Take On The Martian In Take On Mars

At first glance, Take On Mars [official site] seems like the closest thing we have to a tie-in game for The Martian. You could almost call it Mark Watney Simulator 2015, especially now that manned missions are in the game and let you do things like build Martian bases, grow crops, and drive rugged rovers over the desolate Martian surface. Hell, there’s even a mission where you literally have nothing to do inside your base except grow potatoes. It’s just a fecal-matter montage away from being the first act of The Martian.

But I am no Mark Watney. And the Red Planet is a much harsher, weirder place in Bohemia Interactive’s vision than in Ridley Scott’s. Mark Watney is nearly killed by flying debris during a Martian sandstorm. In Take On Mars, no storm is as terrifying and unpredictable as the physics engine.

My Martian adventures start in the Victoria Crater, where my astronaut has been deposited along with a heavy rover, a landing craft, and a the bare skeleton of a base. It’s a bit of a fixer-upper: there’s a greenhouse with some survival gear, and two 3D printers that will spit-out anything from a rover to a bedroom set to an airlock.

Here’s the catch: you have to assemble everything, and most of the pieces don’t fit together, even when it looks like they should. Everything has a set of anchoring points that have to match up with another set of anchoring points. So even though it might look like a doorway and a tunnel should go together, they probably won’t.

I feel like I’m trying to build a ship in a bottle using only my tongue. My astronaut spends hours dragging bits of space-station around the base, slowly wiggling and wobbling the pieces around until the “ASSEMBLE” option flickers on screen and I can tie them together.

It’s dangerous work: the faster you move around, the higher your heart rate gets and the more oxygen you use up. I also end up falling over a lot, for reasons I don’t fully understand. Sometimes my astronaut is carrying a piece of paneling up a set of stairs and it seems like the edge catches on a doorframe, and the next thing I know I’ve been thrown to the ground. After a long hesitation, my astronaut slowly clambers back to his feet like a man defeated. I know how he feels.

All the little stumbles and trips, along with some very-ill advised jumping on to taller platforms, have taken a toll. In no time at all, I’ve somehow damaged my suit. The only space suit on Mars, apparently. My 3D printers cannot make another one.

Just moving around has become more hazardous. My base is strewn with cast-off pieces of equipment. Useless doors and doorways cover the ground like paving stones, because they would not fit the airlock-entrance I’d built. Somehow, a piece of the foundation ended up trapped inside an airlock passageway, clipping straight through two walls and forcing me to disassemble the entire thing. So far, building a Martin base is a lot of like trying to assemble a living room set out of a bunch of random IKEA parts.

Sometimes, the things I’m carrying around seem to get spring-loaded as they slam into other pieces of the environment. I watch in chagrin as airlocks, airlock doors, structural supports, and even entire stairways go flying off into the Martian night, necessitating another hike back to the 3D printers. I consider hopping in a rover to retrieve a stairway that was supposed to lead up into my base but decide to leave it as a monument to mankind’s hubris.

On one trip back to the rover, where I can refill my space suit’s oxygen supply, I stumble over some unrecognizable piece of space-base and watch as my suit takes another hit. I’m not Mark Watney. I’m Sideshow Bob in the field of rakes.

Apparently I’m still nursing a concussion a few minutes later when I don my space suit again and open the rover’s airlock to get back to work… without ever putting on my helmet. I slam the door shut before I can suffocate, then try again.

After a few more hours of work, I have… a large empty room, and an airlock with a passageway leading into thin-air. My gear is damaged, and I’m starting to suspect that building a functional base will take another 10 hours or so of painstaking agony. Since my oxygen supply is getting a little low anyway, I head back to the cozy confines of my landing craft, where I at least have a bed and the doors all work.

I try another scenario. This one seems more Mark Watney-like. I just have to hold-down a completed colony and harvest potatoes. That should be something I can handle.

At first, everything seems normal. I tend to my hydroponic garden, changing out the water-tank to make sure my potatoes are getting the moisture they need. Apparently I’m also supposed to go outside and gather methane from the collectors, which is when I notice that my space suit is sitting in the airlock, surrounded by hard vacuum. I am literally trapped in two rooms, like a hamster in the world’s worst habitrail.

Then things get weirder. In the second room, there is another airlock door. Like the first one, it’s showing that there’s no atmosphere on the other side. But when I even walk too closely to this door, which is thrown into shadow by the setting Martin sun, my astronaut starts gasping for breath and dying of asphyxiation. It even looks like a sinister gateway to hell, now that I think of it.

