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The Solus Project

Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Grip Games
Developer: Teotl Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Despite its fundamental flaws, I have to give The Solus Project credit for offering something completely unique in tone. Games featuring exploration arenít uncommon, but games that focus on discovery and our own inquisitive nature are rare. Usually, we end up resorting to violence when instead we should be asking questions and learning a few things. The Solus Project is far more curious and introspective than those games, and as a result, itís worth a look. However, it struggles with pacing problems and gets distracted with poorly-designed environmental puzzles -- so much to the point where it ultimately draws the focus off of what it does best.

I havenít seen many games that have left me this conflicted in terms of its visuals. The surface of the world Gliese-6143-C is absolutely stunning. The alien life may not be as diverse or as aggressive as it is in your average Far Cry or Metroid Prime game, but it still makes you want to go out of your way to get a closer look. Easily, the high point of The Solus Projectís visuals is the series of environmental effects. Glieseís skyline is intimidating, thanks in no small part to the proximity of its nearest moon and the almost alarming speed of its orbit. Special mention goes to the tornadoes, which are easily the most frightening Iíve ever seen in a game. On the flip side is a series of dark, dull underground sections and an unfortunate number of technical problems. Texture pop-in is a frequent problem, as is the occasional drop in frame rate. Load times are almost unbearably long, but when you take into account the size of each self-contained area, itís tolerable.

Sound is more consistent, but altogether less impressive than the visuals. The Solus Projectís soundtrack is content to alternate between synthesized themes and simply getting out of the way of the gameís alien atmosphere. Both approaches work; The Solus Project is at its best when youíre simply soaking in the atmosphere without being interrupted. Thereís some voice acting, but itís all delivered via radio transmissions and audio logs. Makes sense, considering the fact that youíre alone throughout the vast majority of the adventure.


Gameplay:

The Solus Project is the story of mankindís survival after the destruction of Earth. You play as Octavius/Octavia Sken, one of the remaining humans on a pilgrimage through the heavens to find a new home. While passing the planet Gliese-6143-C, your spacecraft is blown out of the sky by an unknown presence, and your escape pod crash lands on the planetís surface. From there, it is your job to not only survive, but gather as much information as you can about this world, in the hopes of bringing the eponymous Solus Project to a successful end.

While the world of Gliese-6143-C has an open-world quality to it, this is not at all a freeform gameplay experience. The game is rather explicit about telling you where to go and what to do, though the details are left largely in your hands. Itís up to you to monitor your personal conditions, but the way forward is always clear. The Solus Project is at its best when youíre exploring the surface of Gliese, but sadly, the game takes its eye off the ball every now and then.

It becomes obvious early in the game that Sken isnít exactly alone. And more importantly, Gliese seems to have been home to a civilization that appears to have vanished. Since youíre on your own and the fate of the rest of your crew is unknown at best, itís up to you to investigate. This usually translates to a series of underground caverns, each with a series of puzzles and inane special item fetch quests. A lot of your time underground will be spent looking in random areas for keys and levers to help you advance. None of it is gratifying, and it just feels like boring filler.


Difficulty:

The Solus Project bills itself as a survival game, but on the default difficulty, thatís not much of an issue. Resource management is only an issue if youíre extremely careless; the game doesnít impose much in the way of urgency, and your adventure only progresses when you want it to. That means you can simply opt to wait out bad weather in one of the gameís many shelter areas, most of which have an unlimited supply of water, heat, and food.

That isnít to say there arenít any challenging or intense moments. Running from a tornado is something out of a nightmare, and the mysterious forces you encounter underground arenít exactly friendly. Furthermore, ancient booby traps can slow your progress, if not stop it entirely. But as long as you remain alert and aware of your surroundings and condition, youíll be fine.


Game Mechanics:

Most of your time in The Solus Project is spent simply walking around. Youíre a scientist, not a soldier. Youíre far more interested in simply staying alive and figuring out what makes this world work than doing any harm. Movement is handled well enough; it feels natural and vulnerable, as it should: falling even short distances can do serious damage to your person.

The Solus Project banks heavily on its survival mechanics as a selling point, but theyíre ultimately quite mundane. Sken doesnít need to fight terribly hard to survive, and indeed, most of the journey is spent in relative comfort. I always felt like I had more than enough food, water, shelter, and crafting materials to keep going, and every time I got low on any of them, I made a serendipitous discovery of just what I needed. Cranking up the difficulty changes the experience, obviously, but the default experience pales in comparison to other modern survival adventures such as The Martian and Cast Away.

Puzzle solving is where The Solus Project goes wrong. The game doesnít always give you the clues you need in order to progress. For example, I reached a breakable wall in an underground cavern, but none of my tools were capable of breaking it down. It turns out, I was supposed to watch a rocket containing a hammer crash down in a very specific place. Unfortunately, I ended up wandering aimlessly for far too long before finally consulting a walkthrough. Thankfully, there arenít too many moments like these in The Solus Project, but the pace-breaking nature of these interludes are often unwelcome.

The Solus Project is a thoughtful respite from all the violence and mayhem that usually accompanies video games, but it isnít comprehensive enough in its vision. It plays it a bit too safe with its premise and defaults to gameplay styles that donít play to its strengths. Its low price point helps make its case, however, and assists in glossing over the flaws that would have ultimately crippled the game, had it been full price. So it gets a recommendation from me. A qualified one, but a recommendation nonetheless.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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