Published on August 9th, 2016 | by Joseph Saulnier0
The Solus Project
As a crew member aboard one of several colonization ships being sent from a fleet containing the last surviving inhabitants of Earth, fleeing their dying planet a la Interstellar, you crash land on Gliese-6143-X, a potential planet where you might rebuild society anew. Walking away from your escape pod with nothing but your wits and environmental/biometric scanner, and with no way to get word back to the fleet, it’s up to you to find your crew mates and work out a way to call for help.
Gliese-6143-C is a hostile environment to say the least, but it is undoubtedly habitable for human life. The atmosphere is breathable, but with temperature fluctuations of up to 75°C. This makes death from exposure a constant concern. Water and food are scarce, and if you don’t make sure to get enough sleep you will overexert yourself and fall to exhaustion. All of this must be managed by staying out of the elements, finding sources of fresh water and food, and seeking out safe (sheltered) places to camp. These survival elements, while certainly prominent, never really get in your war and act as more an excuse to explore outside of your comfort zone for new sources of nutrition and hydration.
A basic inventory and crafting system is present in the game, which allows you to combine items and tools in order to beat belay the elements and survive long enough to complete your mission. A whole slew of items will slowly become available during your time planet-side, including torches, hammers, flashlights, homing beacons. Even a teleporter that will allow you to traverse some of the more uneven terrain and explore out of the way places.
There is plenty to see off the beaten path, as The Solus Project contains one of the most beautifully realized worlds I’ve ever seen/experienced. Not beautiful in terms of graphical fidelity, though; powered by the Unreal 4 engine, and featuring a cohesive and colorful art design, Solus is certainly pretty enough. The low-res textures, block environments, laughably amateur user interface, and less than stellar physics can’t hold a candle to some of the best this generation of gaming has to offer. It does run fantastically on the Xbox, and from what I understand on lower end hardware for the PC. No, Solus’s greatest strength can be found in the interestingly, and thoughtfully, hand-crafted world that goes far beyond its relatively uncomplicated visuals.
At its heart, Solus is an adventure game. That is, there is a story here with a beginning, middle, and end. If you choose to do so, you can follow the forward progress indicator your environmental/biometric scanner puts up from one location to the next until the whole of it unfolds to conclusion. It’s a walking simulator, of sorts, but to stop there in its description would be doing a grave disservice to the underlying work that went into the construction of Gliese-6143-C.
This planet has history. A lot of it. I won’t say too much, as discovery is what Solus is all about, and I feel that all new players should come to it as fresh as possible. What I will offer you is that Hourences and Grip Games have managed to build a massive, explorable world that reveals more of its complexity and depth to you as you move through the game, all without sacrificing the urgency of the underlying object or the clarity of a focused narrative. It is a delicate balancing act that took no small amount of artistry to pull off, and yet Hourences and Grip managed to make it look entirely effortless.
From the writing to the visual feedback, all the way to the sound design, everything has been expertly crafted to elicit very specific sensory or emotional experiences that feel utterly real. In my first play-through, I got turned around a little and found myself clamoring to find my way back to my safe-haven as what started out as a small twister over the water, which was now a giant storm the size of a Century-Link Field, was barreling toward me. I felt real anxiety, real worry, as I scrambled to find the recognizable structure that marked the entrance to my camp. Needless to say, I didn’t make it. Take my advice. Use markers. Like a trail of breadcrumbs.
But maybe much of this experience has to do with Solus’s history as a featured VR title. Unfortunately, VR is not currently offered on the Xbox One, and I do not own one for the PC. But I can only imagine the how my sense of shock and awe, and fear, would have been heightened trying to get out of that storm. Or when gazing up at a meteor shower exploding across the surface of Gliese-61430-C, only to let that fear kick back in when you realize to yourself, “Crap. I could die from being hit by a meteorite.”
The Solus Project is deserving of much more praise and explanation than I have given, or could possibly give, here; however, to comment on anything other than the setup without ruining your experience would be nearly impossible. The Solus Project is a game about mystery, the wonder of exploration, and excitement. It deserves to be experienced with a clean slate; tabula rasa, if you will. If you’ve ever dreamed of exploring a new world on your own, and experiencing all of the mystery and terror that implies, The Solus Project is the answer to your dreams.
4.5 stars out of 5