Trapped in two featureless rooms with nothing to do except literally watch my potatoes grow, I decide that I’d rather risk death than sit in this Martian prison. I throw the airlock door open, ignoring my astronaut’s desperate gasping, and trudge over to the space suit. I manage to get it on just before my character passes out. After a minute of rest, he’s ready to get to work.

One of Take On Mars’ latest features is electricity. You can run cabling from wall sockets and solar power generators to the machinery you use around your base. So even though all the equipment around this colony is powered-down, I have a 3D printer and can create both solar panels and cable spools.

What’s powering the 3D printer, you ask? In this case, I believe it is incomplete feature implementation.

Anyway, I print myself a solar panel and, after much trial-and-error, eventually get it to stand upright on the uneven Martian surface. Then I print a cable spool and drag over to the solar panel and some nearby equipment.

If you were worried that the Take On Mars physics engine wouldn’t give cables unique properties and mass of their own, worry not: the power cables are 10 meter-long segments of pure chaos. Just unspooling one cable, I manage to whip it around and send my solar panel bouncing into the crater below. So I make another, and get ready to power-up my first machinery.

The solar panels all have clear sockets for the male end of the power cables, so I drag the plug over to the solar panel and waggle at the socket until I get the option to “connect power”. Ah, romance!

But when I take the other end of the socket over to same soil extractors I want to power-up, I’m pushing rope. The extractors have plugs, and the other end of the cable has a socket, so it should be no problem to get these things working. But the magic just won’t happen.

I even use my helmet camera to zoom and try to guide the cable socket onto the plug. Instead, I just end up ineffectually slapping the cable against the junction box. Oh God, not this again.

As I stand there with my power cable in my hand and consider the life choices that have led me to this moment, I’m not sure Take On Mars is ready to be taken-on. Like my base itself, it’s a collection of disparate pieces that still require a lot of construction and troubleshooting.

I’m ready to be abandoned on Mars and left to fend for myself. There is an eerie beauty to this game, even if it is a beauty that is more foreboding and faintly sinister than what you see The Martian. I felt a curious feeling of safety and loneliness each time I retreated to one of my spaceships and sealed myself inside, gazing at the rust-colored landscape from behind the safety of a window.

But my attempts to actually do things like build and survive on a Martian base left me feeling less like Mark Watney and more like Basil Fawlty. It’s more slapstick than science.

25 Comments

  1. MrFinnishDude says:

    It pisses me off that we really cant get to mars until there is a stupid political/financial reason for it.
    I wan’t space goddammit!

  2. wombat191 says:

    the rover exploration side is much more developed and less fiddly i found

    • aleander says:

      I was really disappointed when they refocused on manned missions. The rover stuff might have been a bit empty and repetitive, but I enjoyed playing it from time to time. It was a very different kind of enjoyment than the one I get from most games, but it was calming. I was more hoping for them to (somehow) flesh it out.

      And now, the horrible base building mechanics… I can see why they’re so broken (the way they’re trying to do it, I’m not sure if it’s avoidable), but between the (for me) unwanted refocus, and it’s utter brokenness, I’ve been quite disappointed. And of course the unmanned part is kinda languishing.

  3. Pizzacheeks McFroogleburgher says:

    No. You want aliens and intergalactic war. Real Mars is incredibly dull.

    • April March says:

      When you think about it, it’s pretty much a planet-sized Arizona.

  4. aleander says:

    Didn’t test it enough, but I got the impression that the power sockets only work on things printed in the mission.

  5. TillEulenspiegel says:

    Funny, I was just thinking about how Sol 0 looked like a pretty good game version of The Martian, complete with all the NASA stuff. Though I guess it evolves into a more typical city builder after a few hours.

  6. TheAngriestHobo says:

    “The solar panels all have clear sockets for the male end of the power cables, so I drag the plug over to the solar panel and waggle at the socket until I get the option to “connect power”. Ah, romance!

    I even use my helmet camera to zoom and try to guide the cable socket onto the plug. Instead, I just end up ineffectually slapping the cable against the junction box. Oh God, not this again.”

    Am I the only one who thinks that the metaphor never ended?

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      kfix says:

      “But the magic just won’t happen.”

      “As I stand there with my power cable in my hand and consider the life choices that have led me to this moment…”

      No, you are not the only one. A fine piece of writing.

      • JPB says:

        “I manage to get it on just before my character passes out. After a minute of rest, he’s ready to get to work.”

