Preview: Race To Mars

Preview: Race To Mars

Race To Mars is a turn based management sim that gives players the chance to manage their own space program with the primary goal of sending a rocket to Mars. Where Kerbal Space Program focused on solely building rockets, Race To Mars explores the management side of the aeronautics industry by emphasizing month to month operation and financial health. Beginning with a modest budget, you’ll spend money to build research facilities and hire workers and engineers to develop essential technology and equipment. The game also features a novel public relations element that tasks the player with maintaining an excellent public standing in the eyes of the government, investors and environmentalists. Press conferences are great way to break the monotony that settles in while waiting for projects to finish. These sessions posit important questions by the public and media, covering a range of issues such as long term goals, attitudes toward the competition and the status of a pending investigations.

Building a rocket isn’t as easy as slapping a propulsion engine onto a capsule. Instead, it requires a lengthy, methodical process that involves assigning workers to research and build components spanning a Civilization-style technology tree. Completing projects will open up branches that lead to other assignments, many of cannot be started unless specific projects have already been completed. Whether researching advance control systems or building new facilities, every activity in the game takes a certain number of months to complete. Ending a turn will advance the game ahead by one month. At the start of each new turn, you’ll be faced with a random event that will have positive or negative repercussions for your company. In one scenario, an employee was charged with insubordination and I had to decide to fire him or send him temporary leave. During the construction of a facility, I was charged with an ecological violation and had to pay a fine. Events such as these are designed to shake things up and test the player’s ability to handle various financial and administrative disasters.

Race To Mars is currently available on Steam as Early Access. From what the current preview version offers, it is evident that the game has a very long way to go to fix a myriad of issues. The in-game tutorial gets stuck very early in the game making the management and construction sections of the game pretty obtuse. Only two facilities are available at the moment offering a glimpse of how the tech tree system and satellite construction will work. You are free to build other facilities although they show up on the map as white, nondescript blocks that display a message to the effect of “This interface is not ready yet” when selected. Spelling, translation, and formatting errors are frequent and indicative of the game’s very early development. With no substantial goal to accomplish at this stage, you’re free to noodle around with investing money towards building a satellite. And yet, even that seems underdeveloped. Research can take an exceptionally long time and I found myself blowing money away on hiring hundreds of workers in order to bring down the development time from 227 turns to 8. When I managed to get the parts needed for the satellite completed, there wasn’t much else I could do. I tried to build an actual rocket to mount it to though that option seemed greyed out. Its highly possible that I did something wrong, making a functioning tutorial all the more important to the experience.

To be completely open and honest, offering Race To Mars to the public so early in its development was probably a mistake. The concept is interesting and the promise is there and yet the biggest problem facing the game right now is the lack of substance to comfortably justify spending $20 on early access at this time. Best to wait until the game has seen a good number of updates before jumping in.

Teen Services Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.