I'm desperate for an update on Xbox's most mysterious exclusive

Project: Mara
(Image credit: Ninja Theory)

Microsoft Gaming has so many games and so little time to talk about them all. The Xbox Games Showcase gave shape to the 2024 lineup of upcoming Xbox Series X games, including a fresh look at Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2. The new adventure continues to impress, with developer Ninja Theory leveraging Unreal Engine 5, as well as cutting-edge motion capture and photogrammetry technologies, to set a new benchmark for graphic fidelity on the platform. Ninja Theory wants to leverage technology to capture reality, and Hellblade 2 is a central component of that creative initiative. 

Central, but not the only one. While all attention continues to be diverted to Senua's sophomore adventure by developer and publisher alike, I believe that a fresh look at one of Xbox's most compelling exclusives is a long-overdue update. Announced in 2020, Project: MARA has been positioned as "an experimental project" that Ninja Theory co-founder Tameem Antoniades believes "could become a new immersive storytelling medium." 

"Project: MARA remains one of the biggest outliers in the Xbox Game Studios portfolio"

Big talk to describe an undoubtedly weird experience. There's an air of mystery surrounding Project: MARA which may be fuelling my curiosity – I have a good sense of what I'm going to get with Hellblade 2, but the sky's the limit with this other venture. Actually, that's not quite right. The sky isn't the limit – a high-rise ceiling is. Let me explain: Project MARA is set entirely within a single upscale apartment, with Ninja Theory striving to create a setting which is photorealistic, right down to the texture and structure of the materials. 

Naturally, the familiarity of the environment will be twisted into something unnatural. "Project: MARA will be a real-world and grounded representation of mental terror," says Antoniades, where Ninja Theory hopes to explore "the horrors of the mind as accurately and believable as possible." A fascinating concept, especially as the experience is said to feature just one character and the one location. As an exploration of the human condition, and as the foundation for an experimental psychological horror, I'm fascinated. It's been over two years since Ninja Theory last provided an update, and I just hope its development remains in incubation while attention shifts to getting Hellblade 2 ready for release. 

Lock and key

Silent Hill 4: The Room screenshot showing the cursed apartment

Anybody else have fond memories of Silent Hill 4: The Room? (Image credit: Konami)

I've always found that some of the best horror games are primarily contained to a single setting – the claustrophobia creating undoubtedly compelling experiences. From the legendary P.T. to the more recent Amnesia: The Bunker, terror can be paralyzing when even an environment turns against you. I've struggled to track this fascination back to its origin, but it may well have been born out of Silent Hill 4: The Room. A problematic sequel with one hell of a creative concept, where you attempt to survive a nightmare seeping out of the Otherworld via holes in the wall.   

It was a curious experience, at its best as you explore the claustrophobic Room 302 – a series of peepholes acting as your main instance of interaction with the outside world. Gradually, even the apartment turns against you; while it once contained the only save point and primary way to restore your health, a series of increasingly violent hauntings make the space increasingly dangerous. As a complete experience, it never quite came together, but Team Silent put forward a few ideas that deserve to be expanded upon by others.

Project: MARA, with its obsessive attention to detail and clear creative objective, is one of the biggest outliers in the Xbox Game Studios portfolio – the sort of experimental experience that would only get the greenlight by a first-party publisher because of something like Xbox Game Pass. I understand why it has taken a backseat to something like Hellblade 2, which will undoubtedly be one of the most important Xbox exclusives of 2024, but I hope Ninja Theory and Microsoft take some time to talk about this mysterious exclusive soon – it's one of those titles that, with the right interest behind it, could be a true differential. 

Project: MARA won't be one of the new games of 2023, but we do expect Ninja Theory to turn its attention back to this PC, Xbox Series X, and Game Pass release once Hellblade 2 is out the door in 2024. 

Josh West
Editor-in-Chief, GamesRadar+

Josh West is the Editor-in-Chief of GamesRadar+. He has over 15 years experience in online and print journalism, and holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing. Prior to starting his current position, Josh has served as GR+'s Features Editor and Deputy Editor of games™ magazine, and has freelanced for numerous publications including 3D Artist, Edge magazine, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. Additionally, he has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh likes to play bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in a few movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.