        “It’s dangerous work: the faster you move around, the higher your heart rate gets and the more oxygen you use up. I also end up falling over a lot, for reasons I don’t fully understand. […] After a long hesitation, my astronaut slowly clambers back to his feet like a man defeated. I know how he feels.”

        I hate to admit it, but so do I.

  7. JuStX2 says:

    Sorry I just don’t get the reference to actors I’ve honestly never seen in action. That said – This review is pretty decidedly negative about a game that is a WIP (Work In Progress). The good things about the game are it’s not final and anything is possible at this point. And remember – first and foremost TKOM is a game…they have no responsibility to be perfectly realistic in every aspect.

    • Rindan says:

      It never ceases to amaze me that people get upset when someone describes the experience you will get if you pay money for a game. The fact that it is in early access is not a magical shield against people warning others to not buy this game unless they like a fucked game. Don’t want this sort of criticism? Try a closed beta. Hell, try an open beta with an NDA and don’t charge for it. Throw it up on Steam and start taking money though and people are going to describe the experience to others. If the experience sucks, people are going to warn others away. I appreciate the service as do many others.

      There are a lot of perfectly pleasant early access games out there. I have personally been having a blast with Dig or Die. I picked it up because people were reporting it was a good experience for an early access game, and they were correct. It isn’t done, but it is a fun game to play in while it is still a work in progress.

      I applaud RPS for pointing out awesome and fun early access games. I also applaud them when pointing out that a game is crap or at the very least needs some time in the oven so that I don’t buy them. People who want to whine about people describing the experience of playing a game they paid money for should probably take their ball and get the hell off of Steam.

      I am also sure that if in a year or two Take on Mars is awesome, there will be a nice wot I think telling us so. For now though, it is apparently crap.

    • slerbal says:

      Err no. Like Rindian says, as soon as they charge money for the game they should be evaluated properly. People need to know they are not getting a workable game yet when it comes to the manned missions stuff. I own Take on Mars and everything in this evaluation is correct and don’t forget the game is meant to be in beta with a release this year. I have owned the game since release and frankly it is buggier and more fiddly now than a year ago. The physics is… unusably shit currently.

      If you charge money for a game you must accept evaluation and criticism. At the end of the day it is a commercial project and needs to be judged accordingly.

  8. racccoon says:

    Nice review, hilarious for us and very frustrating for you. I’m glad I’m still playing empyrion galactic survival over this nightmare. hope they fix the problems otherwise your doomed. I think the thing now in this the game as with all these so called alpha beta founder muckballs is the link to youtube.com

  9. uajii says:

    Pretty stupid article. It reads like a review and the whole text is just complaining about unfinished features and bugs. How are those even possible in an unfinished game? Nowhere in the article is mentioned that this is an early access game in the middle of development. Scenarios are literally made just for testing new features. They have purpose other than that. Full game will feature story campaign, but according to developers it will not be released until the game is finished sometime later this year.

    • YogSo says:

      Funny you say that, because this feature reads nothing like a review, it’s not a review, and the word review doesn’t even appear anywhere in or near it.

      The whole text is about conveying the experience the author had with the game as it is, inspired very obviously by having recently watched ‘The Martian’ movie and wanting to experience a bit of the same stuff in game form. I mean, the opening two paragraphs say as much in almost as many words.

    • Nevard says:

      Do you not think it is important to know how a game will feel now if you can purchase it for money now?

  10. Dodj33 says:

    Sounds like the physics engine is causing Havok

  11. LionsPhil says:

    So it’s Goat Simulator: Mars DLC, without any sense of fun.

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      Harlander says:

      The wonky clipping-parts-together stuff reminds me of the Spacebuild things for Garry’s Mod..

  12. waltC says:

    Aside from the obviously ravishing goat, what is it that people see in Goat Simulator?

  13. SyberSmoke says:

    I will admit it, Take on Mars can be fiddly. If your not used to it it is daunting, frustrating, and down right makes you want to take your mouse and see if applying enough force will bean one of the devs through your monitor.

    The campaign is still well developed and the drone game play is a fun retreat from the unfinished still in the oven Manned Mission portion. But members of the community are doing their best to make sure the issues can be ironed out. Hurm…may be a little more snap range would be good.

  14. Kastuk says:

    So, the Mars Colony Challenger have much more realistic life-support systems. You need CO2-scrubber, water ice melting pumps and separator+sabatier to make hydrogen, oxygen and methane. Power for heating too. And cleaning solars after every sandstorm. And RTG…
    Ah, Mars Colony Frontier version is much easy for now. But you can construct modules too.