Mars Horizon preview (PC)

Developed by Auroch Digital and published through Steam by The Irregular Corporation, Mars Horizon launches later this year and is a space agency sim/tycoon game that puts you in charge of one of the world’s leading space agencies to see if you can alter the course of the space race as you journey through the history of space travel with the ultimate goal of landing a manned mission on Mars. We recently attended a virtual preview event for the game and can’t wait to share our impressions with you.

What we know

Getting a rocket up in space exactly isn’t new territory in videogaming (Kerbal Space Program, anyone?), but Mars Horizon takes a novel approach to the genre in how it focuses on getting the job done on the ground – running the space agency that makes all these exciting missions possible. Starting out at the dawn of the space age, the game is rooted in scientific history, but your choices can and will affect the way things develop – perhaps resulting in another agency getting to a major milestone first.

Research and technology obviously feature prominently, but so does the availability of facilities on the ground – including laboratories, training facilities and of course places to launch and coordinate your missions from. You can choose between five major space agencies to play with, each one coming with their own unique technologies and designs – including ones that were never put to use, like the Russian equivalents to the moon lander and Space Shuttle.

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Risk and reward play a large role as well, as pushing to be “the first” can also lead to risky decisions that could cost you the lives of your astronauts or might bring you glory and public support. This carries over to the missions themselves, where resources are a limited commodity and you have to decide what to spend it on.

To reach the lofty goals and milestones that you’re after you’ll also need to be diplomatic and coordinate with other agencies, but if you play your cards right you could walk away being the first to reach Mars – though it’s a long journey to get there and it all starts here on the ground.

What we saw

The developers at Auroch recently hosted a video preview session for Mars Horizon where they walked us through the core gameplay concepts for the game using a shared screen. They were also joined by Emmet Fletcher from the ESA (European Space Agency), talking about how the game ties into the real life business of running a space agency and aspiring to go to Mars.

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Post-event, we were given access to an early build of the game, so we could get some hands on experience ourselves through what was a fairly feature-complete version of Mars Horizon. You’ll be able to find a demo of the game on its Steam page during the Steam Game Festival as well!

What we thought

Although a lot of the base-building, diplomacy and mission management are things we’ve seen in sim/tycoon games in other forms, the space agency angle certainly adds a fresh new layer of paint to the formula – and vice versa, as it provides a novel take on the spacefaring genre as well.

While the mechanics are recognizable, the stakes feel very different, with enormous amounts of research and work going into the launch of a single mission – where the loss of just a single human life can cost you not only the mission but also public support for what you’re doing, ultimately on the taxpayers’ dime. Progress definitely isn’t a straight line, and Mars Horizon does a good job showing us that it’s about more than just a series of technological inventions.

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What’s also fascinating is the option to rewrite history, and not just by stamping a different label on various milestones like putting a man in orbit or on the moon. Picking a different space agency than the one you’re most familiar with will expose you to a lot of technology and designs you previously didn’t know about, and I had a couple of instances where I just wanted to click on things to do a deep dive into a particular piece of technology just to find out more – in that sense Mars Horizon is a bit like an interactive encyclopedia and I definitely wouldn’t mind it if that side was expanded on more in the final game (if not, then wikipedia here I come).

As such, Mars Horizon is more about the journey and about exploration than about the destination of Mars. Offering insights into the history of space travel as well as projecting forward towards a manned mission to Mars, this is going to be a game that space travel enthusiasts with an interest in the sim/tycoon genre will certainly enjoy playing.

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