One genre that has exploded in the past couple of years is survival games. Getting lost in a harsh environment and having to keep yourself alive isn't unusual in games, but the survival genre has made it more about keeping yourself fed, hydrated, and sheltered. The Solus Project seeks to combine these survival genre staples with puzzle solving and narrative exploration, along with a dash of optional VR to add to the immersion. Does it manage to make The Solus Project unique, or does it fail to stand out from the crowd?
The Solus Project takes place after Earth's destructions at the hands of a rogue star. Survivors who gathered into colony ships and took to the stars have to quickly find a new home or face dwindling resources. To try to survive, they send scout ships to various planets to look for a new home for humanity. You'll play as either Octavius or Octavia Sken, the lone survivor from a ship called Solus 3. Your goal was to ensure that the planet of Gliese was a safe planet for Humanity to continue, but after the Solus 3 crashes, you're equally concerned about your own survival. Sken begins to explore the planet, looking for signs that it's habitable, and discovering its strange and somewhat horrific history in the process.
Actually piecing together the world of Gliese is probably one of the stronger aspects of The Solus Project. It's clear this planet has a weird past that involves a conflict between a primitive Human-like race and an alien species. It's full of traps and supernatural events that all speak to a larger story. Likewise, you can find diary entries that explain what's going on back on the space station you once called home. Those who have a love for piecing together stories should have some fun here, while those looking for something a little more direct should at least have enough to keep them going up until the final twist.
It's just getting there that's the thing. The Solus Project spent a solid few hours feeling like a narrative game with some light survival elements tacked on. The game is basically split into two unique sections: outdoors and indoors. Outdoor areas are open, allowing more exploration while you survive randomized weather patterns. Indoor areas are more linear, having you follow cave paths to solve puzzles and avoid traps. Both sections of the game rely on keeping your character in a healthy state, and you do this by eating, drinking, being well rested, and using your items to keep Sken from getting too hot or cold. The survival mechanics themselves aren't very interesting, and I often found managing Sken more annoying than fun. It feels more like a strange afterthought than anything central to the rest of the game. I also discovered that the game's difficulty slider only affects these survival elements. In a bit of a strange move, I actually suggest setting it to the easiest it can go. You'll still have to deal with traps, monsters, and the weather, but it removes the tacked on survival gameplay.
Both segments of the game have their good and bad moments. Outdoor sections are more about finding the various pieces you need to reconstruct a communication tower to contact your home space station. The game is nice enough to point out exactly where each piece is on your HUD, you just need to find your way there. The real challenge is supposedly about surviving the weather as you do so. Tornadoes, meteor showers, and lightning storms seek to stop you, and these are all a genuinely impressive visual spectacle that often failed to offer a real threat. Seeing a tornado in the distance is scary the first time, especially as you hear the noises it makes and the specific musical cue it receives. Yet, not once did the weather actually seem to come close to actually hurting me. At times, I actively tried getting hit by lightning by climbing to the top of a mounting and waving a hammer around like I was the son of Odin himself. No such luck.
Once you get indoors the game moves into a more linear affair, having you navigate through caves and ruins to get to new islands. The threat changes to traps, with mines, bear traps, and the like serving as roadblocks for you to figure your way around. Similar to the weather from before, these traps proved to be little in the way of actual threats. Nearly all of them activate on a timer that you can avoid simply by walking forward at a steady pace. Only rarely did a trap actually get me, usually because I wasn't paying any attention when I was reading an in-game lore item. It really takes a lot of the teeth out of the game when nothing is actually deadly.
These parts of the games also see more unique scenarios littered throughout them. There are some pretty basic puzzles, like matching up symbols on doors or using your teleport gun in a creative way to hit three floor panels in a time limit. None of the puzzles are that difficult, but I felt a nice enough sense of accomplishment when I got through them. You'll also run into some weird stuff in the tunnels of Gliese: one section saw me followed by some abandoned children's dolls, while another I witnessed skeletons that always seemed to look directly at me no matter where I stood. You also run into the game's sole enemy here: a strange smoke monster that looks like it stepped right off of the set of Lost. There's no stealth or combat in The Solus Project, the monster always knows where you are and your only option is to try to get away from it as quickly as you can. It's still not much of a challenge, but it was a nice change of pace.
While I appreciate all The Solus Project's attempts to change things up, a lot of problems stem from how clunky everything in the game is. The simple act of movement and looking around always off, and I never felt like I was in as much control of my character as I wanted to be. There's a crafting system, but it works in a bizarre way that requires you to drop items on the ground to interact with them. Want to sharpen a rock? You need to drop the rock on the ground, then interact with it to pick a blunt object to smash against it before picking it back up again. Thankfully, crafting is almost never actually required to advance.
Really the big gameplay draw is for people who love exploration. There's tons to explore in The Solus Project no matter what area you're in. Every nook and cranny seems designed to contain a new secret, and I loved how the game really felt like care was put into designing the world and ensuring that players who explored some were rewarded with secrets that give them passive boosts to buff their skills. A smart art direction also meant the world honestly felt alien, like I really was stranded on some bizarre planet that probably shouldn't exist.
You can also play The Solus Project in VR, but I'm not sure you'll want to. For starters, you can't play with the DualShock 4 controller, instead forced to use two Move controllers. No matter how hard I tried, I could not find any way to make myself comfortable with the controls. The game has several buttons devoted to doing the same thing, all in a layout that doesn't make much sense. Combine this with the noticeable downgrade in visuals, and before long I found myself just taking off the VR headset and moving on without it. It honestly wasn't worth using.
By the end of The Solus Project's rather lengthy 15 hour run time, I was conflicted. I did like the efforts put into the game's world, from its alien landscape to its well-done world building and story. It's the kind of world you can easily get lost in without even thinking about it. It's just that actually playing the game wasn't much fun. I almost feel like it would have done better with its gameplay elements removed. It feels strange to suggest that to a video game of all things, but here we are.
The world of The Solus Project is totally worth exploring thanks to an interesting story and great art direction. It's just not much fun to actually play.
- Interesting Story
- Beautiful World
- Exploration is Fun
- Tacked On Survival Elements
- Little Challenge from Threats
- Clunky Controls
- Terrible PSVR Implementation