It’s been a while since Mars has been back on the radar, but with this morning’s announcement people are thinking about the Red Planet in a whole new light. So with NASA’s revelations in everyone’s mind, here’s a collection of some of the games that let you traverse the surface and atmosphere of our planetary neighbour.
Battlezone (1998, Activision)
Activision’s re-imagining of the wireframe arcade classic caught everyone by surprise when it launched in 1998. To this day, it’s still one of the best first-person RTS games ever released, perhaps bettered only by Shiny’s excellent Sacrifice in terms of overall quality.
Sacrifice, however, doesn’t let you explore Mars. And it didn’t take advantage of the wonderful Cold War dynamic so prevalent in games around that time (Red Alert, Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, GoldenEye, Silent Steel, Project I.G.I.).
The storyline was split into Soviet and American campaigns, with the Americans discovering the Soviets on Mars after being forced to relocate off the moon. Interestingly, Battlezone 98 still holds up rather well today, although you’ll need to download a fan-patched installer/mod to get it working on any OS after Windows 7. This one’s pretty good.
DOOM (1993, iD Software)
You can’t talk about travelling through Mars without focusing on perhaps the biggest name of them all — the original DOOM. ID’s classic shooter centred on the life of a space marine who was punished with a posting to Mars.
DOOM’s initial episode concentrates on the military bases and power plants where Doomguy was posted, but future episodes revolve around his travels through the portals that opened.
To change it up a little, here’s footage of a speed run through DOOM at the Awesome Games Done Quick marathon in 2013.
Starsiege (1999, Dynamix)
I feel like Starsiege has just been entirely forgotten by time. People have more love for Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri these days, and even fewer people bought that back in the day.
Starsiege was the Mechwarrior or Heavy Gear-style mecha simulation that followed on from the Earthsiege games, but it launched in a period where mech games had began to fall out of favour — and Starsiege itself, while fun, didn’t do enough to revive the genre.
I also can’t help but wonder whether Starsiege: Tribes had some sort of impact: it was a more popular game, rode the crest of multiplayer shooters that continued to surge with Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament, and was also the first thing everyone thought of as soon as you mentioned Starsiege.
Mass Effect 3 (2012, Bioware)
It doesn’t concentrate on Mars, but given that Shepherd is shipped off to the Red Planet early on it would be remiss not to include Bioware’s magnum opus.
Shepherd’s crew is tasked with finding information that could help in the defeat of the Reapers, although the reason for the archives’ failure to respond becomes immediately apparent when some Cerberus assault squads are discovered executing civilians. Eventually you’re tasked with chasing down the Cerberus mole and if you’re unfortunate enough to have equipped a really slow pistol (like the Scorpion), the end sequence can be surprisingly tough.
Red Faction: Guerrilla (2009, Volition/Reactor Zero)
If you’re not automatically thinking about games that feature Mars in the title, then there’s a good chance the Red Faction series are the first video games that come to mind when you ponder the Red Planet.
Guerrilla doesn’t give quite as much agency to the player when it comes to the wanton destruction of Mars, but it makes up for it by providing an open-world environment and plenty of buildings to be levelled.
It’s a good thing too, because the Red Faction series never did a spectacular job of story. Mind you, there are plenty of properties I can think of where I don’t want to be laboured with exposition, emotion or elaborate plot twists. Sometimes I just want to blow crap up.
Guerrilla understands this.
The Journeyman Project (1993, Presto Studios)
I remember getting nightmares from playing a demo or at least a few minutes of Journeyman Project 2: Buried In Time, but for the life of me I can’t remember why or what the context was. Maybe it was the soundtrack; I remember something particularly haunting about it, in the way 1990’s Adventure Game Music tended to be.
Perhaps it was the anticipation that someone was going to sneak up and imprison you for crimes against history or something of that nature. In any case, the has a section that lets the player explore the Morimoto Mars Colony, where you’re tasked with gathering evidence of history tampering.
It’s based around humanity’s initial contact with aliens and the anachronisms created by the inventor of the Pegasus time machine, who attempts to change the course of history so humans develop a distrust of aliens.
Below you’ll see something I bet you weren’t expecting to see today. It’s raw footage of Graham Jarvis, the actor who plays Dr. Sinclair, captured in the early 1990’s. Enjoy the goggles.
Wipeout (Psygnosis, 1995)
I’m cheating a little bit by including Wipeout, but in my defence the first game allowed players to race on the surface of Mars — provided you beat all the other tracks on the highest difficulty first.
The secret track was the only level that took place off-world, with the other anti-gravity races set in Greenland, the United States, Russia, Germany, Japan and Canada.
Also, including Wipeout here gives me the opportunity to feel miserable that Wipeout HD isn’t and probably will never be ported to the PS4. Or the PC. And we probably won’t see another true Wipeout game again (although there are some spiritual successors, like Formula Fusion).
That’s our list of some of the games that allow players to explore the surface of Mars. Others that were considered, but didn’t make the cut, included Mars: War Logs, Waking Mars, Doom 3, Jamestown, The Technomancer, Destiny: The Taken King, and Big Red Racing.
What games do you think about when you think of Mars?