Honest Review: “The Solus Project”

I think it says something about me that all my Steam games are creepy, atmospheric survival horror while most of my Xbox library is shoot ‘em ups with a story.

There was a lot to like about this game. It was creepy and atmospheric, it was simple yet involved and it was engaging and beautiful to look at. But there were a couple things about this game that gave me pause, including the depiction of the alien overlords at the end of the game and the player movement speed, an important game mechanic in an atmospheric walking simulator.

Teotl Studios and Grip Digital did a really good job of introducing a slow build from a strictly survival-based game to one with elements of mystery and horror intertwined. It could have felt really tedious in the beginning (and did, to a certain degree), but instead I was drawn in wondering how the Solus spaceship crashed and who could live on the capricious watery island setting even before the game introduced the concept of a prior civilization.

As I walked beneath the surface of the islands and deeper into the complex cave system, I could feel the constant pressure to survive easing, replaced instead by the burning desire to solve the mystery of who had lived – and died – here before I arrived, who the Sky Ones were and what they had done to the planet’s inhabitants, and how all of it related to the spaceship crash at the beginning of the game.

I got irritated with the game’s mechanics occasionally, but overall I think “Solus” managed to enforce the game’s mechanics in a way that didn’t take too much away from the overall mystery and atmosphere of the game.

solus project wilson skyline
I was surprised by how little the survival mechanics came to matter towards the end, but I honestly didn’t mind all that much as I mostly play games where eating and drinking are secondary to exploration and fighting. (Source: Gamespot.com)

This game really shines in its graphic and epic world-building aspirations. The game world is huge with several large cells of various weather situations and topographic builds and multiple similarly designed cave cell systems.

[READ: Good story vs. good looks in game design]

However, that carefully created world and all its intricate topography, hidden caves and tunnels, and mountainous hills of geometric columns, felt a little too big sometimes. It often drove me to distraction and I spent countless hours roaming the open wasteland of the islands or the claustrophobic insides of the watery tunnels searching for secrets or relics or hidden caches of alien food.

And while “Solus” was no doubt designed for that sort of aimless open world roaming exploration, it often crossed the line between fun discovery into painfully boring walking.

solus project island topography
Incredibly ambitious and beautifully designed, I was really drawn in by the intricate configuration of the islands’ topography and the alien flora, although I would have liked to see just a little bit of fauna — assuming those angry spike balls were more like sentient sea urchins and less truly living animals. (Source: YouTube.com)

Part of that may have been the movement speed enforcing a glacially slow pace. Although there were relics to increase the overall speed, it never felt fast enough to justify a slow trip across the swaying fields of red island grass. The swimming speed was also incredibly slow and while I would have loved to explore under the fickle waves of the various islands, the swimming speed was never fast enough to allow me to do so.

Essentially, I got bored and frustrated with a lot of the exploration mechanics well before I found all the notes and relics. While some might say I just wasn’t determined enough to find all the extras in the games, I think part of my frustration was justified due to the slow movement pace that didn’t really increase no matter how many relics of speed/movement I found.

In addition to my concerns with the speed of player movement, I also had a serious problem with the ending. Not with what happened, exactly, but how everything was wrapped up and all the questions it left unanswered.

[READ: Twelve questions ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’ raised and three it definitively answered]

For example.

  • What exactly did the Sky Ones do to the previous inhabitants of the island?
  • What is the genetic relationship between the humanoid previous inhabitants and the humans of the Solus Project?
  • And what in the flying hell is that black ball of rage and why is it constantly trying to kill me?
solus project smoke monster
To be honest, I never really figured out what this thing was or what it wanted with me. And, because of the slow movement speed, I never really found because I spent more time trying to avoid it at all costs than explore the area it occupied for notes and relics. (Source: YouTube.com)

Some of these questions might have been answered in all the tablets and drawings I know I didn’t find among the giant map cells of the game, but I don’t think all of them were.

Regardless, I think the reliance on such a stereotypically alien image — a giant UFO, a strange green power emanating from a staff held by a cloaked leader, the final survivor being taken away for questioning with strange medical devices positioned around them, etc. — was a little trivial and banal. It felt a little hackneyed, not to mention disjointed at times with the supposedly advanced cloaked aliens carving notes into stone tablets while simultaneously using television screens to monitor the island’s inhabitants.

