android 4, in Ubuntu 12.10. The developers provide two files, an i386 deb which has to be installed and a tar.gz archive which should contain all the necessary dependencies needed to run the game, without having to install it.

As usual, we recommend installing the deb file, which can be done in two ways. The simple approach is to double click the file and let Ubuntu Software Center take care of the installation.

If you prefer a more traditional method, you can install it from the terminal, giving you the opportunity to see what dependencies are needed, in case the process stalls.

Just enter the following command in a terminal (you will need root access and internet access):

sudo dpkg –i waking_mars_1.0.3-ubuntu-i386.deb

If the installation stops because it lacks a certain dependency, enter another simple command:

sudo apt-get install -f

Even if Waking Mars only comes in an i386 flavor, it installed without any problems in a 64-bit system and ran flawlessly.

Story and Gameplay

The main character is called Liang and he’s Chinese. He may be speaking a flawless English language, but the developers are trying to make people understand that China is a major economic power and they will be going to space, sooner rather than later.

Liang is an astrobiologist and he’s tasked with a simple mission, to find OCTO, an eight legged rover that was sent to Mars in order to investigate a few tunnels under the surface.

The rover has ceased to answer hails, but it left various cryptic images behind. The player goes deeper and deeper into the caves and starts meeting some alien organisms.

This is where the gameplay comes into focus. When Liang first entered the caves, he started to interfere with the natural ecosystem and produced a slight imbalance. This meddling has led to the development of a certain type to microorganisms, which produced acid. The entire human base is destroyed when a huge cave below collapses.

Separated from his colleague, Amani, and with the help of a damaged and really annoying artificial intelligence, he starts to make his way back to base camp, through the underground system of caves.

He soon finds out that each chamber is in fact acting like a cell and the only way to exit from one chamber into another is to modify its ecosystem.

This means he has to encourage the development of certain plants and creatures, and destroy others in order to reach a critical bio mass. Thus, the living walls of the caves open up and our hero can pass further on.

By going deeper and deeper, the mystery thickens. It seems that there is also an advanced intelligence inhabiting Mars and the messages left by OCTO only enhance the feeling that something is not quite right.

Each level is practically a puzzle that needs solving and they become increasingly harder. Fortunately, the skills and the reflexes needed to pass through each cave are not evolving with the difficulty of the puzzle.

The Bad

The design of the game is a little lacking. I know, it’s an Indie game and I should expect amazing gameplay and story, not great graphics. It’s a little rough around the edges and it might push people away at the beginning.

It’s also true that most players will care little about the graphics, but it would have been a lot better if it hadn’t sometimes felt like a pasted job.

Also, the hit detection is not always on the money. Some projectiles will hit the player even if they were not supposed to and some creature will grab Liang, even if he is not exactly in their range.

The Good

Playing through Waking Mars feels like you are reading a very good Sci-Fi book. The writing is not something to brag about, but the characters are convincing, and by the fifth chapter you can barely wait to hear that damaged AI speak again.

Liang seems to be the quiet, strong type, and his colleague on Mars, Amina, seems to have a crush on him (or does she?). And let's not forget ART, the most talkative and annoying AI you have ever met. Its condescension will remind players of the AI from the Portal series developed by Valve.

Conclusion

Indie games usually have a way of overreaching their goals, but Waking Mars seems to just hit the spot. It is funny and it’s not trying too hard; it’s serious, although not that much, and it has a dramatic feel that only good books seem to possess nowadays.

Waking Mars is original and it tries to give the human imagination a doorway into its most precious dream and question: are we alone in the Universe?



user interface 5
features 4
ease of use 5
pricing / value 5


final rating 5
Editor's review
excellent
 
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