In Printed Mars, space exploration is a creepy VHS home video

Welcome to the future! Truth be told, it’s pretty grimy.

At various moments in time, this assessment could have been applied to both Mars and the VHS tape, which is convenient because Printed Mars is about both of those things. In Vladstorm’s game for Mac, PC, and Linux, your pixelated character wakes up in the midst of a rocky formation. Who are you? What are you doing here? You only know you’re on Mars because the planet’s name is in the game’s title. Very helpful. In an attempt to answer those questions, you go for a walk. There are objects you can interact with, though many of them are rather discouraging. There’s blood on the printer and dismembered body parts on tables. Computer readouts contain memories of characters running away. From what? Well, the game’s documentation speaks of headless robots, so that’s encouraging. In hindsight, maybe your Martian character should have just slept in this morning.

Printed Mars’ visuals are the main reason you should be glad your character woke up this morning. Whereas characters and objects are rendered in the style of an 8-bit graphic that has a lost a few bits to the ravages of time, the backgrounds have he eerie quality of early VHS home videos. Both of these styles are lacking in photorealism, but they are lacking in their own special ways. This juxtaposition therefore serves to illuminate their unique characteristics: the VHS backgrounds are loose and grainy whereas the foregrounds offer a crisper interpretation of abstraction. This layering effect has less to do with loveably bad green-screening than it does with the early films of the Lumière brothers, which layered different forms of unreality on top of one another. The net effect, which is simultaneously retro and futuristic, puts a strong claim on your eyeballs.