Mars Frontier review
Mars Frontier is a Facebook game from SpinPunch, Inc. The game has been showing activity since May of last year, but has recently been undergoing a hefty advertising push through regular appearances in the Facebook ad sidebar. The game makes use of the somewhat misleading “Must be 21+ to play!” ad format, implying the game has considerably more adult content than it actually does. It has also been designed as a showcase title for HTML5, working in Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox and Safari without the need for plugins.
Mars Frontier is a “hardcore” strategy game that doesn’t deviate significantly from the format of other self-professed “hardcore” strategy games on Facebook. It was originally funded via Kickstarter last April, with the project page noting Mars Frontier was inspired by Kixeye’s work in the strategy genre. Revisiting Mars Frontier’s Kickstarter campaign, however, shows there’s no longer any mention of Kixeye on the page.
Players will split their time between building up a base to harvest resources, conduct research and construct units, and sending their forces out into the massively-multiplayer persistent world to attack other players and computer-controlled installations in asynchronous combat. The game begins with a brief piece of story text giving some context, but is otherwise a largely narrative-free experience, making the reasons and motivation for conflict not altogether clear.
The base-building component of the game provides players with an initial tutorial to introduce them to the basic concepts, and then a lengthy, seemingly-endless string of quests encouraging them to build various structures, upgrade their existing ones and construct new military units. Building requires various resources, including power from power plants, iron from iron harvesters and water from water harvesters. These can either be collected over time by the respective structures or simply purchased from the in-game store using the game’s hard currency Alloy.
Buildings take time to construct, though for some inexplicable reason the game allows users to “speed up” any construction task with less than five minutes remaining for free, begging the question why some buildings that take less than five minutes anyway don’t just appear instantly rather than requiring three more clicks than is absolutely necessary. It makes building certain structures feel unnecessarily cumbersome and doesn’t add anything to the gameplay, though there’s an argument for it getting players into the habit of reaching for the “speed up” button and sometimes expending hard currency if a task will take more than five minutes. If this is the case, however, it seems like a somewhat underhanded method of “training” the player, and in the meantime simply makes the game’s interface feel extremely clunky.
Engaging in combat against either computer- or player-controlled opponents is a matter of switching to the “map” screen (which is actually just a list of opponents until the player has made enough progress to construct the “Transmitter” structure), picking one to view the base of, and then opting to launch an attack. Players may then choose a selection of their forces to send to the base, then direct them in real time to attack various targets. There is no real need to directly command the units, however, since both attacking and defending units will charge straight at anything that is nearby without any regard for their own safety, and attacking units will then automatically proceed to demolish all nearby buildings once defensive units have been taken out. There is not a lot in the way of “real-time strategy” involved in combat for the most part, though clever players may lay out their bases to create choke points and better defend themselves. Occasional twists on the basic format come in the form of specific environmental conditions such as blizzards (which slow units down unless the player has researched a specific technology to counter this effect) but for the most part it’s a case of putting down the most powerful units, winding them up and watching them go.
Other social features for the game include a real-time chat facility, the ability to form alliances with other players — a tournament facility based on this feature is supposedly coming soon — and the usual opportunity to send gifts to other players. There doesn’t seem to be any means to engage in trading resources with others.
Mars Frontier isn’t bad, then, but neither does it do anything overly remarkable for this increasingly-crowded genre. It’s presented reasonably well — the atmospheric sound and music are particular highlights — though the graphics are rather drab. The interface also uses some rather basic-looking fonts and graphic design, making it look a little unpolished, and the game also uses the somewhat clichéd approach of representing the AI “guide” character as an attractive woman rather than anything more creative. On the whole, this just makes the whole game experience feel somewhat derivative and uninteresting, and thus it’s tough to give it an unreserved recommendation. It’s worth keeping an eye on in the short term to see if the advertising campaign has any particular effect on its user figures as well as to see how people take to the HTML5, plugin-free experience, but its gameplay sadly offers nothing particularly new or noteworthy for the genre.
Mars Frontier currently occupies the 100,000+ MAU tier with a rank of 1,609 and the 10,000+ DAU tier with a rank of 1,086. Follow its progress with AppData, our tracking service for social games and developers.
A decent showcase for HTML5-based gaming tech, but sadly not a particularly interesting game underneath.