Game Review | JCB Pioneer: Mars

Nothing can go wrong…right?

Congratulation Pioneer! Your mission is to head to Mars as part of a multi-national team and lay the foundations for future colonisation. That was the mission briefing, sadly the briefing didn’t mention crashlanding, or being on your lonesome!

Pioneer: Mars is a more realistic take on the survival genre. By realistic I mean no monsters chasing after you, it’s purely survival on a dead world. Of course, being a survival game means you’re pretty screwed on arrival; but hey, your a hero right?

Survive by….

You survive by, well, doing what you do in all survival games. Gathering resources and then crafting what you need. The better crafting recipies require more scarce and hard to get resources. These are further away from your base and require some planning. This is due to the fact you not only have to ration your food and water; but also oxygen as well.

Thankfully to help you out with the planning, the map overview does give you a nifty circle; to show you where you’re maximum range is on the oxygen you have right now. As your oxygen decreases, so does the circle. It’s a nice feature!

Crafting of structures is a multi-process chain. First you use the terminal to ‘plot’ where you want the structure to go. You need to consider accessability, connections for power and water, and your limited space. So planning is a huge thing. It’s worth spending the extra time to plan things properly so you dont screw yourself over down the road!

I honestly did rather enjoy this aspect of the game. Planning out and watching your base grow around you is always satisfying!

Can I see your license and insurance please?!

Currently there are only three vehicles in the game. With the exception of the transporter, I find it hard to understand why the others are in the game.

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This is especially true given the driving mechanics in the the game, which are frankly horrendous!

Realistically I kind of get it. Apparently gravity on Mars is only around 40% of that of earth. However, lets face it, if you’ve got a huge ass JCB truck, that weighs several tonnes on earth; it’s not going to be sliding all over the place like a skater at the rink! It’s still going to be close if not over, a tonne in weight.

Likewise I’ve several times (I kid you not here!), hit a pebble and had my huge ass truck go doing somersaults all over the place! Personally I find this insanely stupid, in a game that is aiming for a more ‘realistic’ approach. Though arguably this might be resolved down the upgrade chain, but that approach seems stupid to me. I mean, in a ‘realistic’ game a vehicle doesn’t gain weight, or drive better; just because you put points in a stat.

Not for everyone!

I do feel I need to mention that this game is by far not for everyone. Not even all survival game fans will like it either. This is due to the realistic approach to the game.

Given there’s no monsters to fight. You’re litterally just fighting the elements, the game can be a bit tedious at times. For example I spent almost 10 minutes driving skating to a resource node. With nothing but the atmospheric sounds for company. Which is rather dull. Admittedly though it got a little butt clenching when you start fighting the elements and gases to get a node. So, I do find the game fun at times and the tedium can end in some satisfaction.

Lets talk Graphics

Ultimatly all games have to have this discussion, so lets have it! Firstly I’ll just drop these ‘official’ screen shots here:

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On the surface you’d be forgiven for thinking this is a stunningly beautiful game, and honestly, at times it truly is! However for the most part this game is frankly ugly as hell. This is due to them lowering texture quality significantly. To the point where your vehicle, which has the JCB logo, is a pixalated mess for a second or two; whenever you move the camera, as it has to load in. You also have horrific PS3 quality textures on terrain and some wrecks to the point I suspect the above images are from the PC version. Yet on other things you have some amazing looking scenes. Which only highlight how bad the textures are. See the below screenshots taken earlier for examples.

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Can I turn the radio on?

One of the things to get used to, or rather it’s lack of, is music. The game has no music at all. Which I honestly find a little jarring. While I get they’re going for ‘atmospheric’ and they do succeed; having a radio in the cab of the JCB doesn’t seem unrealistic. However the atmospheric sounds work really well and I was highly impressed with them. It does draw you into the game. You will jump out of your pants when a meteor lands right by you!

Bugs! Bugs and more Bugs!

Okay, time for a more serious talk. This game is in Early Access, there’s no denying it. The sheer number of bugs I encountered just within the first few minutes of the tutorial were off the charts. Then I encountered several game breaking bugs. Finally one that actually crashed the game and seems to have corrupted the save file.

The tutorial is, for me, the most egregious offender. Though admittedly this isn’t a bug per se.

The tutorial is pretty important in this game. It starts off pretty decently, explaining things with a pretty good VO. Till it stops, literally mid sentence it stops and then starts again. Then stops and goes on a bit longer with no VO, and then starts gain. Very annoying and distracting.

That is still minor to the lack of tutorials on elements of the game that should have them. Such as upgrading buildings. I did reach out to the developer, and they did respond to my queries with the following statement:

We are addressing these and many more, now, and will be patching the game to fix bugs as soon as we can.


Which, is good, but sadly no patch arrived before I started writing this. As for the game breaking bug I encountered. Where the vehicle would literally launch off the top of a hill, land on a rock and either be stuck on it. Or as happened to me twice, clip into it and get stuck in it. They had the following to say:

This is one of the issues we are looking at fixing, it’s very rare and we’re looking at putting a possible reset button in to reposition your vehicle.


Given this has happened to me in just about every play through, I’m not sure I’d agree its ‘very rare’. The reset button is a must IMO and i’m surprised it wasn’t there from the start!

Is this the PC version?

Good question! The developers say NO, it’s not the steam version but it’s own stand alone game:

No the switch version is not an earlier version of the PC beta, it’s a different build for obvious reasons but it is on par with it. We will continue to support the Switch version and have new content in development and will be patching the game with improvements, bug fixes and new content.

So, while the game is on par with the PC beta, this does mean it’s still a beta. Granted they made some modifications (for obvious reasons) and even added some new stuff. But at the end of the day it’s still a beta, and there’s no mention of that on the store page.

To me this is a big NO NO. You need to clearly tell people what they’re getting into, it’s just common decency. And whilst I am happy they’re going to be supporting the Switch version with patches and updates, the lack of clarification is sad.

Final Verdict

So, if you were to ask me is this game worth buying, I’d actually say YES.

Firstly, the games price is one of the few that bucks the Switch tax trend and is the same price as the steam version, £19.99. Which i personally think this is a good price for what you get.

You are getting a fun little game, that is at times quite cathartic. However do bear in mind what you’re getting!

I feel that Atomicom have a solid base for a good game. I hope they do keep patching it, and make it to a great survival game. Frankly I hope we see more of the genre on the switch!

The Switch copy used for this review was provided by the Publishers Atomicom

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