Mars is a pretty fun place, even if it’s not nearly as interesting as Montana.
Ubisoft have had a long and mostly successful history with crazy, whacky DLCs for games that weren’t all too crazy and whacky themselves. They’ve done it with many of the Assassin’s Creed games, they’ve done it with Far Cry 3 and 4, and now they’re at it again with Far Cry 5’s second major expansion. And while Lost on Mars isn’t nearly as good as something like, say, Blood Dragon was, all in all it’s a fun, if a little shallow, experience.
In Lost on Mars, you play as Nick Rye, one of the main secondary characters of the base game. The story starts off with a cartoonish, animated cutscene, and provides the outlandish base that serves as the setup for the DLC- Hurk, a long running fan-favourite series character who’s the secondary protagonist this time around, somehow gets Nick beamed up from Earth and transported to Mars. Here, Nick must work with Hurk, who’s been decapitated and is now little more than a talking head (but soon becomes a flying bot- called Brobot) to restore power to a super-powerful AI named Anne, in order to prevent a forthcoming invasion of Earth by alien arachnids.
"While Lost on Mars isn’t nearly as good as something like, say, Blood Dragon was, all in all it’s a fun, if a little shallow, experience."
It’s a silly setup that never takes itself too seriously, and is all too aware of how bizarre it is. It’s never the focus of the experience though, and rarely does it ever become intrusive to the actual gameplay, so it’s rather easy to not be too miffed by its obvious shortcomings. The point here is to take Far Cry to Mars, somehow, and at least that much it does successfully. The real star of the show here is Hurk, a recurring character in Far Cry. Lost on Mars is brimming, almost saturated with Hurk’s well-established stupid humour, and it works just about as well as you’d expect. Much of the DLC’s inability to take itself seriously comes from Hurk, who is constantly making jokes about everything from Star Wars to Far Cry itself. I can see how his constant commentary and unwillingness to shut up might possibly be off-putting for some people, but for the most part, I was consistently amused by the writing for his character, and his dynamic with Nick.
Even though it’s set millions of miles away, much of Lost on Mars will be rather familiar to Far Cry fans. It puts a shiny new coating on several mechanics you’d be all too familiar with, but ultimately, they’re just the same old mechanics in different clothing. That familiarity doesn’t work against it, though, because Lost on Mars does mix things up a little bit to keep things from becoming too stale or predictable. The mundane, normal weapons of Far Cry 5 are all gone, replaced by new, chrome-coated weapons, and though these are essentially little more than variations of the guns in the base game – you have your shotguns, assault rifles, pistols, sniper rifles, even grenades – they’re novel enough to keep you interested for the DLC’s five hour runtime. The few weapons that are new, such as a beam rifle, are suitably fun and thrilling to use.
Gravity is another major addition here. Mars is, logically, low on gravity, and so jumps are naturally higher and more floaty. Also thrown into the mix, though, is a gravity belt, which essentially serves as a jetpack, but with a low-g twist on it. The gravity belt and floaty jumping make traversal a lot of fun, especially when it is combined with the popular wingsuit (called space wings here, because, you know, space). Lost on Mars utilizes the gravity belt in other ways too, the most significant being its towers. After taking the day off in Far Cry 5, Lost on Mars brings back the infamous Ubisoft towers (called antennas here). On paper, they serve as the same platforming puzzle boxes as they have done in previous Far Cry games, but Lost on Mars’ low-gravity and jetpack twist on things give them a new flavour and make them significantly more enjoyable than I expected them to be.
"On paper, the towers serve as the same platforming puzzle boxes as they have done in previous Far Cry games, but Lost on Mars’ low-gravity and jetpack twist on things give them a new flavour and make them significantly more enjoyable than I expected them to be."
What’s also interesting is that much of Mars is infested with the arachnid aliens you’re out to destroy, and these are mostly subterranean creatures. So while setting foot on the rockier parts of the terrain is all well and good, doing so on the large stretches of red sand, where these creatures make their home, is inadvisable, because the moment you do so, you’ll attract the attention of a bunch of space-spiders. Simple traversal becomes more of a process thanks to this mechanic, since you’ll be constantly navigating your way around large stretches of red sand. And while many times these parts feel like interesting platforming sections that are organically intertwining with traversal, sometimes it can get a little frustrating to be set upon by dozens of enemies while you’re just trying to move around.
Combining the two elements of a jetpack and low gravity can also make for some fun firefights where you will be airborne and hovering around for long stretches. That said, combat in the game is disappointingly action-oriented, lacking in any and all stealth elements. Far Cry has always been a series that makes stealth a major focus of its combat, and its absence is sourly felt here- without stealth, combat tends to get a little repetitive sooner or later, especially since enemy design itself isn’t varied enough either. But stealth isn’t the only core aspect of a Far Cry experience that is missing in Lost on Mars, either.
This series has made a name for itself over multiple games for having emergent gameplay in an open world setting where multiple systems react with each other. That’s not the case in Lost on Mars at all. There’s a very limited number of things to do, and where Far Cry 5’s Montana felt dynamic and interesting, Mars feels somewhat stale, with most its activities being little more than checklists for you to cross off. The DLC lays down a loop that you must follow for almost the entirety of the experience within its first hour, after which you’re left free to explore the decently sized map at your own leisure, but there’s still only a limited number of things to do- collect Hurk’s body parts and piece him back together, kill queen arachnids, activate towers, and a few other activities.
"This series has made a name for itself over multiple games for having emergent gameplay in an open world setting where multiple systems react with each other. That’s not the case in Lost on Mars at all."
Even the base game’s much lauded Guns for Hire mechanic is gone (with Hurk being your sole companion), and while that makes sense from the perspective that there shouldn’t logically be much help to go around on Mars, given the DLC’s willingness to never take itself seriously and to keep throwing in eccentricities and over-the-top absurdities, it definitely could have found a way to weave in that mechanic. Granted, the it’s shorter runtime of five hours makes sure that that staleness never rears its head in ugly ways, but it leaves enough of an impact to turn this into an experience that lacks much of the depth you’d expect in Far Cry.
What we’re left with, with all of that in consideration, is an expansion that is very different from the game it spawns from. That is, of course, by design, but in its attempts to do so, Lost on Mars loses some of the best aspects of a Far Cry game. Its traversal, fluid platforming, and frequently funny dialogue do enough to keep you interested for the five or so hours it takes to be done with it, but in the end, even though Lost on Mars is a pretty fun piece of DLC, it’s also not a very memorable one.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Traversal is a lot of fun, for the most part; Towers are unique and enjoyable platforming puzzle boxes; Consistently amusing.
Repetitive structure; No stealth; Lack of systemic emergent gameplay and Guns for Hire makes it a shallow experience.
Lost on Mars' shallowness and repetitive structure are issues for sure, but the DLC isn't long enough for them to become too much of a problem. As such, in the end, it's a fairly enjoyable but ultimately forgettable experience.