Project Mara: Everything we know about Ninja Theory's experimental horror game

Project: Mara
(Image credit: Ninja Theory)

Project Mara is a new game in the works that continues to be one of the more mysterious upcoming Xbox Series X games in the current lineup from Xbox Game Studios. First announced back in 2020 as one of the new Xbox exclusives on the way, Project Mara is currently in the works at Ninja Theory from a smaller team, while the rest of the studio focuses on the development of Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2

There's still a lot of questions and intrigue surrounding Project Mara, which is described as a new experimental, psychological horror game. From what we've seen, it looks set to leverage the next generation tech the studio is investing in, with impressive photogrammetry and motion capture tools. It certainly looks set to be one very interesting upcoming horror games. We don't yet have a confirmed release date or know whether it will be among the new games for 2023, but we can't wait to find out more.

Read on below to get an overview of everything we know so far about Project Mara. 

What is Project Mara?

Project Mara

(Image credit: Ninja Theory)

Project Mara is an in-development experimental game from Ninja Theory with a focus on recreating the terror of mental health issues and it will be "based on real lived experience accounts and in-depth research." 

After the success of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, the studio revealed a research and development effort known as The Insight Project, which is a collaboration between Ninja Theory and a series of experts, psychiatrists, and professors. The project aims to create "self-contained, individualized, and absorbing game experiences" to help people control things like fear and anxiety. 

Ninja Theory says that it wants to "deliver a mainstream solution to help treat mental suffering and encourage mental well being." An ambitious endeavour to say the least, and whilst it hasn't been confirmed, it’s fair to say Project Mara is something of an offshoot of this research push. 

The focus appears to be recreating "the horrors of the mind as accurately and realistically as possible" to usher in some kind of new approach to storytelling in games. Let's just hope it's respectful of mental health issues and those suffering from them whilst trying to shine a necessary spotlight on something stigmatized. Gamifying something like anxiety or fear is ambitious, but also cause for concern – it has to be done with an as of yet unseen level of tact. 

Project Mara release date – When can we expect it?

Project: Mara

(Image credit: Ninja Theory)

The game was revealed in January of this year following the reveal of Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2 at The Game Awards 2019. Given that Hellblade 2 is yet to receive a release date, it's safe to say that Project Mara's launch window is even more out of the way. Considering that the studio was acquired by Xbox Game Studios in 2018, We can readily assume that the game will come to Microsoft's flagship platforms whenever it’s ready, which means Xbox Series X and PC for the time being. 

Project Mara teaser trailer - Watch it now

Upon its reveal, the game received a terrifying teaser trailer which appears to feature award-winning Hellblade actor Melina Juergens in the titular role as Mara. The teaser shows off some impeccably rendered slices of what looks like a research facility, soundtracked by heavy breathing and close-ups of documents detailing a study of Mara’s brain function and mental health progress. The trailer tagline is “I can't tell what’s real anymore” and at the end of the trailer, we can see Mara turn to face some sort of antagonistic force in the darkness. 

It’s very hard to grasp what the premise of the game is from this disorienting trailer, but it seems to follow a mental health patient struggling with her illness. The game presents the facility in a somewhat antagonistic way but it’s yet to be revealed whether this is the reality of the situation or not.

Project Mara development diary 

Alongside the teaser trailer, Ninja Theory released a development diary for players to follow the progress of their upcoming projects. They’re focusing on small-scope development similar to their approach with Hellblade, which was made by a small team of 20 developers. This is what they’re calling the Dreadnought approach, where the company is splitting into a set of small teams to work on their upcoming titles, each even combined not totalling the scale of a typical AAA development project. This is so that they can take more creative risks and drill into their ideas.

Co-founder Tameem Antoniades talks a little bit about The Insight Project, which seeks to use the environmental control of game design and adapt it into a push towards mental wellbeing for players by allowing users to engage with and overcome their fears. There are a couple of short scenes where we see clips from projects tied to this, including a person in a rowboat with a heart monitor, somebody running on a treadmill whilst being tracked and a VR project where the player interacts with an avatar. Ninja Theory want to explore the “new control interfaces and the psychology of play,” which has much to do with the forthcoming Project Mara.

Antoniades notes that the game has only one character (Mara, probably) and one location (what looks to be a mental health facility) and if successful, the team plan to expand upon this new medium for storytelling in games. 

Freelance writer

Jordan Oloman has hundreds of bylines across outlets like GamesRadar+, PC Gamer, USA Today, The Guardian, The Verge, The Washington Post, and more. Jordan is an experienced freelance writer who can not only dive deep into the biggest video games out there but explore the way they intersect with culture too. Jordan can also be found working behind-the-scenes here at Future Plc, contributing to the organization and execution of the Future Games Show.  

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