- Developer: Grip Digital, Teotl Studios
- Publisher: Grip Digital, Teotl Studio
- Platforms: Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
- Release Date: 18th February 2016
I like Minecraft. It’s satisfying to dig for flint, to light a torch, to guide your way to deeper and darker depths and greater rewards. It’s also pretty rudimentary, and exactly how we’re all going to wind up dead when the apocalypse comes to town, burned to a crisp whilst trying to forge power armour on a barbecue.
The Solus Project makes a rather convincing attempt at proving how useless you really are at anything, kicking things off with a face-melter of a tutorial whereby you’re advised, quite earnestly, that the best way to light a torch made from a metal rod with oil-soaked roots attached is to walk it straight into the business end of a blazing rocket thruster. In survivalist circles, this is what we refer to as “fucked up”.
So, you’re now with delicious, comforting fire. You’ve patted out your smouldering lapels and bandaged your hands and face. Done and dusted. But this game wants to be “realistic”… The intense heat caused a rise in body temperature. The blazing, red giant of a sun isn’t helping… You’re rapidly dehydrating, and those flames to your person appeared burned precious calories, as well as melting your nipples off. But… how do you know these things? Are you magical!? Haha! No, silly sausage… Here’s where your trusty Pip-Boy comes into it’s own! Or, at least, where your “Wilson” brand PDA offers some non-copyright infringing enlightenment. You have the obligatory HP displayed, as you’d reasonably expect. To make things more interesting, you also have body temperature, hydration levels and calories remaining on show, along with an amount of time corresponding to how well rested you are. All these things need to be maintained at their optimum level, whilst the entire planet sets about on it’s own mission to smite you. Devil sun and murderous tutorial aside, you’ll quickly encounter sub-zero nights, torrential rains, sudden meteor showers… That was less than 24 game hours for me – I did set the game to “long days” from the start, a decent feature that gives you more time in the balmy transitional stages between scorching days and freezing cold nights.
This isn’t Minecraft. You don’t have a home base, or fort, or lava-spewing hovercastle. It’s time to move, and you have but 12 poxy inventory slots to work with, and this crap is so real that stuff can’t be conveniently stacked into 12 piles 99… Put all that tinned food you just hoarded back down, fatty. Unbelievably limiting it may be, yet I found it oddly liberating – the life of a Space Pikey, hooray! You find yourself gambling on what you might find along the way, versus what you simply cannot do without, versus how likely you’re going to wander off to look at some weird thing you spotted, and probably die of heat stroke.
Besides the impending threat of embarrassing death, there is, of course, a story going on. Earth destroyed… Yeah, yeah… The remnants of humanity now searching for a new home… blah, blah… Oh, suddenly you’re stranded by a mysterio-blah… Some ancient alien BLAAAAH! It ain’t an original tale they’re spinning. But it’s not lazily done, either. Do you like strange, stat-boosting, alien artifacts? You got it! How about vast hieroglyphs depicting the trials and tribulations of an alien race? Ta-da! Fan of Flashback? Have frikkin’ portable teleporter, buddy! Frequently, I play games for the sake of the story it tells. Godly staying power, ample energy pickups, the ability to not die from dehydration whilst just standing on a beach… In many games these things are taken for granted, so you can go ahead and look around every corner, seeking enlightenment from endless reams of lore. For a long while on this passive-aggressive planet, you’re kept so busy keeping healthy that you seem to pretty much accept what’s going on without a second thought, and get on with surviving; a welcome change of late… Honestly, who could be arsed reading through the books in Skyrim? Admittedly, I did open them all to page one, just in case there was any skill learning to be had. Don’t worry, though; in this game your route through creepy environs eventually shoves it’s tasty sub-plot right in your face, and things begin to get little freaky!
Be advised, The Solus Project is currently in a pre-release state right now. You can download it for free and play an hour to test it out. After this, it’s £11.99 for keeps. With that in mind, the start screen could be prettier, the slow loading times and delayed rendering of textures once that’s done needs to be improved, and the sometimes ropy controls could be tightened. These are my own personal annoyances, little things that may very well be fixed.
Graphically, we’re treated to a stylised alien world, thanks to the Unreal 4 engine. It isn’t quite cartoony, yet vibrant colours and a thematic geometry run throughout. There’s also some nice, reactive effects around the edge of the screen to represent the formation of steamy sweat or frost on your mask, like you might’ve experienced in the Metro game series. Whilst dehydrated, I was even treated to red spots appearing in my field of vision, and I should imagine there’s other signs of imminent death I’ve yet to enjoy… Kinda. There’s a nice, long draw distance outdoors, something appreciated when you get up high. Sadly, some interiors can lead you to at times experience a very noticeable drop in framerate when there’s a lot of objects and structures nearby.
The audio is particularly well-integrated, with chilling chord chimes when your gaze swings upon a particularly odd scenario or, indeed, should you happen to look out over the ocean during a downpour and, lo, a bastarding TWISTER is cruising right towards your delicates, thankfully, you get a sudden and dramatic shift in tone and tempo, or else the gravity of your situation might be missed.
Overall, The Solus Project is a huge pile of cool little things that made other good games great. Right now, unfinished and unpolished, it is at least AS GOOD as the sum of its parts, and can only improve.
P.S. Did you like the smoke monster from Lost…?