Solstice Chronicles: MIA is a community funded role playing game by Ironward that is still in the early stages of its development life. When I say early life, I mean it's still in need of a frequent diaper change. There is very little included in the package I am basing this review on and even though it's a challenge to find enough content to fill this article, that which is available is rather good.
As mentioned, this is an RPG, but instead of swinging swords and axes in the Dark ages, you find yourself in a dystopian future where everything seems to have gone belly-up at some point. The setting is gloomy and filled with mutant creatures whose sole purpose is to ruin your day. Luckily you have some fine looking firearms at your disposal to make your quest just a little bit more interesting.
Solstice Chronicles: MIA is set for release later in 2017 and will be available on Steam. No pricing info was available at the time of writing.
I started my rather short lived journey in a dark and slimy sewer with my two best friends, a 9mm pistol and a quirky flying robot named Saffron. There's no intro and therefore also no backstory to explain what the situation is or how you got there but it's clear that at some point in time, some very smart people must have done some very stupid things and wiped out most of the earth's population. Now the planet is overrun by creatures that could either have crawled out of hell or perhaps were born from a moldy sandwich in the back of a broken fridge over many years.
Among the many things this game was lacking was a tutorial. There were some brief popups a few minutes into the game that explains some of the elements specific to Solstice Chronicles: MIA but the basics were up to me to figure out on my own. Luckily, having spent many a sleepless night in the presence of Diablo and his mischevious brothers, I knew my way around the standard RPG setup. Since Solstice Chronicles: MIA is set in a different time with different weapons than the norm, there are some unique elements that were not immediately apparent but still simple enough to figure out without much fuss.
After a frustrating few minutes of hitting only the monsters that were standing right next to me, I realized that I could aim with the right mouse button before firing. Similar to many FPS games, aiming slows down your movement speed somewhat but firing from the hip is a futile exercise that only wastes precious ammunition. After killing a bunch of zombie-like humanoids, I found an SMG and got excited. This is similar to the pistol but obviously, has a much higher firing rate. What came as a surprise was that the SMG did a lot less damage which meant that it was only useful when I was completely surrounded and really had no other choice but to bulletstorm my way out. Using this gun when I was less educated, left me in the middle of the first level with no ammo and no way to defend myself, apart from the oddly effective melee attack which I only discovered much later. And so I met my demise for the first, but certainly not the last time.
Your character is able to carry only 2 weapons and swap between them as the situation deems necessary. Ones I came across include the pistol, SMG, shotgun, automatic rifle, flamethrower, and minigun. All guns use the same ammunition, which I found absurd at first but then thought about what a mess it would be if you could only carry two weapons and only found ammo for the ones you didn't have. The flamethrower and minigun work differently though. Those are only temporary weapons that come with a limited ammo supply, once they're empty you discard the gun and carry on with your original arsenal. As you can imagine, they are a smidge more potent than the rest.
Additional weapons include grenades and I also found special ammo for my regular weapons like exploding or electric bullets. You can also throw out flares which are supposed to distract the enemies but by this time most of these creatures must have gotten used to everything burning around them and therefore couldn't care less about my little fire stick. You also have 1 special ability which can be swapped out with others between missions. The default is the ability to summon a turret with a limited ammo supply. It automatically fires at anything close by and was able to help me barely escape some heated situations.
Finally, we come to Saffron, your witty companion who refers to you merely as Grunt. She has the ability to create a forcefield of sorts that push enemies away from you to buy you some much needed time to do some killing. She can also emit an explosion that damages everything caught in the radius. Unfortunately, due to the lack of tutorial I was unaware that this explosion affected me as well and so I would meet my doom, once again, during the triggering of said explosion. Her final use is to scour the area in search of supplies. As long as you stay put, she'll bring you whatever you need most, which generally only equates to lots of ammunition. However, on the odd occasion, she will also drop down a new weapon, like the awesome minigun I mentioned earlier. Many monsters died in the following moments.
After finally clearing the sewer I was brought to the customization screen where I could spend points in a skill tree, swap weapons and choose new special abilities. The skill tree is actually quite vast but with the limited number of scenarios available to me, I was only able to increase my health regen and item usage speed slightly. Next, I hit downtown to find a typical post-apocalyptic scene complete with abandoned streets and burning cars. Wherever I went I found fuel drums standing around for reasons unknown, this meant that I could pick these up and toss them at my enemies to create some spectacular booms. Use enough of these and you can create furious walls of fire that act as protective barriers.
At some point I noticed a shadowy figure creeping up on me. I switched from my pistol to the incredibly potent but bullet hungry shotgun and prepared to turn whatever this thing was into something similar, only with more holes. The giant lizard took another step and leaped through the air, onto my chest and started tearing the flesh from my throat, killing me instantly. I had to replay this part a number of times and from what I could gather, this creature can't be killed before killing you at least twice. Luckily, dying doesn't mean what you expect. Whenever you're down for the count, you have the option to revive and doing so emits an electric pulse that kills anyone who might still be feasting on your corpse. You can revive numerous times like this but each time you do, you start with less health until your health is so low that the next time you die, you actually stay dead. The only thing to do then is to start the level over, with all monsters respawned.
For the remainder of my time with Solstice Chronicles: MIA I encountered the same mob of creatures apart from the occasional demon cowboy who also obtained a gun somewhere and was able to fire back at me. I also entered a boss battle or two with some impressively designed behemoths, but these were easy enough to defeat by just staying on the move and firing a few times when I cleared enough distance. During the last fight, I took control of a large 50 cal turret mounted on the back of a pickup truck. I made my displeasure known to all those who killed me in the past few days.
DEVELOPMENT SO FAR
As I said, this game is still in very early development and as such it's difficult to say if that bit of fun I had would still be there by the time there's a finished product. Surprisingly, the developers have already managed to include some great voice acting which is a positive sign.
However, here's a quick rundown of the most noticeable elements that were missing or still required some tweaks:
- The game can only be played in a window.
- Aiming feels a bit off.
- No map, not even a minimap.
- Grenades throw in the direction you're walking, not aiming. Not only is this confusing in the heat of battle but the grenade is just thrown in that direction without actually aiming for a target, making it incredibly difficult to use effectively.
- You can't aim uphill. When an enemy approaches from a higher platform you have to wait for them to descend the stairs before your weapons become effective.
- There are no save points. If you die you have to restart the entire level.
- At the start of each level is a short cut scene, which you can't skip. The game frequently crashed during these scenes and since you're unable to save, you guessed it, you have to start the entire game all over again.
There is still a ton of work to be done on Solstice Chronicles: MIA and I believe the folks at Ironward might be slightly overoptimistic with their 2017 release date. Some of the most basic features needed for this type of game are yet to be added and the fact that there are no save points anywhere was incredibly frustrating.
That said, the technical issues I experienced were minimal and were limited to game crashes during the cut scenes. Granted, this is a big issue but for a game this early in its development I would have expected to see visual glitches, AI bugs and much more.
Focussing back on what was available and I find myself smiling on my time with Solstice Chronicles: MIA. This game sets the stage for what could be an epic adventure and even though I only had the first two levels at my disposal, I had a good time playing them. It's just difficult to predict this early on if the game will still possess its charm once it's available to the rest of the world. We will have to wait and see what Ironward gets up to but I for one sincerely hope that they're able to stay their current path and bring us one phenomenal game.