Waking Mars Draws Wonder and Discovery in Atmospheric Adventure

Posted: March 2, 2012 in Adventure

Out here in Silicon Valley, we’re often referred to as the wine drinking class because of our laid back culture.  Be that as it may, we do forget to smell the roses and enjoy what we have.  That could probably be said for Tiger Style Games’ Waking Mars, a sci-fi themed atmospheric, open world adventure where you’ll enjoy the journey more than the ultimate destination.  It’s an experience that provides hours of exploration, experimentation and finally exultation as you rediscover alien life on a once barren planet.

Now if you’ve had the opportunity to enjoy Tiger Style Games’ previous iOS release Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, then you know not to expect the typical type of gaming experience.  Waking Mars is all about discovering the unknown as players control and make decisions that affect the ecosystem on the Red Planet.  And is it ever the experience…

The story begins with OCTO, a robot lander that has gone missing during its mission.  Dr. Liang Qi is the astronaut who not only has gone in search of OCTO, but has the overarching objective to learn as much about the planet as possible.  He also has the help of fellow scientist Dr. Amani Ronga and AI sidekick Art.

Waking Mars is not your typical animation heavy, massive explosion, shoot’em type game.  In fact, many may be deceived into thinking that this is a low quality production.  Far from it.  Players will discover relatively quickly how expansive this alien world is and be glad they took the risk.

Visually, the underworld landscapes are beautiful, yet convey the sadness and isolation of a once thriving world.  The storyline is presented through text dialogue and a somewhat quirky series of headshots reminiscent of stills you’d see over a webcam.  The game has three levels of difficulty: casual, normal and hard.

Liang’s movements are controls relatively straightforward.  Tap and hold at the spot to move Liang across the landscape.  He does a jetpack to maneuver through the depths and this is activated by holding your finger on the screen.  In general, activating the jetpack can take some practice in terms of landing accuracy, but the learning curve is relatively minimal.

The fun begins in the caverns deep underground teaming with hidden life forms and beautiful, yet potentially hazardous formations.  But, Waking Mars wouldn’t be as engaging without the life forms and the environmental obstacles.  To be frank, it’s that sense of wonder that differentiates this game from others.  Going from cavern to cavern, decisions have a far reaching impact on the ecosystem.  As you discover new organisms, you soon realize that your power to alter and fundamentally change the ecosystem.

A digital lab book tracks the different species as they’re discovered covering everything from habitat and diet to reproduction and vulnerabilities.  Of course most of this information isn’t available until you discover it so experimentation is core to your survival.  The one annoying aspect of the lab book is the Twitter button, mostly because I kept on hitting hit it.   I don’t know if people would actually tweet about the different life forms, but it’s there if you decide to do so.  A map is also included that charts the explored caverns within the exploration sites.

The Martian landscape consists of different terrains as different as the many organisms that inhabit this world.  In order to progress and unlock (for lack of a better term) other areas, you’ll need to meet the biomass requirements that for example destroy the hardy life forms known as Cerebranes which block off entry to new caverns.  Meeting these biomass requirements is where experimentation comes into play.

A variety of life forms exist mostly in the form of zoa.  There are different types each with their own characteristics and attributes.  For example, the most basic and beneficial is the Halid Zoa which not only provides seeds for food to alien forms such as the Phyta, but also repair damage to Liang’s health.  You’ll find that most of the zoa are seed spitters while others secrete chemical nutrients.  Who said exploration wouldn’t be messy?

The Martian landscape is not without its risks as acid pools and drips litter the caverns as well as magma baths and fireballs.  Falling stalactites as well as eroded rocks are other obstacles that require attention.  While certain zoa are beneficial, there are also life forms that can harm Liang such as the Prax Zoa who have a vicious bit or the long tendril Larians, predators looking for their next snack.

Waking Mars forces players to experiment and determine solutions to puzzles based on the interactions of these organisms.  Whether it’s planting seeds or feeding one alien to another, these choices are what make the game that much more engaging.  As Liang travels the depths, different objectives are provided that start out rather easily but become more complex.  A nice option and excuse to explore are the optional objectives which allow further exploration.  Seed gathering is core to a lot of the dilemmas that players will face, and it can become a bit tedious in the later chapters.

During the game, it’s worth noting that the soundtrack plays an integral part in setting the mood.  As you wander through the caverns and go deeper into the origins of Mars, the storyline unfolds rather nicely, and beyond the periodic communications with Amani, the sense of isolation and discovery feels real.  I literally sat there for hours on this journey, and was still thinking about it well afterwards.

GameCenter achievements are also included which mostly consist of discovering new life forms and the game automatically saves your last activity.

Waking Mars is one of those rare games that will stick with you well after you’re done playing it.  A game full of depth figuratively and literally speaking, Waking Mars taps into our curiosity which ultimately provides a wonderful experience.  The drive to explore, experiment and build is all the satisfaction you’ll need.

Albie Meter: 5 Stars (deserves more than 5 stars based on the depth and long gameplay alone; atmospheric adventure where exploration and experimentation are the name of the game; open-ended world with unique puzzles; intuitive controls although the jetpack feature can be temperamental; soundtrack complements the sense of exploration and isolation)


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