Mars has captivated humanity since the first time we looked up into the night sky and wondered at the lights we saw gleaming in the firmament. Today is no different – our art still explores the red planet in a myriad of ways. Indeed, the mysteries of our planetary neighbour have led NASA to declare an unofficial celebratory day for Mars: Red Planet Day. Taking place on 28th November, it is devoted to our planetary neighbour, encouraging learning, exploration, or simply just remembering that hey, Mars, you’re pretty alright – as rocky planets go. So we thought this would be the perfect time to explore gaming’s rich history dealing with Mars, with a look at the best Mars games of all time.
Ever since we learned we couldn’t walk freely on Mars, we have dreamed of colonisation. Surviving Mars sees you take on the role of a colony manager, building a new shining city on the face of the red planet. Explore, research, and build your way to a new haven for humanity amongst the stars, or fail horribly and start over – the choice is yours.
If you’ve ever wanted to get into city builders but feel that you’ve seen and done earth, Surviving Mars may be the game for you.
Martian Gothic: Unification
When you think about it, space is quite scary, so a Resident Evil-a-like Mars game does make sense. After all films, have plumbed Mars for horror for years now. Martian Gothic takes place on a mysteriously silent base on the surface of the planet, and mixes things up in several key, intriguing ways. You control three characters who must never, ever meet – if they do it’s a game over situation.
Additionally, you will never be able to kill any of the enemies assaulting you; you can stun them but they will reanimate and start their hunt all over again. This gameplay helps set Martian Gothic apart from pretty much anything else out there, making it a unique piece of gaming history.
Mars: War Logs/The Technomancer
Both Mars: War Logs and The Technomancer are set on Mars and delve deeply into this entirely original universe, created by French developer, Spiders. The theme has a heavy focus on the socio-political landscape of a distant cyberpunk future.
The first game sees you caught between rival factions as you try to survive in a terrible war over water. The second expands upon the world in every way, with you finding yourself on the run from the secret police as you attempt to make contact with Earth. Both games offer a fascinating look at the future and an extremely worn, lived-in world that’s like our own yet completely different.
Waking Mars is truly something special. You play as an astronaut, exploring the surface of Mars. What happens afterwards sees you fall deep below the surface, learning all about the life which teems just out of sight of our earthly telescopes.
With wonderful sound design and gameplay that mixes together platforming, puzzle solving, and learning all about a huge roster of alien lifeforms, Waking Mars is a must for anyone who loves their games cerebral and full of wonder.
Red Faction: Guerilla
Sometimes you just want to blow something up, and there is still no game better for that than Red Faction: Guerilla. The third game in the Red Faction series shifts the focus from terraforming the ground to smashing up buildings.
Red Faction: Guerilla is about waging war on Earth’s oppressive government, destroying buildings and infrastructure in order to earn freedom for Mars. This game may be about a righteous uprising against a terrible government but in reality it’s all about smashing buildings and watching them crumble realistically into ruin. Destruction has never been so good and even now in 2021, it hasn’t been bettered.
Some games content themselves with being set on Mars, whilst others are all about the journey. Mars Horizon places you at the head of a space agency as you guide humanity to the red planet, designing rockets, building bases, and making sure your missions go off without a hitch.
If you’ve ever looked at NASA and thought you could do better, then Mars Horizon is definitely the one for you. With a heavy emphasis on realism and support from the European Space Agency, it feels like space is at your fingertips. A must-play for Red Planet Day!
Offworld Trading Company
Many strategy games focus on violence but Offworld Trading Company knows that there’s only one king of real violence in the universe: capitalism. In Offworld Trading Company you engage in economic Mars-based warfare against your rivals with a full range of options available to you in your quest to become the sole trader left standing.
Maybe you want to dive into a bit of hostile takeover action, maybe you want to sabotage their efforts, or maybe you simply want to corner the market on certain resources, starving your enemies as you become fat and rich on profit. This Mars game is a racketeer’s dream and the sci-fi setting helps make it feel entirely its own thing, setting it apart from any other strategy game out there.
Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams
The Ultima series is responsible for many of the RPGs we hold dear today; from Western RPGs who walk in its footsteps to JRPGs like the Dragon Quest series, which is directly inspired by the fourth entry in the series. However, it’s not all sword and sorcery in Ultima. There are two spinoffs that take the Avatar to entirely new locales.
The second of these, Martian Dreams, sees the Avatar (you) team up with Warren Spector (of Deus Ex fame) in a Victorian-era adventure to the red planet itself. Fired by space cannon to Mars, you and a few adventurers explore the fate of the original Martians on the now barren planet. It’s inventive and full of RPG depth, making it a must-play for any fans of old school RPGs.
No list of Mars games would be complete without mentioning Doom. Of course, despite many Doom games being set around Mars, most of them take place on various moons or other locations. The original is set on Phobos and Deimos (those are Mars’ moons, FYI), Doom 2 doesn’t go there at all, and Doom 64 may be set on Mars – we just don’t know, as the setting is only referred to as a “UAC Installation”.
It’s only Doom 3, Doom (2016), and Doom Eternal which feature the red planet directly. Doom 3 and 2016’s Doom in particular – despite being about demonic invasion – make sure that Mars takes centre stage. Doom 3 sees you needing oxygen to survive as you battle on the planet’s surface whilst 2016’s Doom takes you to wide titian vistas that stretch out as far as the eye can see, while you rip and indeed tear your way to victory. So whilst Doom may not always be directly set on Mars, the series is intrinsically tied to the planet in the imaginations and memories of everyone who’s ever played them.
Now we’ve taken you on a whistle-stop tour of gaming via Mars, you should be ready to take part in this year’s Red Planet Day. What’s your favourite Mars-themed game? Hit us up on our Community Forum; we’d love to hear from you!