When you think of Survival Horror, which games come to mind? Resident Evil, Silent Hill or perhaps Alone in the Dark? Well what about Martian Gothic, which was released under the full title of Martian Gothic Unification, and in my opinion is just as good as, if not better, than the aforementioned titles in the genre. Developed by Creative Reality and released by Talonsoft for the PC in 2000, Martian Gothic took onboard many design elements from those titles and fused it with classic sci-fi myths to great effect.

Through an impressive intro sequence, Martian Gothic’s story begins way back in 11,000 BC when a meteorite crash landed in Antarctica, which is later discovered in 1984 and labelled ALH 84001. In 1996, NASA Scientists discovered that the meteorite originated from Mars and that there were alien microfossils embedded within the rocks. This discovery led to Allenby Corporation, Earth’s most powerful corporation, establishing a base station named Vita 1 on Mars in 2009 with the task of investigating Martian bacterial life. However, something went wrong as all communications from the base stopped, with a final transmission stating that if anyone should come to the rescue that the crew should “stay alone, stay alone”.

To investigate the sudden silence from the Vita 1 base, Allenby Corportation sent a group of three members comprising of Kenzo Uji, a technological whiz kid, Martin Karne, security escort of the team and Diane Matlock, a scientist. Obeying the last transmitted message “stay alone, stay alive”, the three crew members enter Vita 1 through separate air locks.

Upon entering the base it soon becomes clear that something is amiss. The corridors are deadly quiet, besides the crew member’s footsteps, the odd dead body of the base crew lie still where they slumbered to the ground and the main shutter doors have been locked down. This immediately sets a suitably eerie atmosphere to the game that grows as the story unfolds. One of the unique features of Martian Gothic is the ability to switch between any one of three characters at will. Only by co-operating remotely with each other can the team overcome hazards, obstacles and other dangers by making use of each character’s skills. By using the base computers, searching dead bodies and vac-tube terminals, the team will gather clues as to what happened on Vita 1.

As the team make progress in solving the Vita 1 mystery, the shutters are successfully re-opened, which in turn triggers the re-animation of the dead base crew members, who slowly slobber their way toward any nearby team member. The mission soon changes from solving the mystery and finding survivors to escaping the base alive. Thankfully, the team come across the base’s computer, MOOD, who has been secretly helping them along their way and is able to assist them in their escape.

The first thing that players will notice is that the game’s design is very similar to Resident Evil, what with the third person perspective, fixed camera angles, item-based puzzles, the use of key tags to advance the game and the use of vac-tubes to store and transport items. Saving the game is also familiar with the limited use of the computer stations to store your progress. While Martian Gothic may borrow many elements from other survival horror games, including some impressive weaponry, it focuses more on the puzzle aspect and while some of them can be very inventive and fun, others can be frustratingly hard. That’s not to say that there is no action to be found, just that mostly the best solution is to use the grey matter rather than brawn.

The ‘tank controls’ (up for forward, down for backwards, left and right to turn) can be a pain, as any gamer can testify, but it does become second nature after a few goes. It’s definitely recommended to use a gamepad, so those anti-console gamers who refuse to use anything remotely console like really should consider this, as they are missing out on a truly wonderful experience.

Admittedly, the visuals are a mixed bag. As mentioned, the game’s intro sequence features some fantastic graphics, but the character models look rather blocky. However, the backdrops are beautifully rendered throughout, especially the Martian landscape and underground caverns. Sound also plays an important part in creating that chilling atmosphere. One minute the corridors are quiet, with only the sound of the character’s footsteps, the next a dead person is moaning and slumbering towards the character. What’s really spooky is the faint echoing of voices heard in places, almost like evil spirit taunts swirling down the corridors in the cold breeze.

Slowly, but surely, the engrossing plot will grip you as the mystery of Vita 1 Base unfolds through the proceedings. The game has a truly wonderfully designed plot with realistic dialogue and voice acting throughout and is a big improvement on the cheesy B-movie style presentation of similar games. So yes, Martian Gothic may have its flaws, but its advantages far outweigh any minor issues. If you like survival horror that has a great story, design, characters, voice acting and atmosphere then Martian Gothic must go onto your list of ‘must play games’.

Martian Gothic in action:

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