+Absolutely beautiful terrains and skyboxes
+Puzzles are tough and do require player willingness to explore
+Absolutely superb sound that offers atmospheric immersion
+Offers an amazingly well crafted survival filled exploration experience
-Lack of tutorials or any form of guidance can be tough and downright frustrating
-Some bad designs can be quite frustrating for some players to enjoy
-Lack of guidance for tools and crafting is frustrating from the start
What do you imagine when you leave your home planet in hopes to find humanities last chance for survival? Do you imagine flying among the stars, seeing the rings of Saturn, the icy landscapes of Pluto or do you imagine skirting upon entirely new distances humanity had never seen? What if your travel through space was abruptly coming to a screeching halt due to a disaster, which has lead to you crash landing on a planet at the edges of the solar system?
While your discoveries will be known, little will they help those few remnants of humanity. They will be scoured across the stars as humanities last hope boils down to the discoveries you make in order to hopefully save humanity. Despite such a mission being key to the survival of the race, you will find yourself displaced, broken, and confused as what to do. You’ll become acquainted with your situation as remnants of your ship come crashing down around you, bringing down a grim outlook, and a vague hope of what your future holds.
Unlike most games The Solus Project is a unique game, one I’ve been watching since its Early Access days on Steam. It’s one that has decided to try and be multiple things. A survival game at the surface, an obtuse puzzle game on the sides, and underneath it all, an exploratory themed horror game beneath it all. The best part of it all? It’s a game that is purely atmospheric, a game that wants players to dug beneath its surface once they become adjusted to what it is.
Through its 12 hour campaign, which I played through multiple times, I began to peel away at each of its layers like an onion. On one layer I found a game that was intriguing due to its premise. I was an astronaut, an explorer that is seeking to help humanity survive as our home has begun to die. Within another layer, as I began to explore once finding my way from my ship, I found a puzzle game, one that would drive me to find each key to the planet around me.
Just like my character, I found myself confused by what was going on. A place where even my tools have been jettisoned into some far reaches of space. Instead I was forced to go back to my baser instincts in order to cut my path through the cargo net holding me back. So what would I do? Pick up a rock, smash a can, and hope for the best. Little to no avail, I found my net still blocking me until I found my second rock, which I would bash into the first one in order to make a sharpened rock.
There I would find this newly sharpened rock would do the job, even if it seemed a bit far fetched for cutting space age “tech”, it would do the job. After a few hours I became acquainted with my resources. In caves I could find small streams of water where I could quench my thirst. I even found sources of food within the local flora in case I ran out of cans of nourishment.
Since I wasn’t playing in VR, as I would have liked, I did take notice of both the VR elements in the games base heads-up display, and graphical presentation. Even the games menus advertise its VR functions. Unlike the games VR elements, I found it would be quite the smooth transition both VR using the PlayStation Move controllers and DualShock 4. Unfortunately, I did take note of a few functions that were absent in the overall game. I took notice that functions such as jumping were missing from my version of the game.
I even found that The Solus Project stumbles a bit in explaining what players should do or what the benefits of certain flora are. It even falters on explaining what objects do what, or what these alien-like artifacts I’ve found do. Or even why there seems to be architecture in the lands around me, that are all, but not by the hands of humanity. However, I found all of this almost too much to take as I continued my adventure. Each time a puzzle came across, it was less about my brain putting 1-and-1 together, but rather me traversing the island in order to find my objective to complete my puzzle.
The unfortunate part? I wasn’t given a hint where my goal to complete it was. Rather I was taken back to the days of games such as Myst and The 7th: Guest where I needed to complete them with my own base knowledge of the game. This included my ability to need to take notes, memorize where I went, and come to each puzzle with an open mind in what is needed in order to complete them. While some hint or explanation of my goals would have been preferred, it brings down a sense of realism to the adventure I’ve begun to undertake.
