Take-Two Interactive's Martian Gothic: Unification is no-frills port of a PC game that was released to minor acclaim in early 2001. Similar to Resident Evil, Parasite Eve, and others of their ilk, the game is a survival-horror adventure that is steeped in puzzle elements. Although it's a remarkably solid conversion, the abundance of cookie-cutter monsters and a lack of clever gameplay aren't likely to rip die-hard fans away from their 50th replay of Code Veronica. However, if you're looking for a relaxed and somewhat mellow foray into the genre, Martian Gothic isn't half bad.
Penned by science-fiction writer Stephen Marley, the story behind Martian Gothic tells of the journey of three investigators to a Martian research colony in the year 2018. Ten months prior, all communications between the colony and Earth abruptly ceased. Now, the trio--Karne, a military strategist, Kenzo, an infomesh computer whiz kid, and Matlock, a cunning biomedical expert--must investigate the events that led to the downfall of the Vita-1 research colony. Ultimately, this will entail exploring the many chambers of the base for clues, interfacing with the living supercomputer MOOD, and--as expected--fighting scores of undead creatures.
The gameplay is vaguely reminiscent of that of Resident Evil or Parasite Eve. The three main characters are deposited into separate sections of the colony and must explore nearby compartments for clues. Sealed bulkheads restrict communication to two-way radio contact and the sharing of items via vacuum tubes. You can switch between the characters at your leisure, which is good, because in order to gain full access to the ship, you'll have to search every desk, hatch, locker, nook, and cranny for clues. Whenever you come across an object required by a teammate, you simply shuttle it to them through the proper vacuum tube. Corpses hold access keys and recorders that will provide you with access to secured areas and provide insight into the supernatural plague that overtook the colony. Later, the formerly dead inhabitants of Vita-1 will come to life as mindless zombies, spiders, and tri-morph creatures, a situation that brings gunplay into the mix. There is plenty of ammunition for the available weapons, but you're never able to totally vanquish the undead--so conservation and caution are key.
While the game warrants kudos for incorporating ammo conservation and three-character puzzle elements, Martian Gothic never fully achieves the kind of clever immersion that is so important in the survival-horror genre. The vacuum tube system, while excellent as a novelty, is tiresome in its role as the main puzzle. Since the majority of obstruction and object-based puzzles are downright obvious and simple, the greatest difficulty lies not in juggling the 100 various inventory items, but in getting the correct item to the proper person through the vacuum tube array before zombies intervene. Monster fighting isn't as interesting as it could be either, as each creature sticks to a single attack strategy and is susceptible to the same repetitive banishment over and over. Despite these glaring issues, though, the pacing is appropriately tense for the subject matter, and the overall experience of exploring the derelict base is sufficiently scary.
As far as presentation goes, the game is a spitting image of a number of survival-horror mainstays. The polygonal character models and prerendered backgrounds are reminiscent of those of Resident Evil and Parasite Eve, while the general disposition of artifacts and puzzles is similar to that of Fear Effect or D. Holding true to the setting, the Vita-1 landscape is mainly a mixture of corridors and chambers, which doesn't really lend itself to extravagant visuals or animation. On a positive note, while the roster of enemy creatures isn't lengthy, the overall assortment of various zombies, spiders, and gelatinous ickies is fairly sickening.
If it's even possible, the soundtrack in Martian Gothic is more sublime than its visuals. Consisting entirely of looping wind and string instrumentals and supernatural sound clips, the score is out and out spooky. Whenever you're attacked or untangle a major discovery, appropriate musical cues interrupt the base score when suspense is at its peak. Hours of recorded voice dialogue by the main characters and base inhabitants further gives the game a cinematic bent, and it rarely sounds hokey--likely due in major part to Stephen Marley's talents as a science-fiction writer.
Cast in the mold of Resident Evil, Martian Gothic: Unification does a decent job of blending explorative gameplay and third-person zombie fighting with a truly horrific story. It is unfortunate that the creature fighting is often so mathematical and that the puzzles aren't more intricate, as the game's subplot and character development are exquisite. Overall, Take-Two's brand of survival-horror is sufficient if you're looking for an alternative to the mainstream, but it certainly won't blow you away.