Transforming Mars

CAT Interstellar

We are now living through the early days of Artificial Intelligence. The rise of the machines is no longer a dream of science fiction, but a reality with each day that passes. This inevitability brings with it many fears, as well as bringing into sharp focus one of the subjects oldest questions – what does it mean to be human?

CAT Interstellar transports you straight into the shell of a robotic “dog” in a near-future setting. Your purpose is to assist the other, more human-like Androids on the surface of Mars, as they attempt to terraform the planet for human habitation. The game cleverly keeps the real humans restrained on planet Earth, many millions of miles away, allowing the focus to remain solely on the AI inhabitants of the mission. As the story progresses, you soon start to look on the blank-faced robots the same way as you would living companions, with their own day-to-day problems, hopes and concerns.

The game is richly filled out with AI characters, all struggling to complete their tasks on a hostile, barren world. I particularly enjoyed hearing one Android muttering about having to work on the air ducts, while soon after witnessing another attempting to fix some broken machinery by giving it a firm kick. Throughout the game, the robots continually display a nosy curiosity coupled with their own opinions, much like humans would. The addition of recorded dialogue adds to the overall humanity of these characters.

The game eases you in with some fun tasks to accomplish on the Martian surface, such as collecting some boxes blown away in a sandstorm, or assisting with fertilizing plants within a fully functioning greenhouse. Soon, you will descend below the surface of the planet into the mines, in order to fulfill your main purpose: locating several drones that went missing in the lower caverns and retrieving their data banks.

I would recommend taking your time to properly explore the Martian surface before taking the lift down into the mines. The game’s visuals are stunning throughout. And no more so than on the surface, as you travail a bleak landscape of rock and sand, battered by the sun.

The Solar Fields

It is within the mines where the more adventurous aspects of the story begin. Following an accident, you “awake” deep inside a natural formation of caves, alongside your companion, Android 42. Working together, you must find a way back to the surface. Throughout this section of the game, I was hooked by the thrill of exploring the unknown. It felt like Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth had been updated from the early 19th century to a futuristic sci-fi setting.

As I do not want to spoil anything for those who choose to play the game, I will only say that the Android’s mission up until this point now fades into unimportance. Soon, our two AI friends will stumble across something that could shed light on one of the greatest mysteries of the universe.

CAT Interstellar in a true Indie game, created by a one-man development team at Ionized Games. You can sense the amount of work and passion that has gone into creating the game, along with a true respect for the science fiction genre. At times, the game felt like stepping into an interactive short story from the likes of Robert A. Heinlein or Arthur C. Clarke, which can only be a compliment.

As a sole labour of love, it is natural that the game can seem a bit rough around the edges, however, in true Indie fashion, this often adds to the charm. The game is currently free to play on Steam and only $4.99 on the US Playstation Store. Clocking in at around one and a half hours to complete, it is a perfect for a an evening where you want to experience a story without dedicating yourself to a lengthy gaming session. Nevertheless, I found the story to be so engaging that a part of me wished it had continued beyond the rather abrupt ending…

6.8/10

Final Score

From The Beginning

For many, switching on a video game is no more than a source of quick entertainment. However, the evolution of games from the early days of 8-bit graphics and sound to the current world of rich, 3D environments, complete with orchestral scores, has paved the way for a respected form of art.

What is Prog Gaming?

The umbrella term Progressive (or Prog) Gaming loosely covers tags such as exploration, atmospheric, adventure, story-rich, artistic, puzzles, walking simulator and indie, usually favoring non-violent games (although this is not always a prerequisite) where the focus is on something deeper; a yearning for the unknown and experiencing a journey beyond the day-to-day mundane.

This blog is a chance to discover games which fit this mold, with a focus on exploring stunning environments, challenging ourselves through puzzles and ambiguous meanings, and experiencing rich storylines that transport us to new worlds.

Originally released for the Macintosh platform in 1993, Myst was a surprise hit that helped to drive adoption of the new CD-ROM format.

I will cover games from all eras, taking us from the rise of the consoles, where artistic freedom was often restricted by commercial needs, to the present day, where the advent of online platforms such as Steam has allowed smaller developers the freedom to release their games directly to a world-wide audience.

The term Progressive Gaming was first coined by me and my good friend Chris Myhill, who share a love of all things Prog Rock, and saw many of the similar themes and ideals of this musical genre reflected in certain games. What started out as a tongue-in-cheek method of describing them soon entered our own lexicon.

How can I join in?

Your own thoughts and opinions are priceless. As a valued reader, you are encouraged to join in the discussion by subscribing and commenting on each blog post. Don’t forget to let me know about any games you would like me to feature in future. I am always on the lookout for the next recommendation!

I will aim to provide a rating for each game, with a score out of 10. On occasion, certain games will receive the addition of the prestigious Tubular Bell award – granted solely to games I consider to have transcended the genre. Much like Mike Oldfield’s composition of the same name helped to define Prog Rock, we will discover certain games which have left a timeless mark on the world of gaming.

“Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends

We’re so glad you could attend

Come inside, the show’s about to start

Guaranteed to blow your head apart

Rest assured you’ll get your money’s worth

The greatest show in Heaven, Hell, or Earth!

Emerson, Lake and Palmer, from Karn Evil 9

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