One of the things that tends to be bemoaned by virtual reality (VR) enthusiasts is that there are relatively few long VR titles that offer enough content for players to really get their teeth into. The majority of VR titles out there are what tends to be termed ‘experiences’ rather than full videogames. That certainly felt like the case with the first Unearthing Mars, which looked great, but lacked depth. Developer Winking Entertainment is hoping to improve on it with Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War.
Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War is going for the feel of a sci-fi epic, and manages to get the visual style dead on the money. It looks great, plays exceptionally smoothly in terms of framerate and fluidity of animation. There is a feeling of a vast world out there, waiting to be explored.
Unfortunately, after the awe at the impressive visuals wears off, you start to realise how limited it actually is. The vast majority of the beautiful world is beyond your reach. Instead, Winking entertainment have drawn on one of the most positively received elements of the first Unearthing Mars and doubled down on the first-person shooter element.
Much of the gameplay in Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War becomes an on-rails shooter. This has been clearly designed for the PlayStation Aim controller, and playing it with the PlayStation Move controller feels a little clunky as a result.
Once a combat encounter starts you are often fixed in once place as enemies pop in in various places waiting to be shot. It feel very much like retro rails shooters like Time Crisis, complete with the big boss encounters where you need to hit a weak spot. It all works fine, but it becomes a bit tedious after a while, particularly since there doesn’t appear to be a cover mechanic.
Like the first title, movement uses teleportation exclusively, with no option for smooth locomotion. Even this is limited, for most combat encounters you are welded to the floor. Sometimes you can switch to different vantage points, but only sometimes.
The story and writing are only a few shades off embarrassing. The dialogue feels very awkward and stilted, and the voice acting is often bargain-basement quality. Halfway through the gameplay grinds to a screeching halt so you can have excruciatingly awkward and often boring conversations in a bar where the plot is explained to you.
All this might have been fine if it had gone, say, full Grindhouse and embraced the awkwardness and camp and adopted an over-the-top sensibility like House of the Dead: Overkill. Instead it presents itself as a sprawling sci-fi epic, but lacks the chops to back it up. As a result, it feels a bit like a knock-off – looking fine on the surface, but doesn’t quite have what it takes to compete with the big boys.
Unearthing Mars 2: The Ancient War is an improvement on the first Unearthing Mars, but the impressive visuals writes a cheque that the lacklustre gameplay simply cannot cash.