There are a few different ways to get me to immediately buy into your premise. A well-timed joke, a setting that evokes a core interest, a great mechanic that changes the way a game is played; all of these, any of these, often lead to a head nod, a small chuckle, and a subtle acknowledgement along the line of “yeah, I see what you did there.” Hitting these items doesn’t mean that a game is great, but it does guarantee my attention and time.
The second DLC of Far Cry 5, Lost on Mars, hits all three buzz points in the first three minutes, and while it doesn’t end up living up to the high expectations it sets up, it’s nonetheless far more enjoyable than I expected.
As they have done with other DLCs, Far Cry’s trip to the red planet involves Hurk, affable crackpot extraordinaire, getting in over his head with something and asking a buddy, in this case his friend Nick Rye, King of the Skies, from the main Far Cry 5 campaign, to intervene. Nick, on his way home to his wife and daughter with a box of diapers and a stuffed unicorn, gets the call from Hurk, who immediately reminds him of some nebulous promise to help him in his time of need. Nick, remembering said promise, sighs and says he’ll help. It’s at this point that Nick is picked up by the UFO.
What Hurk had failed to mention about his situation is that the trouble he got in was not on Earth. Nick, obviously confused by his current whereabouts, asks where he is, and Hurk responds with the following: “Nick, sometimes you find yourself aboard a spaceship with little to no context and you just have to fuckin’ roll with it.” I wanted to stress this line because this piece of dialog, with its acknowledgement of both the player’s lack of understanding and the need to carry forward regardless of the absurdity of the situation, sums up Lost on Mars. You’re going to be asked to do things, you’re not exactly going to know why, and in the end, you’re going to suck it up and do it anyway.
So what exactly forced Hurk to call upon a friend in need? Well, Anne, an alien AI with the stated goal of saving the Earth from an invasion of Starship Trooper-esque Arachnids, sought out the best and the brightest from Earth to help on her mission. She ended up with Hurk. Things… didn’t go well, and Anne ends up without the power she needs to defeat the encroaching Arachnid menace. It’s left up to Nick to help her out.
To do this, Nick is tasked with collecting Power Crystals from around Mars and using them to power up various outposts that each control a portion of Anne’s enterprise, by either directly contributing to her growing robot army, or by helping her collect hemoleum, a green goop produced by the Arachnids that serves as the DLC’s currency. On top of that, Hurk has asked that you collect the scattered pieces of his body so Anne can put him back together. Because… no, you know what, you can just find all that out yourself.
Standing in the way of Nick and his power crystal collection extravaganza are the Arachnids, and boy they are something. Huge ugly bugs that either rush you down or spit acidic bile from a distance, the Arachnids are everywhere, having sewn themselves into all of Anne’s outposts and the very crust of Mars itself with crusty caverns and some real gross looking nests. Protecting those nests are giant queens with poisonous bites and the ability to launch a whole spread of projectiles from the quivering maws. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that, like the Sandworms of Arakis, the fabled arbiters of spice in Frank Herbert’s Dune series, Arachnids are attracted by movement over Mars’s open sands, forcing Nick and Hurk to stick to moving only over rocking out crops and mountains.
Thankfully, Hurk makes sure you have his gravity belt, a jet pack-like girdle that lets you both ascend and hover, offering a whole host of improved movement options. The verticality of Lost on Mars is fantastic, with many outposts having both underground sections in the form of Arachnid nests, and tall tower like spires I routinely used to escape line of sight. Despite the availability of useable space, the DLC often fails to capitalize on it. I found little reason to ever go into the nests themselves, especially with the queens’ need to chase me, and the over abundance of sand making up their floors. As the death of a queen would clear the area, allowing for normal traversal, I would use that time instead to plumb the depths for hemoleum and items.
When you do have to fight, Lost on Mars offers a range of rad weapons to arm yourself with. All of them work off of energy reserves rather than physical projectiles, so instead of reloading I spent time swapping between weapons. Highlights include the Nut Hugger, a pistol that fires purple balls of energy that can hone in on targets and explode, and Grape Shooter, a rifle that functions as your extra long range sniper equivalent. The reason I mention these two specifically is because everything else feels like garbage to use. Short of hits to their weak spot, a red patch of exposed gill-like skin, the Arachnids don't sell every hit to their bodies, even those from the supposedly high powered shotguns you can aquire. I have never, NEVER, been so disappointed in shooting anything in a game as I was shooting these alien bugs. To make matters worse, when you do face off against other humans, a by-product of the apparently mandatory drug-like hallucinations required in any Far Cry, their bodies disappear in a flash of light, leaving behind no visible sign of even being there.
Your mileage with the DLC will also depend on your ability to tolerate Hurk and his humor. Much like Tiny Tina in Borderlands, Hurk steps on the gas verbally and doesn't let off until the credits roll, having a story or comment for everything that happens. I happened to enjoy the commentary, as I have a seemingly high tolerance for absolute idiocy as long as the references are timely and the character is consistent. Hats off to Hurk's voice actor Dylan Taylor for providing as a close a performance to Larry the Cable Guy that you can get outside of a Cars movie, and for, almost quite literally, carrying the story on his back. He provides almost all of the spoken dialog, and sells every plot point like his very life is depended on you believing that “nobody could have predicted this.”
That’s kind of the story of Lost on Mars. A pretty standard sci-fi story filled with your standard tropes punches slightly above its weight thanks to a great performance and some okay gameplay. The shooting isn’t anything to write home about, but a few of the weapons provide enough moments that the shortcomings aren’t easy to ignore, but mild enough to put up with. To paraphrase Hurk, sometimes you find yourself somewhere without context and just kind of have to roll with it. When you’re Lost on Mars, it’s really the only way to go.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!