Despite the rushed ending and its clichéd reliance on alien stereotypes, I really enjoyed the game and I definitely think it merits a playthrough if you like survival horror walking simulators. It’s important to note that this game was designed with VR capability in mind as the game asked me every time I launched it whether I wanted to play it in VR, normal game, or a number of other fancy game modes available through Steam.

[READ: Real talk: A VR skeptic talks future of gaming]

However, as I don’t have and probably will never have a VR system, I played it like another video game and still thoroughly enjoyed it.

In any case, game on, from Prolus Command, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

creepy as fuck dolls

Real talk: A VR skeptic talks future of gaming

While many companies are claiming virtual reality will be The Next Big Thing in gaming, I’m not so sure. Mostly because the systems are ungodly expensive and the bang just isn’t worth your buck.

I spend more time than is probably healthy thinking about video games.

In addition to spending pretty much all of my precious free time playing and what is left of my bank account buying games, I write and read a lot about everything video games so I can stay up to date on news games and advancements in the industry.

And lately, I’ll I’ve been hearing about is virtual reality.

Even my own mother – who has to leave the room when I play video games because she hates the thought of them corrupting her beautiful, innocent daughter – wants a VR headset so she can traverse the galaxy from the comfort of her own living room.

But this fanatical interest in VR isn’t anything new.

As Paul Younger from PC Invasion explains, there was a VR craze that lived and died in the 90s, partly because the systems were so expensive and partly because those systems ran on software that was woefully unprepared to deal with the demands of VR.

I mean it’s one thing to slide that ginormous headset over your face and expect to be transported directly into the world of your favorite video game. But it’s a totally separate thing to have your head weighed down by bulky hardware that acts as little more than a mini TV shoved up real close to your face.

Another reason the VR craze died in the 90s: pricing.

Most users assumed that as more and more people bought the fancy new systems, the prices would go down to a reasonable level.

But they never did.

Even now, these systems are worth anywhere from $400 to $800.

A quick Google search told me that the average price is around $500 with the famed Oculus Rift going for $600 and the HTC Vive around $800. The cheapest option is the PlayStation system at $400 and $500 (depending on the package purchased), but while PlayStation is a big name in gaming, they’re a little less known for their VR capabilities.

To be fair though, the only recognizable names in the VR market are really Oculus and Vive, but that’s not to say other companies aren’t trying to make a break for it.

On average, one VR system – which for some manufacturers includes the headset only – is worth 10 AAA console games.

While I’m not sure whether that speaks to the inflated price of video games or the ungodly amount of money users are expected to pay for VR, it does say a lot about why I’m so broke.

Money aside, the games available for VR aren’t the kind of games I’d regularly play, let alone ones I’d love to play on a specialized headset meant to drop me straight into the game.

Steam has a whole category of VR games – definitely more than I thought there would be – but many of them are previews and those that aren’t range from the hilariously stupid – Cockroach VR – to the interesting but ultimately pointless – Rail Adventures Tech Demo.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, but I just don’t understand the hype around VR.

My favorite games are those story-rich titles that keep me immersed and invested in the game without a fancy headpiece weighing my head down.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think I prefer a handheld controller to a motion detection system and a bulky headset that has the power to turn me into a gawking geek looking around wildly while all my friends watch me stare at nothing.

I’m not saying VR isn’t the future. In fact, I think in a couple years it will be exactly that. But first it needs to go through a long process of trial and error, of testing and refining. Some companies may argue that’s exactly what they’ve been doing since the 90s, but if this is what has come out of decades of research and testing then I think we still have a long way to go.

Because while the headsets may have gotten smaller and the computers slimmer and more sophisticated, there’s not a huge difference between headsets from the 90’s and what is on the market today.

In a couple years, I may eat my words about VR and gaming.

But until then, game on, my VR fanatics, and let the power of Lara Croft be with you.

and it wasn't jpeg.jpg

Almost thirty years of research and development and it seems nothing has really changed in the overall design of the virtual reality headset.

Source: Gadgethelpline.com and Staticworld.net.