Solstice Chronicles: MIA (hereafter Solstice Chronicles) is an action RPG developed by Ironward. Its release is July 26th, 2017 for the PC. Ironward has already released a game called The Red Solstice, which places an emphasis on teamwork and squad play; with the exception of split screen multiplayer, Solstice Chronicles focuses on single player gameplay.
You can find The Red Solstice on our KeenGamer eShop, and for the time being, Solstice Chronicles can be found on Steam. Check back on KeenGamer after the release to see if you can get a discounted key for the game.
The game is set on Mars in the 23rd century, some time after an infection known as “the STROL Virus” spread on Earth and made it uninhabitable. The virus’ specific effects are never fully explained, but more or less, everyone infected with it becomes some sort of deformed monster. Said monsters are usually humanoid, but this can vary dramatically. Some forms of infected are giant bulls, armored insects, or even subterranean sand worms. Now, the STROL virus has somehow made its way to a Mars colony, causing widespread carnage and panic.
You play as a marine who was working on Mars when the virus hit, and have been abandoned to die. By a stroke of luck, you catch the attention of a wandering drone, who frees you from some sort of alien muck you were stuck in. The two of you team up to find a way out of the STROL outbreak and away to safety. As the marine, you have a variety of combat expertise, and the drone offers special abilities to fight the infected with.
As far as stories go, this is not a terrible way to start. I will say that Dead Space was the first thing that came to mind when I looked at the infected enemies, and for some others I was reminded of the movie Alien. While perhaps heavily inspired by these two sources, Solstice Chronicles goes out of its way to establish a different tone from the aforementioned universes – namely that you are a marine badass facing insurmountable odds. Nothing is going to get in the way of your Clint Eastwood-esque get-the-job-done character, who at once acknowledges danger and raises his middle finger at it in defiance.
Many games that attempt to create that don’t-care-about-nothing attitude can easily create a very cringey game experience, but Soltice delivers this attitude appropriately. Firstly, the gameplay is challenging enough that getting through a level does sort of make you feel like a badass. Secondly, though, the game has enough comedy that it becomes clear that the developers are self-aware, and are more focused on making an entertaining game than an overdramatic plot.
Solstice Chronicles is a top-down shooter, which requires you to swivel around 360 degrees to shoot at targets. Aiming down sights gives you a laser sight and lets you aim at specific targets at the cost of movement speed. Additionally, you can sprint, and you have a melee attack, both at the cost of stamina.
Additional firepower comes from your suit’s abilities and equipment. Your abilities are dependent on the class you choose, and some require progression to be used. Some abilities are simple, like a fire rate increase or an explosive claymore – but some abilities offer different gameplay options, like teleportation. Equipment can vary from grenades, to flares, to chemical bombs, to missles, all of which can also be upgraded on your character’s skill tree. Abilities have no cost, but have a cooldown period, while equipment is dependent on a limited resource, but has no cooldown.
Finally, your drone abilities offer some utility, as well as interaction with Solstice Chronicle’s unique “threat level” system. During any level, monsters will continuously spawn. The threat level is a bar at the top of the screen that indicates how many monsters can spawn at once. Obviously, the higher the threat level, the more difficult survival becomes. Luckily, the threat level can be manipulated through your drone’s abilities, but each of them has a tradeoff. For example, one ability is a bomb that can deal massive damage and potentially clear the screen of all enemies, but when detonated, the threat level will increase. Another ability is a taunt, which forcibly spawns a number of enemies but reduces the threat level. Use of the drone abilities can get you in or out of a pinch, depending on how you use them.
The skill tree offers the option to upgrade existing abilities, equipment, or passives, or acquire new ones, and again, is different from class to class. Skill points are gained from completing missions in story mode, and the level of difficulty determines the number of points you earn per mission. As such, players that choose higher difficulties are rewarded for taking on the extra challenge and surviving.
A variety of weapons can be found scattered throughout the levels, and once found can be re-used at the beginning of each subsequent level. While all vary in efficacy and ammo efficiency, standing your ground and shooting is not always a viable strategy when it comes to combat – boss battles and large swarms of monsters will force you to run, leading enemies to choke points, traps, or around various obstacles to slow them down. In this sense, Solstice Chronicles requires a little more strategy than your typical shoot-em-up.
The weapons you see during most of the trailers for the game (flamethrowers, rapid-fire miniguns, etc.) are rare – as they should be, since they can easily clear a screen of most enemies. If you’re expecting to run in guns blazing with anything else, you’ll usually run out of ammo or die. The trailers don’t do justice to how the game really plays. Maybe this is just due to my own inadequacy or lack of imagination, but most of the time I ignored whatever enemies I could, or ran them around in circles.
Solstice Chronicles shines in its attention to detail. When the story begins, you start off in the middle of what looks like an alien nest, full of eggs, covered in infested, fleshy matter. Later in the game, you travel through a field of tall grass, where you can see aliens sneak up behind you by the way the grass parts. It’s plain to see that the developers of the game knew exactly what kind of world they wanted to make.
All of the animations for the player, the monsters, and even the drone following you are smooth and polished. Perhaps my only qualm with the game was during cutscenes, when speaking characters repeated the same animation over and over again, which were not really talking animations to begin with – but the important animations are there and satisfying to see.
Graphically, the game is solid. The environment and aesthetic are not really my cup of tea, but that’s entirely a personal preference. As I said, the game reminded me a lot of Dead Space, so perhaps I couldn’t help but compare during my playtime.
The soundtrack for the game did not end up leaving much of an impression on me. It wasn’t jarring or badly written or anything, and maybe I was too preoccupied with the gameplay, but in the end, I didn’t find anything particularly remarkable about it.
The sound effects, on the other hand, were very memorable. During monster attacks, you can hear them gasping and crawling towards you before you see them. Firing anything from a pistol to a laser cannon just sounds good, regardless of how effective the weapon is. Explosions sound distant if they’re far away, and the aforementioned laser is so powerful that it distorts sound briefly while firing.
I think Solstice Chronicles is a well-made game, but I think this review could have been done better by someone who can appreciate its gameplay more than me. I got excited for the game when I saw the trailer and imagined that I would be firing a lot of bullets, massacring a plethora of monsters, and fast-paced movement. Unfortunately, ammo conservation is a bigger issue than I'd like and the movement is very slow, even taking into account abilities and sprinting. While it could be argued that both of these aspects add to the challenge of the game, they feel like challenges that aren't fun to work with.
However, it’s impossible for me to ignore the work that was put into this game. Features like the threat system and the varied skill trees add depth to the gameplay, and allows for the freedom to try many different playstyles. Even with the help of the tutorial and a full understanding of the game’s mechanics, each level makes you feel as if you hit the ground running. A strategy that works once may not always work again, and adaptation to constant change and waves of monsters is essential – and I only played on the second easiest difficulty. Besides that, the animations, graphics, and sound effects give the impression of a game that has had a lot of work put into it.
In conclusion, take my own impression of the game with a grain of salt. Just because it’s not the game for me, doesn’t mean it’s not the game for you. If you like the way the game looks, and if you like using a combination of weapons and abilities to defeat a larger or stronger force using your wit, then this is probably the game for you. It's not the fast-paced shooter I was hoping for, but I only have my poor researching abilities to blame for that.
|+ Variety of playstyles are encouraged||– Movement is slow, even with abilities|
|+ Graphically impressive environment||– Constant need to conserve ammo is annoying|
|+ Sound effects are on point|
Once again, thanks for reading my review, and I hope it helped.