Deep in space, a beacon from Mars calls for your crew. A beacon with an important message that most players will probably never hear. This is Tharsis, a tough-as-nails spaceship strategy game that is heavily against your favor.
Tharsis is a strategy game with luck-based elements that feel almost impossible without a keen eye. You’re playing as a crew, all of which have different abilities, in which you have maintain a ship. There’s little food, the ship malfunctions often, and you have to keep the health and sanity of the crew in mind. Unfortunately, for the astronauts, there is little to no chance they will be saved. You have to keep an eye on health bars, the status for the hull of the ship, sanity meters, die (that make up each crew member’s hunger level), and then it throws curve ball events that can alter all of these factors. It’s a lot, and it doesn’t coalesce into a fun gameplay experience.
With every turn, different rooms of the ship malfunction and the crew has to fix them with dice rolls. Each malfunction requires a different number, and at a certain point, it gets very overwhelming with high numbers and very little die to accompany it. In addition, the die can cause damage to the crew, can disappear entirely if the wrong number is shown, and the die can be stuck to a low number. It’s a frustrating mashup of side tracks that make a playthrough salvageable.
You have to have a completely perfect run, and when it’s down to chance, it can get tough very quickly. There are some factors that can help your crew like +1 to the hull or +1 dice per member, but even then, the dice has to be over 5 for an ability to be used. That high dice number will have to be used towards saving the ship. You can also acquire food or help your crew members in different ways (health, sanity, etc) by interacting with the rooms, but I found that there weren’t enough die for the situations on screen to use these tactics.
Overall, I enjoyed the idea of the game loop with roll of the dice mechanics and plenty of choice at your finger tips (quite literally in portable mode with success), but the overbearingness of Tharsis constantly making it harder for the player made it way less fun. I was left at a loss on how to proceed to the next section of the game. I really like the mechanics of Tharsis, but the game definitely needs tweaking.
I felt overwhelmed (and I was playing on Easy mode…), but perhaps that’s the point of Tharsis. It shows the imense struggle of space travel. It gets dark and takes turns that you don’t expect. The cutscenes enamor you with fear and survival instincts. It’s a mature game. There isn’t much of a narrative to Tharsis other than the occasional cutscene (with varying voices to represent who is alive), but the voice acting and the storytelling make sense with the gameplay.
The music doesn’t necessarily mesh well with the overall concept, but it does keep the game stringing along with an upbeat electronic beat that gives a space vibe. I would have preferred it with a different soundtrack. Instead of a creepy atmospheric ambience like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the music felt more Men in Black.
However, during half the game, there was nothing more than the sound of the gas masks and then some cool sound effects from each of the rooms. The voice acting is great and helps immerses you into the story, but once again, the music and the severity of the problems the crew is facing don’t mix well. It was kinda off-putting.
Tharsis has a cool look to it. Every room has unique animations of the crew members working on fixing the ship, and there are different contraptions that are spinning around. It’s like one of those toy houses. There’s a seamless transition that goes from the ship to the specific room, which creates an effect of you peeking in to see what’s going on. It’s a nice touch, and keeps the game feeling smooth.
I faced no frame rate drops, and on the Switch Lite, I was able to read the text perfectly well. The interface transitioned from PC to Switch without a hitch.
Each crew member has an animated head above them, showing their mood and personality. It also shows them flinching whenever they take damage, and when each crew member dies, they go into this creepy white haze and an outline of who they once were. The faces aren’t that detailed and go into the uncanny valley, but they are proficient enough to give you that feedback that the player needs.
If you can find a way to get through the road block I faced, Tharsis is only two hours long. However, you will have to retry multiple times, due to the incredible difficulty, and there are five unlockable crew members to get through in-game assignments.
At a standard price of £10.79, I’d be hesitant to recommend it, but for those who would like an interesting strategy game set in space, this might be liftoff for you.
Tharsis has a really fun game loop with its luck-based mechanics, but this game has the odds stacked against you. Therefore, it is a very difficult game with so many hurdles to jump over, but it is a lot of fun despite.
Fantastic graphical/UI design with cool animations and "peeking in" transitions
Overall game loop is fun
Odds are stacked against you in this luck-based game
Music is mismatched with the general concept of the game
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An experienced freelance writer, Chris has a vast knowledge of the gaming medium. With a Bachelor of Communications degree, he hopes to elevate his writing further. His favorite games are Kingdom Hearts, Beyond Good & Evil, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.