The year is 2067 and it is your job (that you volunteered for!) to not only survive but also to colonize an unmanned section of Mars. Although it has only been released into Early Access for a couple of weeks, JCB Pioneer: Mars is already very interesting to play. Be forewarned: even at this stage, JCB is no pushover of an experience to live through. Currently, there are three difficulty options which are Explore (Easy), Survival (Medium), and Extreme (Hard). However, the first two options have yet to be implemented! Your first time with JCB will be Extreme – and there is absolutely no denying that. At the very start, JCB literally tells you, “Death means death”.
In order to survive, you are going to have to manage your power, food, water, and (especially) oxygen. Of course, a simple landing on the planet would be too easy. Something caused you to have a “critical impact” with the surface. So, there you are, alone – except for some kind of female, mission control type of person, in the top left of the screen, aiding you with your (tutorial) journey. You are equipped with your spacesuit as a life source. Fortuitously, you do have a scanner. Upon its first use, the scanner pinpoints your first livable environment – the JMC X-18 Explorer, the futuristic equivalent of an advanced Martian rover. However, getting there is your first of a myriad of challenges.
Here, JCB Pioneer: Mars gives you somewhat of a break, as there is only one way to get to it. Unfortunately for you, it is not a leisurely stroll through a red and dusty park. While your oxygen slowly dwindles, you must elude your first hurdle(s): a Level 2 Meteor Storm (but, wait, I didn’t even see a Level 1 storm!). Fortunately for you, bright-ish red rectangles highlight where the meteors are going to impact next. Free advice? Do not walk through or into the red areas!
After you have avoided the meteor strikes, you will find yourself at the Explorer. Simply get in the vehicle and run another scan. This time, it will tell you where your livable habitat (now known as “hab”) is located. All you have to do then is drive to it. Easy enough? No, not quite. Now that you are ‘protected’ in a vehicle, JCB Pioneer: Mars throws pressure-based, electrostatic phenomenon (a.k.a. electromagnetic storms) at you – while you are driving. Your guide suggests that you take evasive maneuvers. (Gee, lady, ya think?)
After getting away from two possible bouts with death, you finally make it to your hab. Once again though, it seems that while you were crashing into the surface, something was simultaneously damaging your hab. Hence, your next assignments: repairing the hab, its power supplies, and the garage that repairs your vehicle. This is when you get your first tool, for repairs. Without going into too much detail, fixing the solar panel (to get initial power to the hab) and the garage is relatively easy. Drive your JMC X-18 into the garage and it too is mended and ready.
Now is when JCB Pioneer: Mars ramps up the difficulty. You are tasked with going out and salvaging parts for other hab repairs. Yes, you do have a continuous map. No, the parts’ locations are not as pinpointed. No, there is not only one way to get there to find them. Remember, that all of the time, you are also watching (and trying to refill) your oxygen. These early searches become just a preliminary taste of the meat and potatoes of the quests to survive and colonize. Once these are completed, I will only say that things down the line will not become easier.
Since JCB Pioneer: Mars is so young in its existence, there are some bugs, placeholders, and a few crashes. On the other hand, I am impressed by what there is to offer, certainly for being this early in the making. Also, and quite impressively, is that the game feels like Mars. Since I have never been there personally, JCB does a great job portraying how I imagine Mars would actually be. It is obviously reddish, but also dusty, hilly, windy, rocky, and stormy. When I first landed, I thought, “Yeah, this is Mars.”
Being a huge fan of survival games, JCB Pioneer: Mars certainly put me to the test. Unlike a lot of games in this genre, something I greatly admire is what JCB tells you, right from the start: “Death means death”. If you can’t handle the Martian heat, get back to the kitchen and try again. I am eagerly anticipating to watch this game develop!
Version Reviewed: 1.02R