While this minor irritation does seem problematic, it doesn’t take away from the level of immersion or my enjoyment of the game. Rather it made me approach it with an entirely new mindset. I wasn’t able to go in expecting my hand to be held. Rather I was expected to learn, to adapt, and to see this as a survival simulation rather than the mixed genres I had began to view it as. At some point later, I was eventually forced to seek shelter while finding an alternative path into a cave that released its echoes into an area blocked by debris.
On my way around the island, I was forced to take shelter as a violent storm passed me by. A tornado of all things. A storm that would find take my life had I not used my own sense of caution. While I appreciated this small take, I had to remember one thing: My walk back would be long. I didn’t even have a way to quickly transport myself back to the cave near me until I found a teleporter tool not far from me in some debris from my destroyed shuttle. This is when my moment of clarity came to as I decided to take on the simple task of placing the disc near the blocked entrance when having found my tool needed.
But my confusion came to even more. Why wasn’t this explained to me in some guide through my scanner? Was this something that the team had overlooked and decided to skip past in the final form of the game or was I supposed to learn this on my own? What was even more perplexing is the fact that I needed a tool that wasn’t provided to me. This tool that I just so happened to need? A hammer. A hammer that would break its way through this simple blockade.
While this seems minor, it’s a fact of being frustrated with The Solus Project. Even with games as tough as Myst and The 7th Guest, I still found some form of being guided through the game in some obscure way. Why couldn’t this one do that? Was I meant to stare upon this games magnificent scenery that had been placed before me? Was I supposed to be given this sense of helplessness through the games unique landscape? Was I supposed to find some form of mercy as I trekked into caves that looked if they had been hand sculpted my humans or travelers among the stars before us?
If that’s the case, the game did well with this. I felt helpless. I felt lost. I even felt frustration while moving through each of the games unique terrains and caves. I understood the ample amounts of fear, curiosity, and dread as my chances of survival became even more daunting due to my lack of supplies. I can only imagine what it would have been like had I played the game in VR. What I would’ve felt had that headset put me in place of my space traveler.
But from my few discussions with other game journalists and games analysts, I found one thing quit daunting: The Solus Project is currently limited to the PlayStation 4’s Move Controllers. It didn’t support the DualShock 4. It didn’t allow for the level of immersion players would’ve been given had they had something such as the Vive’s Halo Controllers, something I may look into once a VR headset becomes readily available to me. For now, my adventure has been limited to the non-VR support, which I’m thankful that the game itself offered.
But back to my minor confusion based on design decisions. With my oil soaked torch and “brush”, why couldn’t I light the grass around me on fire? Why couldn’t I light simply flammable flora around me on fire? Was it the subtle rains that had washed over the terrain earlier in my adventure? What about the ocean spray coming off the shoreline? Surely not. Perhaps it was the limitations in place due to the VR support.
What confuses me more is the fact I want to hate this game. In many ways, I really do. Not because of design choices that come off questionable. Not because of those fantastically designed skyboxes, terrains, and sound effects. Rather, I want to hate it because it’s so beautifully unique in our modern day. It’s a game that’s so alien, but so familiar at the same time. It’s a simulation I wasn’t ready for in many ways. I wasn’t ready for this games psychological hurdles or horrors that awaited for me. I wasn’t ready for those moments where I wouldn’t be able to find what I needed instantly.
The Solus Project – PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Developer: Grip Digital
Publisher: Grip Digital
Release Date: Available Now
In truth, I couldn’t hate this game. I couldn’t even come to dislike it. It’s a game that seems almost out of place with what it was trying to accomplish. While I was rest assured doing my adventure I would grow frustrated, I had to remember that The Solus Project has quite a bit to offer for those of us looking for something new. A game that isn’t ashamed of what it is and accomplishes a simple task: Force players to explore. Something that games don’t often do in the modern day. If you want a game that does just that, look at The Solus Project, it’s a game that will make you think, explore, and enjoy the world around you.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the games publisher. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 7 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.