Mars Horizon Beta

Mars Horizon is an upcoming simulation strategy game from Auroch Digital.  Developed with assistance from the European Space Agency (ESA), the game sees the player spearheading the efforts of NASA, ESA or the Russian  space programme in the great space race.  Starting in 1950s, can you be the first agency to launch a satellite, send an animal to space, or even land your astronauts on the surface of the moon?

I was fortunate to recently have the opportunity to get hands on with this game during a closed beta week.  The game play was limited to the point of reaching the milestone of a moon landing or 1980, whichever you reach first.

When you first start the game you need to decide which of the 3 agencies you wish to play as.  Each of these come with a different mix of benefits which will affect gameplay, such as improved reliability, changing the cost of astronauts or having more external contractors available to you.  You are now presented with your overview screen, where you will spend a good amount of your play time.  This gives a view of the solar system, complete with paths for satellites and rockets currently on missions.  From here you can plan missions, conduct research and get an overview of you base of operations on Earth.
The Solar System overview screen
Whilst there is currently only a very limited tutorial, the majority of the gameplay loop is fairly self explanatory and I didn't have too much difficulty in working out what to do.  The fact that certain UI buttons are disabled if you have tasks to complete helps with this.  The actual gameplay has definite feelings of being a turn-based strategy game, where you have no time constraints in terms of each planning phase to plan missions, conduct missions, direct research and develop your base.  You then have two options.  You can either progress to the next month (what feels like your turn in traditional turn-based games) or allow the simulation to keep running through these turns until you reach your next 'event' such as completion of vehicle construction or research project.

Before planning and launching your space missions, you need to test out your facilities by launching a basic sounding rocket.  This is available to you with no research.  You will also ned to select your first research project before moving to your next month.  This first mission only requires a couple of months to complete and introduces the very basics of planning a mission.  As you unlock more technologies and mission types, your missions will become more complex, but the basic flow is the same: Build payload, build your rocket, schedule relevant training, and schedule a launch window.

When you have successfully launched a mission, you will need to complete tasks required to make it a success.  Each mission will require you to collect various resources within a set number of turns.  These tasks can fail at times and sometimes it can feel like you will struggle to get the required numbers.  I actually feel this is extremely well balanced, you feel like you might fall short but it is definitely achievable, even with some failures.

Blast Off!  Sending a rocket off on your mission to be the best in the Space Race
With your research it is tempting to focus on your vehicle parts and missions, however it is important to remember to research ground buildings.  These include things such as additional test sites, a research building increasing your research speed, mission control allowing you to run multiple missions at once and larger launchpads allowing bigger rockets to be launched.  The thing I found was that it was very easy to forget that your ground base existed or to remember to focus some of your research on that.  This mechanic did feel a bit clunky as you have to research a building, load up your ground base, clear debris such as trees and rocks, then place your building and I felt this pulled me away from the core loop slightly.

I did have another couple of minor annoyances in the gameplay such as the number of animation/cutscene sequences, although the dev has included the ability to skip these, a lack of autosave and mission selection for sites out with the orbit of Earth not being entirely clear.  This is a beta, however, and the developers have been very clear that this does not reflect the final game, in fact it's impossible to ignore the message stamped on your screen throughout the game.

Overall, I would say that the game is definitely solid in its' base and promises to be a very good game.  I definitely lost myself in the game for a few hours each time I managed to play during the closed beta and the game has earned itself a spot on my wishlist for when it releases later in 2020 on PC, Switch, XBOX One and PS4.

Expanding the space port by building new facilities
Designing a rocket

Deciding which components to research in the extensive tech tree

Viewing the details for the currently selected mission

Building a more advanced rocket after unlocking new components

Completing the mission by carrying out a variety of tasks after a successful launch

A Space Shuttle on the launchpad
Mars Horizon Beta Mars Horizon Beta Reviewed by Parcival on May 01, 2020 Rating: 5

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