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Martian Gothic Unification
Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Take 2 Interactive
Developer: Creative Reality Software
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Survival Horror

Graphics & Sound:
I guess Survival Horror has truly found the mainstream when it shows up as a 10-dollar title! Most surprising is not the price, but the amount of gaming you'll get for your tenner. Don't know what I expected out of Martian Gothic, but I know I got more than I expected. Of course, we've seen that it's possible to create great looking games on PSone. The CAPCOM and Square experience is certainly the high point, but lesser companies periodically weigh in from time to time to demonstrate there's more than just Resident Evil and Parasite Eve. I'm thinking of a little title called Silent Hill. Go Konami! Get down with your scary self! The fear factor of Martian Gothic is probably a 7, with 10 being the time that thing jumped through the window in Resident Evil 2 and made me scream and 1 being a picture of Aya Brea from Parasite Eve. The graphics are dark, and the images that greet you suggest the worst kind of disaster. We don't know what caused all the mayhem, but therein lies the story. Some sounds you'll hear are crackling radio communication, tense music that you tend to forget until something creepy happens, and passable voice acting. I said 'passable,' not great. There's definitely rough edges to the interface and some glitchy points in the way rooms transition, like someone watched Resident Evil or Silent Hill and designed Martian Gothic 6 months later. Reminiscent, but not equal to, if you get my drift. But again, the level of quality compared to the price of this offering is more than a good deal.

Survival Horror has been a genre where experimentation seems to be more the rule than the exception. Look at Parasite Eve. Is it an RPG with action, an action game with RPG elements, or an action/strategy game? And, if PE was (as I think) mostly an RPG, what happened with PE2? It was like twice the action and half the RPG in some places, but had ramped up RPG elements in others. I'm thinking of items and weaponry being so deep, but combat being more action oriented. And, you've got Capcom doing Dino Crisis, Konami throwing Silent Hill and its very non-combat style of gameplay into the mix... Even games like Shadow of Destiny qualify as a kind of Survival Horror, in a strange way. Man, the field is broad! So, I actually look at Martian Gothic and think that we have a new entry in the genre, which is a mix of Survival Horror and multi-character 'squad' games like Project Eden and X-Squad. But Fridtjof, you say, those games always end up confusing and sort of like the worst of both strategy and action games!! And yes, you're correct. But, with Martian Gothic the squad idea isn't that you lead a team, but that you play a team...every member of the team. But Fridtjof, you impertinently interrupt once more, isn't that just like the gameplay in Resident Evil or Dino Crisis where you switch characters at times? Well, yes. But, in Martian Gothic you don't have the switch forced on you as you do in the Capcom games. You actually need to coordinate the members of your three person team to solve the puzzles and win the game. So, the choice of which character to play is entirely yours, and you'll choose depending on the puzzle you're solving at the time. But (and this is the real 'hook' of the game) you won't be able to really work together, because no two members of your party can be together at the same time!

That's right. In a very 'Aliens' fashion, you come to Mars to investigate the strange radio silence of a Martian outpost. Well, not a complete silence. The last communication from Mars contained a cryptic message to those who must come: 'Stay alone, stay alive.' What it means is unclear, but your team (after crash landing on the surface of the planet) obeys what has become the secondary directive of this mission, and enters Mars Base through 3 separate airlocks. The characters have some interesting histories, known to us mostly through the objects they bring and the things they say, sometimes to themselves and sometimes to the other members of the party. It's a moody setting, compounded by the fact that another communique from Mars stated prophetically that 3 would come but only 2 would leave. By the end of the game, you'll be attached to all three members of the party. Will you really have to leave a man or woman behind? And what is the cause of the devastation you find in the base? It's a good mystery, and there are good scares to be had here. Especially for 10 dollars!

Because Martian Gothic is a new idea with an interface that sometimes feels less than intuitive, I'd be telling a lie if I said that you'd walk right in and know what to do. There aren't too many hints in the game or much of a training session, but little tooltips give you at least an idea of what buttons to press at critical points in the game. Really, it's nice to be puzzled a little. We're too used to games where we find the same keys and keycards and look for the doors with the blinking lights. I like a little bit of the, 'What the heck do I do now?' Martian Gothic isn't trying to be Resident Evil on training wheels, so don't think this is a great first Survival Horror game for budding Silent Hill residents. It's definitely deserving of its Mature title, and the puzzles are appropriately scaled in difficulty. Not that we don't find some of the more ordinary 'locked door' puzzles, but the ability to play different characters adds much depth to the usual fare.

Game Mechanics:
Most of the shortcomings in Martian Gothic are with the interface. What could have really been an exceptional Survival Horror title takes several body blows once you press the Start button. There's nothing wrong with complexity, but the many layers here and the rather unhelpful indicators may turn away more than a few gamers who might otherwise have pledged their undying loyalty to Take 2 Interactive. What happens is, you're playing along quite happily with a character, and then you feel like you need to take your bearings and determine if you're close to another character, or what. Well, the map is not only completely NOT interactive, but it's tiny and confusing, scattered with colors and names you need the manual to decipher. Your inventory is littered with icons that don't look like much, and just navigating around in there gets messy. Then, when you start to figure out navigation, you can use vac-tubes to send items back and forth to other party members. Remember, you can't meet. But, there are also storage hatches for items. Items like the Bioscanner tune into human brain activity and help you stay away from other members of your party. And, there is information stored away in a special device that your party members can access from the base. You save by playing a weird Martian videogame, but you don't really play it, you just follow the terribly plotted story on screen; it's meant to poke fun at bad videogames in a campy way. If this activity list is starting to sound like the kitchen sink and everything that could fit into it, it's true. What hurts Martian Gothic most is that it feels like great ideas were contributed but not weeded well. So, we end up with both elements like vac-tubes and storage hatches, when we probably only need one. And, we have weird additions like poisoning, like that really makes much sense on Mars? The character selection couldn't be easier, and there aren't any restrictions on moving from one to another. It's frustrating to see a game with so much good that seems to have lost its focus in the final touches and implementation. This interface works, but it has too much to throw at you. All these gameplay elements seem ripped off other games and pasted into Martian Gothic, which doesn't make much sense given the interesting premise inherent in this team-based gameplay.

PS2: Let's just say that your polygons will love you, and everything will be nice and smooth. ;)

Spend the time to overcome some strange quirks and you'll be richly rewarded. Looking at some of the weird elements thrown together to bring this to completion, it seems like every top executive or marketing pro got his or her wish for what was going to make the final cut in Martian Gothic. The gaming experience is at its best when you have clear objectives, a tool for the job that makes sense and is reasonably easy to find by one of the party members, and some connection to the larger story. The worst moments come in the first hour as you try to figure out where you are, what you're supposed to be doing, and why you should bother learning all this junk just to enjoy the kind of game you've played a million times before. Well, to be fair, this is not the same kind of Survival Horror game we're all used to playing. Chances are, you'll like it if you're a fan of the genre, but I suspect Martian Gothic will polarize most folks. Rent it maybe, 'cause you're likely to either love or hate it. By the time I was over my frustration, I loved it for being unique and different, much as I liked Clock Tower. But, if you want a polished, standard Survival Horror game, you know where to go. And, expect to spend a little more cash.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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