Steam’s Early Access platform has come under a fair amount of criticism as of late. Many consumers believe that Early Access merely sells a promise; an assurance from indie developers that a game will be good at some point, just not yet. I’ve played a few Early Access games and enjoyed watching them blossom into fully fledged games, but all of these at least had something for me to sink my teeth into from the get-go. They might have had stages, assets or elements missing, but generally there was some kind of core experience to tell me whether a game had promise or not (see Kenshi or Speedrunners).
Unfortunately, Race to Mars, a turn-based space company simulation game from Polish developers INTERMARUM, is no such game. In fact, Race to Mars is in such an “early” form of Early Access, that I might as well have been playing a developer meeting mind map.
The first thing one notices about Race to Mars is that English is not the developers’ first language. Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem were they able to localise the game properly, but for a game about the complex business of space exploration that’s fairly text heavy, such poor translation simply won’t cut it. It goes without saying in today’s market, but poor English in a game with such a straight faced concept makes the whole experience laughable.
It doesn’t help that the first five minutes of the game are centered wholly around text menus. After choosing a name and a location for your business, something which seems to have no bearing on anything that happens in the game (my company name, MarsCorp, never seemed to appear in-game, and despite being located in the UK, I could only hire engineers from Poland and the USA), the player is sent directly to a press conference to answer questions about the company’s strategies. Giving the “best” answers will increase the public’s opinion of you, a factor which is represented by an arbitrary numerical value in the corner of the screen, and doesn’t seem to affect anything whatsoever.
After this, the game “opens up” and one can begin to research and construct the relevant technologies needed for space travel, or so it would seem. There’s a reason Race to Mars uses a limited range of screenshots on its Steam store page, there’s nothing to do beyond clicking and waiting for text pop-ups. Most of the buildings available to the player are texture-less, white boxes, and only three out of the seven buildings I constructed actually functioned correctly. The rest simply displayed the message: “The graphical user interface is not implemented yet.” I could hire some engineers to research technologies, then try to build a satellite, all of which would have taken about 200 in-game turns and barely dented my $1 billion budget.
Because of this, there’s no real challenge or activity within the game. Money never seems to run dry, it takes an absurd amount of time to get anything done, and any choices you make regarding strategies or research projects have little to no effect on the game. There are Sims style text pop-ups to tell you that there has been a flood or a fire that will cost the company money, but none of it feels like it matters at all. There are some decent lighting effects and a suitably Mass Effect-y sounding, synth heavy soundtrack, but that’s about all I can say to compliment something I’d struggle to even call a “game” yet.
Race to Mars sounded like it might be promising. I liked the concept, and the screenshots I saw of the base looked sleek, but that’s all the game is. Race to Mars is a concept and some screenshots of a base – a base that is lacking any practical function and most of its vital textures. Race to Mars is being sold for £14.99 on Steam right now. For the price of a single meal in a decent restaurant, you could play a game that’s not even unfinished, it’s barely even been started.
I hope that INTERMARUM really works hard on Race to Mars and delivers the deep and complex economic space race sim they have promised. Until then, there’s really nothing here to actually play, and there’s certainly nothing about it I can recommend.