Review: The Solus Project (PS4)

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Survival/Crafting games are a dime a dozen these days (or cheaper if you poke around at PC game bundle sites, heh), but a game like Teotl Studios and Grip Games’ The Solus Project manages to rise above the digital ton of games that are less “survival” oriented and more about scampering around shooting at assorted organic life with food and water meters acting like gas and oil tanks in an arcade racing game.

What’s here is a also a fine sci-fi adventure game where the environment on planet Gliese-6143-C is possibly your worst enemy, but other things can also do you in if you’re careless in your roaming. Interestingly enough, the game later dips a toe (okay, its entire being) into horror elements and the unsettling sense of dread the early exploration brings turns into moments where you might be too freaked out to take another step. That the game slides through a few genres along the way ends up being a nice touch because it’s completely unexpected.

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How’s this for a cheery plot?:

Earth has been destroyed and mankind lingers on in a small fleet of ships near Pluto. As humanity’s last hope, you are sent to scout a distant planet as a potential location for a colony. After years of space travel disaster strikes however, and your ship is destroyed when approaching the planet…

With your team members dead and your equipment gone you have no way of communicating or receiving help from anyone… you are completely and utterly alone…

Desperately you look for a way of phoning home, but as you explore the seemingly desolate planet, you uncover the dark secrets buried within the depths. In this otherworldly odyssey you uncover mystery upon mystery as you try to survive the harsh climate.

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In a nutshell, you find yourself the last hope of humanity after your spaceship is destroyed as it’s passing by that alien planet and your escape pod is jettisoned. With your crew dead and you the only survivor, the game puts you behind the 8-ball right from the start. Fortunately, you’ve got a working PDA (named Wilson!) to track your vital statistics and the scattered wreckage of your spaceship to loot for some much-needed supplies. Initially, you’re tasked with finding a light source, food, and water, all of which are easily located a short distance away. You’ll also discover notes and journal pages scattered around that tell a few stories about come of the now-dead crew.

The first portion is very much a survival game with crafting elements, but you’ll find that unless you’re really careless and do something like fall off a cliff while trying to jump onto a rock formation (oops) or step on some poisonous ankle-biting plant life (oops), food and water is plentiful and that torch you’ve crafted works exceptionally well. Additionally, despite the deadly weather you’ll want to admire from afar, “surviving ” seems a bit easy at times and it almost feels as if you’re being guided somewhere around a very deadly theme park. On the flip side, straying from where you need to go (there’s something interesting, strange or impressive everywhere you look) can lead to the occasional death from being overly curious if you forget to pay close attention to your surroundings.

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Wilson warns you about needing to sleep, eat and hydrate as well as keeping you posted on any status effects you’ll need to handle. Finding a place to sleep where you won’t suffer from the heat or cold is important as it’s one of the only two means of saving your progress. The game also has some light puzzle elements that require a bit of careful observation and poking around the surrounding area for hints. Inventory management is initially an issue because you can only carry a dozen items until you locate a backpack or two during your travels. The great thing is so much of the game revolves around exploration and discovery that despite the danger it feels right to literally go that extra mile.

When the game slides into the scary stuff, it’s a shock in that there’s a good chance more casual players will have settled into a few comfortable grooves before the developer yanks the rug out. The scares work well and yes, you’ll need to move a bit quickly in spots. It may seem as if the game has a schizophrenic side thanks to the shifts in tone and somewhat simplistic start. But it’s also a great ruse that works because the bait and switch is brilliant. At one point, I was so nervous about venturing into an area that I started laughing to no one in particular because I kept thinking of movies that use some of the same ideas found here that fail because they substitute actual suspense for action and gore effects. Here, you get rattled and it sticks.

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As you can see here and in that trailer, the game looks amazing with some stunning Unreal 4-powered visuals from start to finish. There are a few times where you’ll be floored by what you’re seeing, but it’s also a case where you’ll want to be rushing to a safe spot if a massive tornado gets too close for comfort or when way too many meteorites come blazing into the vicinity. The initially rocky shore gives way to assorted islands, temples of a sort and other places where you’ll see influences from natural and unnatural sources. Audio is also great- slap on a set of headphones for best results, but be prepared to yank them off once your stress level rises.

While PlayStation VR support is also on board as an option,  I’m one of those folks who can’t take the gimmick without getting a headache and a bit of queasy wheezy feeling with a side of eyestrain. The game was developed without VR in mind and works wonderfully as a “flat” experience, something I wish all VR games did (but that’s a rant for another time). In any event, this one’s a winner through and through, even with that ending that’s going to maybe disappoint some players not expecting it. Me, I thought it was well done and intend to dive back in for a second play once the backlog is a lot smaller. That the game rolls one way at the start and evolves into another thing by its closure while it has you guessing all the way makes it smarter than the average “survival” game (and that’s fine by me).

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Score: A- (90%)

-GW

Review code provided by the publisher.

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