Publisher: Grip Digital
Developer: Teotl Studios
Format: XBOX one & PC
Release Date: Out now
The Solus Project is a survival game whose developer quotes the likes of Half-Life, Tomb Raider, Unreal and Lost as influences. And if you think that mixture sounds slightly strange, just try playing it.
It’s a linear, story-led first-person adventure where you need to follow very specific objectives while also hunting, crafting, eating, sleeping and seeking living quarters in order to stay alive long enough to do so. It is pure folly, but frequently intriguing and occasionally wonderful: it mightn’t fully satisfy anyone, but equally you’ll struggle not to find something to enjoy.
As an astronaut sent to discover humanity a new home, you crash-land on the boringly named planet of Gilese-6143-C, a just-about-habitable setting that looks like Earth only a bit redder – half the time you wonder if you should be wearing anaglyph 3D glasses to play it. Either way, you’ll face some honestly extreme weather conditions: the temperature plummets well below freezing at night, and you’ll witness remarkable meteor showers, tornadoes and heavy downpours. “Operator wet,” our PDA reminds us as the rain drowns the entire screen. You don’t say.
Out of Sorts
Once you’ve fashioned a makeshift torch, you can head into the winding caves to seek protection against the cold and locate sources of running (well, dripping) water. But your first foray underground sees you stumble across evidence of another civilization: you’re clearly not the first race to touch down on Planet Chromatic Aberration. These two threads alternate throughout the game. You’ll head above ground to recover parts to fix a communication tower in order to alert spacefaring allies to your whereabouts. Then you’ll investigate deeper to find out who – or what – decided to build a series of environmental puzzle rooms that Lara Croft could complete in her sleep.
“The second-act reveal could well be 2016’s most exciting discovery”
Sensibly, Teotl Studios have included a granular difficulty modifier, allowing would-be Bear Grylls types to spend their time living off the land, while letting those who’d rather not spend so long looking for edible plant life focus on the story stuff instead. The survival elements are still a bit of a faff, even on Easy mode, though once you’ve learned to swap your flaming torch for a glow stick or solar-powered flashlight when you’re taking a dip, you’ll rarely need to fear about anything more than finding a place to get your head down for a few hours.
There’s a lot here that doesn’t really make any sense. You’ll climb down ladders head first, somehow while holding your PDA in your left hand and a torch in your right. And although it’s the 22nd century your missing crewmates are still using pen and paper to jot down their innermost thoughts – the pages somehow remaining glued to the planet’s surface in gale force winds. You’ll find ghostly artifacts with names like Crossroads of Disobedience that give you 1% additional resistance to heat stroke, and interact with fallen meteorites that will mysteriously help prevent you succumbing to starvation or pneumonia. And there’s a handheld teleportation device that has a range of barely more than ten feet – though that’s enough to cheese some of the puzzles and cut down on the clunky first-person platforming.
And yet! As the story develops, there are sequences of scalp-prickling brilliance. Distant rumbles and strange noises lend shivery suspense to each underground trip, while one second-act reveal could well be among 2016’s most exciting discoveries. That this should come after a difficult block-pushing task sums up this distinctive, ambitious effort rather well: it can sometimes feel a bit too much like hard work, but the rewards incline to make it all valuable.