But it’s allright!
I mean I love red. And the Martian Red is beautiful unlike the Britannian dirt. A tad monotous perhaps… but then it IS a welcome change from the green Eodon.
But of course before dwelling on Martian Dreams… let us start by the beginning. Which is: the manual! Or rather the manuals, since there are two of them respectively entitled “Time Travel” and “Mysteries of the Red Planet”.
Both are, as usual, presented from an in-universe perspective, this time as books written by the character of Dr. Johann Spector – the first focusing on telling the story of our character’s arrival in 1895 and the presenting the many historical figures appearing in the game, and the second describing Mars and its flora and fauna. Funnily enough, these manuals were actually written by producer Warren Spector – the real-life alter ego of Dr. Spector.
They are a good read as always, but to be fair they read a tad too much like a scientific treatise for my taste. It fits the character, but I enjoyed the pulp tone of Ultimate Adventures a lot more.
One point of interest when starting up the game is introduction. First it features the usual Origin FX teaser upon launching the game, except with Mars instead of Earth. Then starts the first introduction sequence depicting the events of the 1893 and the early launch of the first expedition toward Mars, which left by taking with it all the greatest minds of the Victorian Era.
The real intro starts when you select it on the menu screen, and focus on our good ol’ Avatar in present day and how he’ll come back in time to get to the second expidtion of 1895. I love this introduction because of how it looks – first it’s long (which is quite uncommon for an Ultima game at that point), but also has an adventure game feel, which reminds of some rotoscoped Sierra games of the ’90. This is a great introduction, which leads to one thing: the need to play the game!
After that comes the character creation sequence – it follows the traditionnal kind of Ultima questions, except by the form of questions by Sigmund Freud (!) with also three answers. So again, it’s a nice twist on the usual way.
After that the game begins on Mars.
The core gameplay is pretty much the same as Ultima VI and Martian Dreams – except the game really looks gorgeous, and has actually graphics that aged pretty well compared to its predecessor. Unlike Savage Empire, combat has a bigger role here and you’re bound to gain a few levels throughout gameplay. Also it tends to focus on ranged weapon with modern weapons (well… modern by 1895 standard at least) rather than the usual close combat approach of the series.
Interestingly, it also foreshadows Serpent Isle in some aspects: notably the nights of Mars are very cold, which requires your character to have warm clothes, or else take damage. It also offers a pretty hardcore aspcet through oxium, small gelly rocks you character have to chew to get proper oxygen, or else they get reduced stats.
It does remove some traditionnal Ultima aspects such as food and schedule – but on the whole these novetly balances things out.
The goal of the game is basically to find out what happened to the first expedition, and find a way back to Earth. You quickly get to the site of the first expedition where a man named Dibbs joins you, and then you’re free to explore Mars as you see fit – altough there are some obvious limitation to what you do depending on what you have done before.
So I rapidly when to the Olympus settlement where part of the original expedition settled. Alas the settlers refused to give me access, on account that part of the expedition which settled at Elysiuem went crazy and think themselves as martians ever since they used some weird “Dream Machine” and the guy at entrance require that I get the signature of three famouses explorers to attest of my sanity: David Yellin, Richard Sherman and Greg Dupray.
So I procedeed to go and find these explorers which were exploring mines in a distant mountains – which meant having to travel a lot around martian channels. In the way I passe through Elysium which was indeed filled with people thinking themselves as Martian.
Of course, talking to them lead to the revelation that these are actual Martian who had transfered their mind to the Dream Machines are a now possessing the humans body in order to create a new martian body for their needs.
There actually is a CRAZY amount of lore and background information being tossed out at that point, which basically leads to regret the lack of an actual ingame journal to take note of it all. Indeed, the first time I played it I DID write down every dialogue of the game, and there is so much depth in it that it was sorely needed.
But it’s what make Martian Dreams so good: the amount of depth the plot has to offer is mindblowing – so it’s kind of hard to keep track of it at times, but makes for a wonderful experience!
In any it wasn’t quite the time for me to help the Martians, so I continued my road to the mine of Syrtis Major, where I discovered that two of the explorers were blocked into a cave-in – thankfully I had a wrench to allow me to assemble a old martian drill and free the poor lads.
Now funnily enough of course – these three explorers are actually real dopplegangers of Iolo, Shamino and Dupre! Altough this time there doesn’t seem to be any issue of memory loss, so we can probably assume that they are somehow their ancestors. Alas I can’t get to big three to join me, as they want to keep digging the mines, so only Sherman joined me – but hey, one is still good!
With the three signatures on my note, I now went back to Olympus after facing the dangerous creatures of the planet and was granted access. And here I stand now, ready to talk to these legendary historical figures and continue my quest on Mars…