Destination: Mars! (computer adventure game) (Evaluation)
by Kristen Sternberg
Get ready for blastoff! The compelling graphics of Destination: Mars!, an adventure game that aims to educate as well as entertain, will draw you into its story before you know it. Early in the twenty-first century--only a few years from now--you find yourself working for a company competing for mineral rights to Mars.
Each time you load the game, you're assigned a mission. Early missions consist of low orbits and space-station duties. You might be called on to analyze data or perform experiments, and crises which test your judgement often occur. After completing a number of missions, you're selected for a flight to Mars. Many emergencies crop up, but finally you land on Mars and explore the planet. As you travel in your Mars rover you complete experiments, carry out activities at several bases, and finally match wits against your competitors as you race to find their secret resource areas.
Many of the tasks you have to accomplish are fun, and it's a thrill when you finally get to Mars after many missions. VanDam Publishers' Mars Atlas, which comes with the program, is an informative resource with great maps. Compu-Teach's own user's manual contains detailed instructions on program operation and lots of information about astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, and physics.
Although some of the challenges will be satisfying to complete, parts of the program are really annoying. For example, to finish each experiment, you're given a multiple-choice question. Assuming you're able to figure out the question itself, you should be all right. If you choose incorrectly, the program responds with Wrong! and jumps you right into another situation. I was left in the dark many times. Why couldn't the program have said Let's look at this problem again or You should have chosen ... ? I ended up learning absolutely nothing from my mistakes.
You'll need your good judgment to survive emergency situations which come about as you navigate through the game. Although I normally trust mine, I was often frustrated when choosing what I thought to be the best solution, only to have the computer respond with Wrong! A crew member compensated--or something to that effect. I'm still puzzled as to why some of my answers were wrong. I also doubt the educational--and moral--soundness of a program that (1) ignores such an opportunity to build research skills and promote good planning, (2) gives only negative feedback and doesn't explain why your response isn't good, and (3) glosses over your mistakes by implying that they're OK because someone else will cover for you.
My other beefs are relatively minor. I think it's overly optimistic to recommend the age level as 11-17, considering some of the chemistry and physics problems you have to swim through. Younger players may find themselves over their heads. Also, although the user's manual attempts to bring each scene in the game to life by including details about your living conditions, computer equipment, and fellow travelers, it would be more effective if this were put right into the program. Even the most studious kids are likely to skip over the manual and miss all these special touches.
The program's technical operation is perfect, the graphics are great, and the supplemental materials are thorough. I give these areas the highest rating. However, while Destination: Mars! may be built on a sound premise, there's a lot of room for improvement before this program can truly be called educational.