Oh good, you can read my article. Glad I got through.
Augmented reality games have become a small but growing phenomenon recently. Several GPS based mobile games have popped up in the last couple years. Though few have gained any major traction or notice, the upcoming Pokemon GO provides an example of just how enticing the concept can be. A certain game, however, is already flying well, well above the radar. Specifically, over 33.9 million miles above it.
With the release of Ridley Scott's The Martian over the weekend, a tie-in app was uploaded to the App Store and Google Play. Titled The Martian: Bring Him Home, the player takes the role of a NASA communications specialist whose goal is to help astronaut Mark Watney survive and escape the red planet. The game plays out as a text adventure. Watney sends instant messages to the player, from which the player must advise him on his course of action-in real time. Tasks can take anywhere from a couple minutes to several hours. This isn't a game you just sit down and play. Watney can message you at any time, and the player just has to be ready to respond.
For this reason, though, some have criticized it as a ripoff of the lesser-known iOS game Lifeline, in which the player essentially takes the same guiding role. The similarities are undeniable, specifically the real-time nature and text-only adventure, as well as the necessity of actually learning certain things (like radiation levels, and the combustion risks of hydrogen and oxygen). With this in mind, it's easy to see why some would call it a ripoff.
However, The Martian adds some important features that aren't present in Lifeline. The first thing the player will see is a red notification on a tab at the top of the screen. This is an e-mail tab, that includes mail from fictional NASA scientists that can provide backstory, additional context, introduce new characters, or even provide mission-critical information to help the player's decision making.
Next to that tab is a personnel list, which includes the names and job descriptions of the team members who will be helping the player, and Mark, through their extraterrestrial adventure. All of this is on a stylized user interface that looks exactly how one might expect a NASA communications screen would appear. For a game that the player spends so little time in, it does a great job of gently immersing them in their role.
From a player's perspective, I greatly appreciated the lack of microtransactions and advertisements, the interface, and the simple but clever attention to detail. Though The Martian: Bring Him Home costs $2.99 USD, compared to $0.99 for Lifeline, both are well worth their small price tags. In fact, now that I'm playing them both, I'm pretty sure I'm ready to command a mission to another planet. I won't call you, NASA, you call me.