Tharsis Review - A Hardcore Strategy Game

Tharsis is a good yet difficult strategy game that takes a lot of time to master.

I love games that offer players a challenge, even those considered extreme. At times I can get a bit overconfident in my gaming abilities. After conquering Darkest Dungeon I felt pretty indestructible when it came to playing games. Playing Tharsis however, gave me one hell of a reality check.

Tharsis is a strategy game developed and published by Choice Provisions. It released January 12, 2016 on PC, Mac, PS4 and iOS. Tharsis is a good game that anyone can play, but only the extremely lucky or the best strategists will ever finish it.

A doomed mission to Mars

Earth receives a signal from Tharsis on Mars. The transmission is believed to be of extraterrestrial origin. A ship called the Iktomi is built and launched with six crew members to travel to Mars and investigate the signal. Halfway through the mission, the ship is struck by a micrometeoroid storm.

While most of the ship is left intact, two crew members Mapiya Musgrave and J. Cross are killed. The pantry bay is also lost where all the food was stored. Despite being able to communicate with Mission Control, the remaining astronauts are unable to return home.

With no choice but to simply survive, the crew must battle through constant disasters with limited food. During the journey, the crew decipher data sent from Tharsis. It shows images of what appears to be an exact copy of them. What is actually happening here? Can the crew even make it there? Their fate is in your hands.

The story to Tharsis is told through voice-over and still images in between each round of the game. It is interesting and covers more than just surviving the journey. The problem is, finishing the game to experience the story in its entirety is a difficult task.

Due to the games difficulty even on Easy Mode, most players will never experience the plot. The chances are, you will likely have to look up a video of the ending before experiencing it yourself. 

Complex gameplay

The gameplay to Tharsis is quite complex. It takes some time to get used to along with learning what everything does. Essentially the goal of the game is to survive ten weeks until you reach Tharsis. The problem is, each week the crew are struck with new disasters around the ship.

You must fix the issues around the ship, while also keeping your crew alive and fed. This may sound simple but each crew member only gets one turn each week resulting in having to make decisions and at times compromise. Each week the ship suffers two to three disasters of varying severity. Any repairs not fixed during a week will carry over to the next. 

To fix the issues in the ship, you must send a crew member to the damaged module, there being seven in total. When at the module you must roll the dice. The better fed the astronaut is, the more dice they will roll, five being the maximum. To successfully repair a fault, you must roll and install the number given or higher.

As if attempting to roll a dice to gain a specific number is not difficult enough, each repair has hazards also. The hazards come in three forms; Injury, Statis and Void. If a dice lands facing up with a number of a hazard, it will activate. Injury results in the astronaut losing one health. The void will make any dice that activates it disappear completely and stasis will hold the dice stopping it being re-rolled.

You can counter hazards with assists but you can only have up to three at any one time. You are able to regain assists but doing so requires a roll in the laboratory. It uses up one of the astronaut's turn for that week. Alternatively, if you have the technician, they can use their bonus to gain two assists in any module using a dice of five or six.

This brings me on to the bonuses and the crew members and modules. Each crew member has their own bonus just like I mentioned with the technician above. For example, the Captain's bonus will increase any crew member's dice by one in the same module as them. The Doctor will heal any crew members in the same module by one and the Mechanic will increase the ship's hull by one.

The module bonuses work in a similar manner but can be activated by any crew member within it. Some require several dice of the same number to activate the bonus. Finally, there is research. While rolling the dice, you can place a dice into one of the six research slots.

Each slot applies to one face of the dice, so you can't place two dice of the same number in research slots. You can then use the points gained from the dice to research one of three available options at any time assuming you have enough. The better the research the higher the cost. Alternatively, if you don't like the options available you can shuffle them at the cost of one point.

Have you taken all of that in? To succeed at Tharsis you must keep every little detail mentioned above in mind, during each week. While it all makes for good complex strategic gameplay, it isn't without its issues. A lot of the difficulty comes from the hazards and getting unlucky with a dice roll. 

The assists used to counter the hazards is entirely automatic. This results in you using your assists on hazards that may not have to.  Also on rolls with a lot of dies it is easy to use all your assists at once. I feel a choice of what hazards to use the assists on would work far better. 

Not only would it add another bit of depth to the strategy, it would make the game a little bit more fair at times. Also, a few of the more severe repairs require perhaps a few too many dice, even in Easy Mode. Aside from those issues, the gameplay is solid.

While I am yet to survive a single run in Tharsis, I feel I am yet to find a strategy that works. It is easy to assume that the game is simply just crucifying on difficulty but with such a complex strategic system, I think I just haven't found a plan that works. Either that or this isn't the game for me.

Unlockable characters and additional missions

The starting four characters and stand game mode is not all that Tharsis has up for grabs. As you continue to play the game you will unlock new characters each with their own professions and bonuses. You can only ever have a total of four characters in one playthrough but you can switch them around.

The additional characters change up the gameplay quite a bit. As to how you deal with each situation can depend greatly on what characters you have selected. After that, there are ten missions to choose from. These are basically special scenarios with their own circumstances and goals.

If you find yourself getting bored with the standard game mode, these missions do help vary things up a bit. Just don't expect them to be any easier than that of the actual main game.

A game that is not for everyone

Tharsis is a tough game about surviving a life or death situation with the odds constantly against you. If you are to play it, you need to make sure you don't mind dying more than winning. You will die a lot. It isn't perfect but it is never the less a good game that is fun.

Its gameplay is complex and difficult. Visually it is quite beautiful with the ships design being really well done, even if the characters faces are not so much. The soundtrack is great and fits in with the space theme of the game. With unlockable characters and additional missions to play through, there is quite a bit of replayability to offer.

Tharsis is one of those games that isn't an instant purchase. It is a game that should be considered greatly before spending money on it. It really is a game that isn't for everyone. If complex strategy with a high difficulty sounds like a good time to you, then Tharsis may be just what you are looking for.

Tharsis is available to buy on Steam for $14.99. It is also available on PS4 and iOS on their respective stores.

Our Rating
Tharsis is a good yet difficult strategy game that takes a lot of time to master.
Reviewed On: PC


Playing video games for over 23 years, love to write and love everything video game related.

Published Oct. 24th 2016

New Cache - article_comments_article_45919
More Tharsis Content
Popular in the Community