By: Jeff Cater
Imagine looking for alien life as if it’s your job (or at least a good chunk of your job). Now just fail at that for years upon years. Reflect a little bit on it. Was it time wasted? Did we consume vast amounts of resources in vain? Are we really all alone in the… wait a second… wait just a second… a distress call from Mars!?! But we’ve never been to… have we?
Choice Provisions, the folks behind the Bit.Trip series, have given us Tharsis, a likely doomed excursion to the Red Planet. And in Tharsis, things go wrong quite early on, and it promises to push your personnel management and decision making skills to the limit.
Tharsis is a very easy game to get a grasp on in terms of button function and the like. It plays much like a board game — you will be rolling dice pretty much the entire time. Highlighting a segment of the ship to move a crew member is done with the left stick, and selection is, of course, done with the X button. You pull a trigger to reroll (if available), and that is pretty much it. Very easy going here, which is about the only place the game is easygoing.
You’ll spend countless hours (if the game clicks with you) examining various rooms of your wounded ship, which is constantly engaging because of the damage effects in each room and the animations of the crew working on repairs.
Crew members also have animated portraits that reflect their health and mental state (more on that later). The designs of the rooms themselves are very well thought out and feel right at home in the hull of a space craft, with the greenhouse being one of the more attractive set pieces.
The soundtrack follows a strict, manic tempo without being too overbearing and exciting; it fits perfectly. The voiceover of narration, played by a male or female depending on your randomly generated Captain, is very well done on both fronts.
As you can probably guess, the things that can go wrong in space are pretty much infinite. Tharsis makes this painfully obvious the entire time you spend with it. Did a crew member get some bad dice rolls while attempting repairs? Odds are you can kiss them goodbye. See, when you first start the game, your ship gets pelted by a wave of micro meteors. Repairs must be made priority one while the safety of the crew often comes second.
For example, your engine room has a current damage total of 27 and you send in your Doctor (like an idiot would). Well, your Doctor only has three dice to roll (more often than not), and reaching a total of 27 with three dice is just not possible.
Therefore you’ll have to make a hard decision between applying those resulting dice rolls to repairing a certain module or putting them toward research. These projects vary by module, so you’ll have options like producing extra food or constructing a repair arm to increase the ship’s health pool.
Ideally, you’ll be making these decisions for 10 in-game weeks. I’ll say it right now, though: it’s very unlikely that you will make it to the end on your first try. Or second. Or 19th. But once you start to figure out which crew member to send where and learn to cater to their unique features (a mechanic cannot travel more than one module’s distance without taking damage, for example) things will start falling into place (or space, depending on the dice roll).
Plus, on top of everything else, you must keep your crew as sane as you can. To do this, you must best utilize their special techniques and expertise, and then also not eat your crew. Yes, try not to eat your fellow crew. Or do! We won’t judge.
Sometimes (most times) the game will screw you with terrible dice rolls, and you’ll inevitably lose crew members. You can still beat the game after you’ve lost crew, but not without peripheral damage to the others’ psyche.
Tharsis is an addictive and completely brutal game. For those looking for a splendid roguelike (in this relative drought for the genre), or simply looking for a departure from the norm need look no further because Choice Provisions has sewn up the wound perfectly with Tharsis.