I’m a big fan of structure, and that’s one of the reasons I like games such as The Solus Project. For a while now, we’ve been getting sandbox titles that had little to no form – true to their name – and while this is fine for when you just want to have fun and ignore the loosely strewn together storyline, a gaming session in which a person is properly invested in whatever title he or she is playing needs structure. Mind you, I’m not saying any given game has to be linear, just that the player has to be nudged in a certain direction to keep things going.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter and Firewatch are two examples of well-balanced and nicely structured games where there’s still a significant portion of freedom given to the player as well. Of course, not all titles should function like this, but it has to be recognized as a viable alternative to absolute freedom instead of being hated on as a relic of an old era, which is what people like to do these days. In return, due to this criticism, we keep getting consolidated action games where we capture towers, hunt down collectibles and kill endlessly-respawning enemies. This is okay, but not when it’s absolutely everywhere. Setting your average AAA action adventure aside for a moment, the same thing needs to be considered with survival games. Not everything needs to be ARK or Minecraft, so let us have story-heavy survival simulators as well.
The Solus Project is one such title – where ‘realistic’ aspects of survival are applied to what one may consider being a walking simulator. And whereas it could theoretically be disputed just how much of a game Dear Esther is, this is decidedly not the case with The Solus Project, precisely due to its gamey features.
In The Solus Project, the player is tasked with exploring a strange planet on which they crash-landed. Basically, the Earth is in ruins, and humanity has long-since moved on towards temporary colonies, but the necessity for a new planet to live on is dire. This is why you, as the protagonist, were tasked with charting Gliese, the world you’re now trapped on. I’ll stop with the spoilers here for two reasons: first, this is a preview build and, arguably more importantly, second, you’re playing for the story. In a game such as this, you do NOT want it spoiled.
After crash-landing, you assume control of your in-game avatar. The movement mechanics feel kind of stocky and inorganic, which I’m not a big fan of, but this may well be the point as you’re wearing a cumbersome space-suit anyway. Upon getting your bearings, you’ll start getting to grips with all the basic gameplay mechanics and features as shown by your PDA. This is your go-to device that you’ll be keeping in your left hand at all times, for some reason. I’m not sure why this is the case, as you could instead be holding a tool in one hand and, say, a torch in the other. It’s not all that intuitive, I mean, because this way your left arm is perpetually busy in what is, by all accounts a life-or-death situation.
Not a major gripe, but it does define your play style to necessarily be careful and methodical very early on. Now, the whole survival aspect of The Solus Project is what amazed me at first. The interactions between objects are very intuitive and seem to be thoughtfully implemented. For example, at the very beginning, you’ll be trapped in the rubble from your derelict by some thick cables. You pick up some rocks, bash them against each other and voila, you’ve got a sharp rock to cut the cables with. Most other interactions follow suit and aren’t at all difficult to figure out, which is important in this game as time inevitably keeps ticking by. With it, go your calorie and hydration meters, as well as your character’s need to sleep. Your PDA displays these at all times, and you just have to look down to take a gander at your stats whenever you so desire. Once you’ve gotten your tools and found some food and water, you’ll have to be mindful of their usage. Finding nourishment is not easy on Gliese, but you will find replenishment chambers every once in a while where food and water, as well as some light sources, will be located.
After following some basic directions from your PDA, you’ll have to move into the caves where a strange signal is originating from. From the get-go, it’s very clear humans aren’t the first intelligent life-forms to have arrived at Gliese, but the mysterious humanoids seem to be long-gone. As you move deeper into the caves, you’ll encounter written accounts for your PDA to translate, describing the inhabitants of Gliese and their daily lives. It’s a fascinating insight into a culture that’s strangely similar to that of our own, and will definitely keep you going for more until the very end. The final goal of your in-game avatar is contacting the rest of the humanity and telling them what you’ve found, which is impossible with what scavenged equipment you have at first. It’s important to note, however, that The Solus Project is an adventure game first and foremost, with survival elements thrown in for added challenge. You will be solving puzzles and outwitting all kinds of malicious devices over the course of the game, and you keeping an eye out for atmospheric changes, humidity, calories, and whatnot is simply an added layer of micromanagement that will keep you busy when things are calm. It’s well-implemented though, and that’s all that matters.
From what I gather, The Solus Project will be an episodic release, with me having previewed only the very first episode. However, if the developers manage to maintain the same level of mystery, solid gameplay mechanics and interesting events over the course of multiple episodes, I’m all for it.
This is all well and good, but what really sold me on The Solus Project is the atmosphere. At the same time, Gliese seems both placid and soothing, yet malicious and terrifying in its expanse. It’s a beautiful game built on Unreal Engine 4, and the engine is definitely capitalized on, but you cannot convey atmosphere via graphics. I applaud the developers for their efforts, and can only hope they continue doing more of the same. Technically, The Solus Project looks great, sounds even better and runs well. I’m honestly surprised at how well-optimized the game is, seeing how few loading screens there are. I’ll speak more on these matters when the game is released, however, just to be sure.
An interesting tidbit to know about this game is that it’s the spiritual successor to The Ball, the developers’ previous outing and that the two seem to share the back story somehow…
In conclusion, I have to say that I’m very happy with the direction The Solus Project is taking and that I’m positively stoked to see what the devs have in store for us yet. The story of Gliese will only be taking off with the first episode of this game, and with a rock-solid foundation such as this, only the sky is the limit.