August 6th, 1996 - NASA hold a press conference. An announcement is made that a meteorite discovered in Antarctica, originating from Mars, contains possible microfossil bacteria .. primitive life. A surveyor flight visits Mars in 2005. It returns with evidence that microorganisms may have existed a million years before. But nothing conclusive.
A decade later, the first ever manned mission to Mars is instigated. Vita 1 base is established a year on. The mission for the crew is simply to find any evidence of organic life above or below the surface. Sub-surface exploration begins 252 days after colonisation, and then on the 254th day, all contact with Vita 1 is lost.
June 17th, 2019 - Three investigators are sent to Mars; microbiologist Diane Matlock, computer expert Kenzo Uji, and security man Martin Karne. None of them know the nightmare that is about to unfold before their very eyes. The last message received from Vita 1 provides the trio with a chilling mission directive - "Stay alone... Stay alive..."
Upon loading up Martian Gothic, the first thing that hits you is the simplicity of the main options. Your choices are limited to starting a new game, loading a previous save game, or quitting. You also have an options screen which allows you to redefine the keys, adjust sound volume, and toggle subtitles on or off.
Starting a new game, you are treated to a moody introductory video. This depicts the journey to Mars of the intrepid trio, along with an in-game graphic sequence to set the scene. The three characters each begin in a separate airlock to each other, heeding the warning to 'stay alone'. Upon entry to the base they contract the air-borne virus that wiped out the previous occupants. This in mind, you must not allow any of them to meet each other.
It soon becomes obvious that the only method of success in the game is to work together. For a start, only Kenzo can move out of his airlock, while the other two are locked in. His first task therefore is to set free his teammates.
As Kenzo steps out into the corridor, it's immediately apparent how atmospheric the game is. Spot music plays unobtrusively in the background, while his boots clang on the metallic floor. Other than that, deathly silence!
The feeling that the place is deserted is superbly done. Wandering around the base you will discover the dead bodies of the Vita 1 inhabitants, which you will need to search for items and clues. Any object or item that can be manipulated in some way will flash up a white magnifying glass when you get near to it.
Selecting your use/examine key brings up your inventory list, which also shows you your wristwatch which monitors your health status, whether you are poisoned, your current weapon .. and the time of course! That's Mars time. Each character begins with a default set of items including the watch and a radio, along with a couple of personal artefacts. You will have to hunt for a weapon to use...
Although the bodies strewn around the base may look dead, they are decidedly undead! In the beginning only the odd zombie will drag itself lazily to its feet. The further you progress into the game though, the more bodies become animated.
A lot of the zombies can be dodged with ease by running past them. Others loiter around in narrow corridors, where your only option is to use a weapon on them. Get too near, and they will grab you to nibble at your neck muscles! Each zombie usually takes five or six bullets to drop to the floor. Ammo is very scarce though, so you are advised to evade them as much as possible. This is even more important when you consider that every zombie will get up again. They just won't die!
Zombies found further into the game also have the additional twist of taking more bullets to knock them down, as well as some of them getting up straight away! And of course there are alien creatures, which are just as morbid, but far more lethal.
As mentioned previously, working together is the only way to get anywhere in this game. One of your team members might find an item that is useless to them, but is the key to solving a problem for another.
You can pass items to each other via vac-tubes, which hold a maximum of four items. The tubes are liberally dotted throughout the base, and you should memorise their locations.
Problems occur when you have a full inventory and you want to take stuff from the tubes. There is no way to drop items, so you will have to find an empty locker or use up a health syringe to offload unnecessary items, thus making space. I found this system to be extremely tedious. What would have been a lot better would be to have an additional sidepack which could store things away. Or to simply be able to drop stuff!
You really are on your own in Martian Gothic, as the brief history of the base and the garbled distress call is the sum of your knowledge of the situation.
Help is at hand though. In some rooms around the base you will find computer terminals. These have a variety of functions. Solve a few more puzzles, and you can go speak to MOOD! I won't spoil it for you.
One of the main terminal functions is to enable you to save your current game position. Each terminal has a mini-game called Martian Mayhem, touted as the worst computer game in the history of mankind! It's within this game that you can save your position. Be warned though, there are a limited amount of game saves per terminal. Use them wisely!
Each terminal also has a comprehensive database on the base, Mars and even the team. You will also be able to gain access to privileged information, which can only be accessed with the correct pass code. Audio feeds can be played back, and a lot of which have valuable clues hidden within. You can also activate machinery and doors from certain screens.
Graphics and Sound
The pre-rendered world of Martian Gothic is fabulous, and each location has been given the full graphical treatment. The camera angles on some of the screens can be a little crazy, but it all adds to the gothic horror of it all.
The characters themselves are 3D models which are nice enough, although they are a little lacking compared to the backgrounds. The zombies look great though .. well, really they look awful, but then they should! They are horribly gaunt, and shuffle along with arms outstretched, hell-bent on strangling you to death.
The most chilling aspect of the zombies is the echoed voices you hear, as the entities in Martian Gothic have the ability to use telepathy to get into your mind. Sometimes you can't decypher what they are saying, but at other times you can hear fragments. Very haunting.
The voice acting in general is excellent. In particular the micro-tape machines with messages recorded by Vita 1 team members are all nicely done. You can really hear the worry in some of the recordings. Sound is very well used. Even the simple opening of a door is a major event with the quietness of the base, and the Trimorphs make a noise that is quite spine tingling. When the first one attacks you it is almost guaranteed to make you jump!
A lot of effort has been put into making this game as horrific and encapsulating as possible. It shows.
Patch Me Up Baby!
Martian Gothic is undoubtably a good game, but there are a few bugs to iron out.
One of the worst I have come across is when a zombie has grabbed me, and the location has changed to somewhere totally different. I was still able to change between characters, but when I flipped to Kenzo it was just this location without him standing there! This has happened to me on a few occasions, and at times where I haven't been anywhere near a computer terminal to save my game. Growl-worthy I can tell you!
The actual collision detection between character and enemy can be a little shoddy too. I've been far enough away from a zombie, only for it to lock its arms around me. The annoyance is doubled when you try to perform a grapple break, and this doesn't work either!
A few people have also reported system hangs whenever Matlock tightens the screws outside Airlock 2. I didn't suffer this problem, but I have had four occasions where my machine has hung solid, for no apparent reason. A patch is planned though, so hopefully some or all of the problems above will be sorted out.
Comparisons are bound to be drawn between Martian Gothic and the Resident Evil series. There is far more tension and atmosphere to this game though, and you don't have to put up with any door animations either! As you push further into the game, you get a really nasty feeling that the worst is yet to come. It's this very feeling that drives you forward.
The pre-rendered locations are all superbly done. However, you will find that some battles will push you off into the next screen, which usually results in you losing track of where your enemy is! The curse of most flip screen adventures truth be told. The means to change video resolution would have been welcome too, as the game only pumps out a measly 640x480.
Overall it's entertaining stuff though, but it really needs a patch to fix the problems I mentioned, along with a few other minor issues. It's for this reason that I feel I must mark it down a notch.
Download The Movie
View before you buy! Download the Martian Gothic .MPG Video (12Mb).