Overall Score 61%
Martian Marine Lander
Defend the Earth against Martian attack? Yawn - been there, done that. Control the invading Martian forces as they systematically outwit the puny Earth defences and wrest control of the planet from them? Not often done. In Martian Marine Lander, you have the opportunity to do just that. Itís a game that puts a fresh spin on the old Space Invaders theme. Did you ever wonder why in Space Invaders why if even one alien ship landed on the planet it was game over? It turns out that those Martians were real brutes, extremely skilled in hand-to-hand combat. The trick for them was always going to be negotiating the cowardly fields of fire that the puny Humans shoot up at them as they deploy their landing craft. Once on the ground, the powerful and courageous Martian Marines make mincemeat of those pathetic carbon-based primates.
Although the marines of the Martian army are rightfully feared as both powerful and ferocious warriors, the skilful pilots of the Martian drop-ships are the unsung heroes. They must navigate the hostile airspace of Earth and land the crack troops on the surface. One there, the Martian victory is inevitable. The cowardly humans can only hope to shoot the mighty Martianís drop ships out of the sky before they have a chance to land.
But you know what? Itís a surprisingly effective method of combating the Martian offensive. The Earthlings have artillery that shoots both dumb fired and intelligently pre-emptive barrages, slow and deadly surface to air missiles and aircraft that fire accurately with air-to-air ordinance. Even though just getting to the surface is the sole role of the landing craft pilot, itís no cake walk. By using agility and wits, the player needs to outsmart the human defences and also be more than a little fortunate to make it through natural hazards like atmospheric storms in order to safely land the marines on the surface.
Using the keyboard, arrow left and right rotate the ship and space fires the thrusters. Shields can be toggled on and off as required in order to save power. The starting craft is extremely sluggish and weak, and the player will need to use upgrade points wisely in order to improve turn rate, shielding and armour plating amongst others. These choices cannot be rescinded later. Just a few hits from artillery fire will be enough to rupture the craft. There is no penalty for being destroyed. You can simply retry a mission and there are unlimited lives. Levels need to be unlocked in strict order.
The game features an explicitly linear progression of 40 missions with 3 difficulty levels and 2 game modes. I canít tell exactly what make the 2 game modes any different from each other. The differences must be very subtle indeed. After becoming stuck on mission 11 on my normal difficulty level campaign, I chose to start a new game on the casual difficulty level. Itís not going much better. The game is quite hard, very frustrating and requires lots of concentration, pre-planning of descents, and a hefty serve of good old fashioned luck.
I found it hard to stick at the game. Having to replay and fail the same mission over and over in order to unlock the next is tedious at best. There is no level editor or single level challenges, so once you get to a point where the campaign becomes too frustrating for you to progress, thereís not much point to continuing on. I like the Lunar Lander style physics; the landing craft does feel massive and cumbersome to control, but it doesnít translate very well into compelling gameplay. The bulletstorm that is being unleashed at you from the surface coupled with the slow and unresponsive landing craft are a combination that only the masochists that are extreme hardcore retro-gamers will be able to cope with. Casual gamers: stay clear of this one.
Of the positive features of the game, the one thing that appeals to me personally the most is the art style. The sprites are well drawn, animations are retro-tastic and the storyboard cut scene at the start of the campaign is quite flavoursome. The colour palette used is subdued and gritty. Music is fittingly epic in style and the cacophony of gunfire and explosions as shells ricochet off of (and occasionally slam into) the hull of the landing craft is spot on. The minimap is very useful and thoughtfully placed to be both functional and unobtrusive. A clever key feature of the game sees the screen spit horizontally. The bottom section shows what is happening at ground level and the top section is dominated by the landing craft. The player can drag the splitter up and down as desired to fit their personal style of playing. All cleverly done.
This unashamedly retro styled game evokes mixed feelings in me. I like that it makes me remember how brutally hard games used to be. I dislike that although I would have had the patience and tenacity to play it 20 years ago, I feel no urge to play it now. I like the presentation and the way that the developer has explored a concept from a unique and refreshing perspective, but lament the fact that due to the limited content and linear progression, most people that try it wonít get very far into it before putting it down for good. Thereís some real satisfaction in getting the craft to the surface (even if it does mean hobbling in with a barely intact hull), but thereís also an intangible empty sense of having only passive influence over the outcome of the invasion. I dunno, perhaps Iíve just been playing the hero for too long.
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